Beyond the lawn: garden design 101
So you want to design the landscape around your home? Perhaps it’s sat there neglected for some time, perhaps it’s a property you’ve just acquired and moved in to. Perhaps you have the landscaping choices of the past to contend with, perhaps you are starting with a blank slate. A great lawn is a great starting point for an amazing space, but there is so much you can do to make a space more inviting and functional. Either way, let’s look at some of the important questions you should ask yourself before starting a landscaping project.
We spoke to Stuart Mercer and Nick Mason from Kyora Landscapes about some of the questions you need to ask yourself before starting a landscaping project.
1. What do you want to from the space?
It might seem obvious but understanding the function of the space will help inform the direction and materials for your landscape project.
Will you use this space for:
- BBQs and entertaining
- Children’s play
- Food production
Are you trying to screen out the neighbours to create a private hideaway, or do you want to open up your space to the wider world? Do you want some soft lawn under your feet to encourage children’s play, sports and create a place for pets to enjoy?
How much time, energy and money are you prepared to dedicate to your space? Do you something that is low maintenance or are you happy to make adjustments to the garden on a regular basis?
How long do you intend to live in the space? Are you getting the garden ready for a quick makeover ahead of an auction next month, or do you intend to retire and grow old in your garden oasis?
Understanding the function you want the space to have is an important first step. Stuart explains, “Functionality of a garden space is of the highest priority. From the function required of a space, we can then design, create and construct anything from very simple solutions to the more innovative of design solutions.”
2. What weather conditions does the site experience?
A lot of what you can do with a landscaping site will depend on the kind of weather conditions it experiences. Think about what the kind of zone you live in. Is it:
Additionally think about the site itself. Do parts of your landscape get more sun than others? Are parts of the landscape shaded by trees or buildings? Does your area have long hot summers, or bitter cold frosts? Obviously these factors will play a large role in plant selection, but they will also inform other aspects of your design. If you enjoy the early morning sun, for example, you will need to make sure you don’t plant or install anything that will block that sunlight.
Stuart recommends doing some research in your local area to get a sense of what plants will work well in your space. Talk to your neighbours and friends with gardens, talk to a number of different landscapers, and go to your local nursery for information. Take photographs of plants in your local area. Remember if it grows in your neighbourhood, it will probably grow well in your space too!
Nick notes, “Plants will do their best to grow in the positions we plant them, but to get the best out of your garden for years to come, it is highly recommended to have a clear understanding of not only your local climate, but the micro-climate you have in your garden and the plants that suit your specific garden conditions, or hire someone that does.”
3. What do you want to keep from your existing landscape?
Assuming you’re not starting from a blank slate, consider the elements that already exist in your space and think about which ones you would like to keep. Is there a particular tree that offers the perfect amount of shade on a summer day, or a piece of furniture that you cherish? Do these things need to stay in their current position or is there some flexibility to rearrange these? Will they act as focal points for the landscape or would you prefer them to blend into their surroundings?
“Most commonly clients have particular plants that have meaning to them that they would love to keep or transplant,” Stuart says. “We have transplanted plants from bulbs right up to mature trees. Don’t assume because you have a tree you love in a position you hate that it can’t be relocated to a more suitable position.”
4. What is your budget?
There’s no avoiding it – you need to think about the money involved in this project. Do you intend to work with a designer or plan the work yourself? Do you need labourers, gardeners, specialists? Do you need to buy plants, turf, furniture, other landscaping materials? Will you need to buy or hire special equipment to get the tasks done? Remember that price point isn’t the only consideration, especially if you plan on working with a professional landscaper. Even the most humble landscaping project will take time, and it is important that you work with someone you have a good working relationship with. Has your landscaper considered the challenges and opportunities of your space? Do they have the experience to be able to make recommendations on what will work well in your space, is cost effective and stand the test of time?
Nick says, “As landscapers we are constantly working to budgets. Cheap doesn’t mean it won’t last. Re-using existing sandstone flagging for example will save the cost of buying new paving material. It can be cleaned, cut, shaped and re-laid to create a modern, functional and cost effective paving solution. We also have a good understanding of what the more expensive options are and if they are worth the higher expense. Permeable pebble paving for example is a great new product that isn’t necessarily cheap but its function and longevity can be worth the cost.”
5. What is your time frame?
When it comes to timeframes do you have a definite deadline —perhaps an open house that the landscaping needs to be finished for— or are you more flexible? How large is your project —will you need to break it up into multiple phases? Do you need an instant makeover or are you happy to let your garden develop more organically over time?
“A clear time frame for us helps us allocate the resources required to make it happen,” explains Stuart. “Time frames need to be realistic, and years of experience help us assist with what a realistic timeframe for a project is.”
6. What inspires you?
If you are designing a space for yourself it has to be incorporate things you like! Take some time to think about what inspires you and how you can incorporate that into your landscape project. Do you have an interest in native plants? Do you have a fondness for cottage gardens? Is there a style of garden that really appeals to you? Consider looking online —perhaps on Pinterest— or in magazines for ideas and inspiration, and talk to a qualified landscape gardener to find out how they can help. Not every idea you encounter will work for your or your space, but exploring a number of ideas will give you a broader palette to work with.
“The more detail the better,” says Nick. “And this detail comes from both sides, from our clients and from our design and costing/estimating teams. With a clear understanding from our clients of what inspires them and what look and feel they want to create in their garden, we can then design and accurately cost the project to suit.”
7. What challenges and opportunities does the site pose?
We have already talked about the climate, sun and rainfall conditions of your site, but what other challenges and opportunities does the site pose? Does access to the site pose any challenges? Can you get heavy machinery onto the site if you require it? How is the drainage of your soil?
What is going on beneath your landscape? Remember to always dial before you dig to avoid any issues with underground pipes and cables.
“We have a client who has a natural watercourse through their garden when it rains,” explains Stuart. “Rather than fighting with nature, we suggested they embraced it and we created a stunning dry creek bed using large Nepean River pebbles and natural sandstone boulders. It looks great and functions extremely well when they have a heavy downpour.”
8. Who do you intend to work with?
Even if you intend to do all the work yourself, you will still need to deal with suppliers for landscaping supplies and plants. Find out what companies service your local area and the kind of things they can help you with. For larger jobs you may need to hire specialist equipment and experienced professionals to operate it.
If you are working with a professional landscaper, it is important to find one that suits both you and your project. It is really important to talk to many landscapers and find one that you really feel comfortable with and who can offer their expertise to help you make the right decisions for your site.
“Finding a landscaper that is a passionate, knowledgeable and that can provide a high quality service from the initial site meeting through to the completion of a job should be a top priority,” Nick explains. “It will make the experience one that is memorable for all the right reasons.”