Before you can design your new garden, it is essential to know what you are working with.
Examine the site to assess factors such as soil type, wind exposure, access issues, and key plants – then you’ll be ready to sketch out a concept plan.
By analyzing the site in depth, you will gain a better understanding of the existing environment and thus be able to make design decisions tailored to your conditions. No one wants to waste money buying plants that won’t thrive in your corner of the woods, or building a patio only to find it overlooked by curious neighbors or exposed to the cold southwest winds.
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LIMITS AND POSITION OF THE HOUSE
You may already have a site map of your section showing the correct boundaries and the position of the house. If not, check with your city council, as they should have a site plan on file for your property. For a small fee you can get a copy and have it scaled up to a reasonable scale – 1: 100 is the normal scale for sitemaps, although for very small outdoor spaces it is often 1:50. Make another copy to use as a base plan.
If you don’t have an existing plan, you will need to draw your own. Measure all boundaries and position your house, tall trees, driveways, and other built structures on your plan. This is ideally a job for two people (and make sure one of you is fluent in math and has a tape measure!). Double check all measurements to be sure.
ROOMS WITH A VIEW
Note on your map where the best views are from your yard and from inside your home. Some of these views and vistas will be within your limits – a tree in your own backyard perhaps – or in a borrowed landscape, like a historic church in the distance. Ideally, these views will also help you decide where the rest areas should be located.
While you’re at it, note any unsightly views, like where your yard is overlooked by neighboring properties and may need scouting to block out the horrors.
NORTH EAST SOUTH WEST
Knowing where north is essential, as it means you can roughly determine where the sun will be in your garden at different times of the day. There should be a north point on any official council site map – you can pull out your compass as well. Tracking the sun’s movement in the garden helps determine which areas are the sunniest (and most shaded) throughout the year. Check in the morning, noon and again in the evening. Record this information on your basic plan using bubble charts.
While you’re at it, observe which parts of your garden get the most sun and wind, and where there is lots of shelter or shade. Later, you may want to create seating areas in shady, sunny places. Also mark on the base plan any wet or very dry parts of your garden, as all of these areas will have specific planting requirements.
LIST OF KEY FEATURES
Mart the position and condition of existing items such as sheds, decks, walkways, paving, pergolas and swimming pools. Even if you plan to move one of them at a later date, it’s important to note where they are in the meantime, as budgets and long-term plans can change. Also mark on the map all the trees and plants you want to keep. List any built structures that need to be replaced or demolished.
Is your section flat or sloping? If your section is sloping, you will need to build retaining walls to create flat terraces, as outdoor living spaces need a level platform for seating and tables. Unless you have the practical building skills required, it’s worth seeking professional advice when building retaining walls (the last thing you’d want to see is your house tumbling down. a hill because you dug under the foundation to make a new flower bed).
For areas to be conserved, such as flower beds, try to follow the natural contours of your site as much as possible to avoid expensive earthworks. Smart planting can do a lot to hide sloping ground, and low terraces aren’t difficult (or expensive) to build.