I can count on one hand the amount of professional garden design who spring to mind that can blend exceptional plant knowledge with an exquisite eye for design. It is such a rare quality that I have to wonder if it really is possible or if on the rare cases that mastery over both disciplines is achieved, whether it is a collaborative effort.
If you are putting together your own garden, you may be wondering if the professionals struggle with the dilemma of whether plants or design are king, how will you manage it? Well, it has to start at the beginning and it has to be a two-step process. Before you embark on your process, you’ll need to have a plan drawn up of your garden. It doesn’t have to be perfectly accurate and to-scale, but good enough to give you a rough idea how much room you have to play with and other handy information such as how much sun/shade different areas get, etc.
The Planting Plan
Firstly, start with the plants. Have a think about the type of gardens you enjoy and what sort of planting you like. If you want to include something like a wildflower meadow, a flower border, a vegetable growing area, or somewhere for cut flowers, these will need to be factored in to your final plan. You won’t need to plot out each area in terms of which plants are going where, but there’s load of information online about recommended sizes for different bed types. Also, have a look at the eventual height and spread of key plants you want to include to give you an idea how big each area needs to be. See our blog post about planting distances here.
If you have your heart set on a Ginkgo tree or you’d like an entire bed of dahlias for cutting, the key is to make a note of your essential plants now so you don’t find these areas have been squeezed out of the picture later on. Also, consider the requirements of the plants you like, for example an area for edible plants will need plenty of sun and can’t successfully be sited in a shady, tucked away part of the garden.
The Hard Landscaping Plan
Next job is to plan your hard landscaping. If you’re having a new driveway for example, take this opportunity to plot out how much of your space needs to be taken up with an area for parking and how much space can be left in between for planting. If you need to plant a hedge to maintain your privacy, you will know how much space needs to be left for it from your planting plan. Similarly, if you’re building an outdoor cooking area surrounded by herb beds, you know how much planting space you will need.
Side Bar An important consideration when planning your hard landscaping with plants in mind, is to consider the depth of soil you will need. Construction work often leads to rubbish being ‘lost’ in the soil which can affect how much room you have to play with. Also, consider that where walls, terraces, buildings, etc. have been built, there may be footings present just beneath soil level and these will affect how close you can plant to the structure, something to bear in mind when plotting out your bed widths.
With the information on both of your plans, you should (with maybe a little jiggery-pokery and compromise) be able to draw up a final version where both requirements are satisfied. When you’re building or moving around structural features in your garden, this is almost always the first part of the process of the actual, physical works. By thinking about the plants first and planning you’re able to give adequate space to your greenery and you’re not forced to retrofit the natural elements into the space as a second thought. Many great gardens are plotted out by one person and filled with plants by another (a perfect example is Great Dixter with the exterior layout designed by Edwin Lutyens and the planting designed and implemented by the Lloyd family) but by following this method, you’re in effect collaborating with yourself, the result being you end up with your perfect balance of both elements. How you keep both elements in check moving forwards is a topic for another post…