Creating the brief: Your first step is to define what you want to achieve from the property. Collect all your own thoughts and ideas as well as those from anybody else who will be sharing the space. Write down a wish list that includes everything, no matter how unrealistic. Checking back on this during the design process will help you keep track and show you how much you are achieving.
Obtain a site plan showing boundaries and draw on your planned buildings in a good workable scale 1:100. Check the orientation of the sunlight. Check the prevailing wind so that you can create sheltered areas. Review any existing landscaping, the location and type of trees as well as any neighbour issues such boundary fences. You should also analyse the existing soil and then look for ways to implement improvements like better drainage or adding organic compost.
Divide the site plan up into general areas such as entertaining space, kids play areas, lawn, pool, access ways, service courts, entry foyer, entry path and driveways. These can be ne tuned dur- ing the design process but it is important at this stage to begin with everything in the correct place.
Paving and Floors — There are endless options for outdoor paving including some great manmade or natural materials. Selection will probably depend on your personal preference, style or budget. However some basic design guidelines apply.
Use the same materials indoors as outdoors. This creates a more seamless transition and makes both spaces appear bigger.
The unit scale and size of the material selected can have a dramatic impact on the space. A rectangular or square module can be laid in a number of different ways to create a variety of interesting effects. It’s best to lay a few metres of any selected materials rst so you can understand the pattern. Generally smaller patterns create more intimate spaces. However small patterns used in a larger space can create some wonderful textures when viewed at a distance.
The colour and patterning of natural stone materials can appear different under various lights. I recommend you lay your materials out on site before fixing them permanently to avoid getting a surprise.
Loose materials like pebble, chip and shell are ideal for side paths and areas that do not lead directly indoors. They also combine well with paving slabs.
Walls and fences—Fences don’t just define a boundary — they can also add texture and colour to landscape design. Wooden fences painted or stained a dark colour disappear into the shadow and provide a great backdrop for plants in front. Feature walls within the garden and between garden areas give more depth and space to the garden. They draw the eye and provide another opportunity to make plants stand out. Partial walls can also be fun. Put up a series of 2m posts or poles and paint them a gorgeous colour or decorate them with sculptures.
Landscape features — Water features add wonderful sounds and light to the garden. They reflect the sky and the surrounding plants. Fishponds and plants add a natural dimension and their splashing orange bodies are a delight to watch. What’s more, they’re easy to maintain once you have your plant balance, pump and filter sorted. Fireplaces, pools and spas add expense but add significantly to how you can enjoy your outdoor space.
I love using pots, elevating them on plinths for emphasis and to keep them above the plants. A major mistake is to buy too few or too small. Think scale — the bigger the better. Make sure you pick pots with good form and avoid those with uneven, lumpy bases. Lovely curved shapes or tapered uprights look elegant and are practical in elevating your garden to the house.
Irrigation—I try to install gardens that do not require a significant amount of water. However most plants will benefit from some extra watering as they become established. Mulching also helps. Raised planters and pots will usually require permanent irrigation.
Planting your garden
The soft landscaping in a garden should be revisited every seven years because the form and size of the plants change, and the gardens can become shady. Most gardens look their best between two and five years after planting. Spend as much money on the soil as you do the plants. Don’t use too many different varieties in each area.
Select the plants and then halve the number of varieties and double the quantity of the reduced varieties. Keep it simple. All plants require some maintenance. There is no such thing as a maintenance-free garden, but you can make it easier on yourself by taking the advice set out below.
- Stay appropriate : Select plants that are climatically appropriate for your garden environment. Be aware that conditions do change during the year and as plants grow.
- Keep in theme: Choose plants under a general theme such as native, subtropical, traditional, colour or kitchen within different areas of the garden. Then as you wander through your garden, you’ll have different experiences. However this isn’t a hard and fast rule. The most important thing is to have fun creating your garden, and only put in plants that you love.
- Watch the form : The form of the plant is very important. Plants can be pruned and trimmed, but if plants are chosen for their natural shape, it makes your job easier. Small spaces need narrow upright plants so they don’t overhang and crowd in the space. Standardised specimens are good in small spaces as they give a feeling of depth and layers. Large shrubs and trees are better in large gardens and borders.
- Aim for contrast: I love putting together contrasting plants. Dull against shiny. Textured against smooth. Dark colour against light colour. Rounded against upright form. Small leaves against large. Playing with plant combinations can create a spectacular garden atmosphere. Cleverly cast shadows and dappled light through fronds and leaves can be breathtaking.
- Flowers : These are really an added bonus. Selecting the form of the plant and the colour of the leaves are the most important aspects. Then you can focus on the flowers. Remember that flowers can add a beautiful scent and attract birds and bees to your garden.
Written for Design Guide by leading NZ Landscape Artist, Trish Bartlett