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Gardens can actually make up a significant proportion of a properties surface area. Therefore it is no surprise that most people desire gardens to be both functional and beautiful.
The question of how to make the perfect garden has been theorised for centuries. During the 18th centuries gardens were treated as a symbolism of mans dominance over wilderness.
Neatly trimmed bushes and formal hedges signified mankind’s geometric order over nature. In contrast today, our recognition of civilisations destructive impact on earth has encouraged more naturalistic schemes.
However our ever busy lives have seen a longing for simplistic, low input, landscapes with a contemporary style.
Consequently the pursuit of the perfect garden is a journey into discovering what the perfect garden is for you.
1. Discover what is the perfect garden for you?
The perfect garden for you is one which will be visually pleasing, functional, and lures you outside at every opportunity. This is really something personal to the individual!
However many people simply do not know where to start and find imaginative visualisation difficult. Try to consider all of the best times and experiences you have enjoyed outside. Try to find out how to re-create these experiences and how a garden which could provoke them.
Were there any holidays you particularly enjoyed? Does your family originally come from another country, somewhere tropical or Mediterranean? Think about how you can make the perfect environment that represents you!
Do you love growing vegetables or cooking? Perhaps you could make a kitchen garden with vegetable beds and a covered outside kitchen.
2. How do you use your garden?
Have a think about how you currently use your garden! What are the vital functional elements which are the most important? Is there a very sunny corner which is the perfect patio space? Do you need that essential green space for the children to play?
Think about what the existing must haves are and how they can be accommodated and improved. Do you have a specific gardening regime you love like summer bedding flowers? How can this be maximised?
3. List your gardens strengths & weaknesses
Known in the landscape design industry as a SWOT analysis, write out the headings; Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Constraints. Think about which aspects of your garden fall under each heading and how each can be addressed.
You may have an amazing view you wish to enhance or a low lying area you wish to raise. Going through this process will unravel some solutions and stimulate some innovative ideas. This is a fantastic exercise to engage the whole family!
4. Know your soil
A good way to investigate further opportunities and constraints is to get to know your soil. Digging over the ground at various locations will give you an idea of soil depth and quality.
If you want to keep flower beds to a minimum shallow soil is fine. If however you love growing vegetables you may want to incorporate raised planters into the design.
Carrying out a test with a testing kit will tell you how acidic or alkali the soil is. This can make a big difference to if some plants with thrive or fail.
5. What activities do you want most in your garden?
In order to make the perfect garden you will need to make sure it facilitates the perfect activities. If you love socialising with friends then create the perfect gathering space. You could create a bar or living room complete with garden sofas and garden speakers.
If you just love to relax and read outside maybe a swing seat or garden hammock. The fantastic thing about gardens is there are no limits when it comes to creativity.
6. What’s your style?
Sometimes it’s revealing to see what styles you already like. For instance if the interior of your home is sleek and contemporary may you wish to continue this theme.
Perhaps you love old traditional English villages and would love a cottage garden scheme. Sometimes it’s really useful to think about what type of overall design or flavour you would like to celebrate.
Some prefer to have a garden in a completely different theme from the home. This can create juxtaposition and provoke an emotional response!
7. Find precedent images
One of the best ideas when trying to create the perfect garden is precedent images. This is especially useful if you are already decided on a design theme.
Today the internet is full of great examples of superb garden designs and ideas. Sometimes it’s good to print out all of your favourites and create a mood board.
If you already know what garden features you want you can also search for corresponding examples in your theme. For example ‘contemporary fire pit’ or ‘Moroccan courtyard’, sometimes you can find that image that just nails what you wish to achieve!
8. Get a great book on garden design
To create a garden that is perfect for you do not have to be an expert in garden design. However having a basic knowledge of the design process and evolving innovative ideas is fun and rewarding.
It is amazing what creative and exciting spaces you can create with some experimentation and thought. When your final garden is created it is going to be there for a long time so it’s important to get it right.
A good book on garden design will not only guide you through the process but also provide some great ideas. I personally recommend the RHS Garden Design Encyclopaedia which I will link to here.
9. Sketch out a plan
When trying to come up with a garden design theme there is nothing quite like putting pen to paper. Where many people go wrong is they try to create a perfect design from the start.
Really you should start with very quick, loose and even messy sketches. Your aim here is to experiment with forms and shapes not to create a beautiful drawing. This creative sketch work is the most exciting stage of the design process!
Draw out a scaled plan of your site and sketch over it with overlays of tracing paper. There is no need to rush it! It can take many days and slowly a series of great schemes will evolve.
Eventually you will have resolved all the elements of the design and have a scheme you are happy with.
10. Plan for low maintenance
Whether you are a keen gardener or not try to design for low maintenance. Perfect gardens are the ones you choose to do extra work in not ones you have to. If you dislike weeding all the time specify weed, crowding, ground cover, plants.
If you are a vegetable gardener have less grass and more raised vegetable beds. This way you can focus more energy on your passion.
11. Choose a colour scheme
If you have strived to adhere to a certain design theme or style try to formulate a colour scheme. This can be a very effective way to create a dramatic garden space. Try to research which colours go well together and what would look best in your garden.
Try to take advantage of certain plants seasonal attributes. For instance bright red Maples in autumn can look dramatic against a white back ground. Precedent images are again useful to inspire a colour scheme.
12. Implement visual textures
When designing a garden it is important to remember that our eyes enjoy a certain amount of stimulation. When looking at examples of well designed gardens analyse your emotional response to varying materials.
Vary rarely do people find bland and plan scenes exciting. More often we enjoy bold contrasts and varying visual textures. These are much more exciting to our senses and this should always be contemplated when creating gardens.
13. Incorporate seasonal interest
It is important to remember that gardens which change throughout the seasons are much more enjoyable. Seasonal variations are the landscape designers painting pallet, it is our way of providing drama and pleasurable surprises throughout the calendar.
Try to looks for plants which will provide something interesting at every time of the year. For instance; spring bulbs, colourful stems in winter, autumn colour and summer blooms.
14 Encourage wildlife
One of the reasons gardens provide us with such joy is they are a connection to nature. Many studies have shown that gardens and natural environments make us calm and happy.
This is also the same with animals and wildlife. You do not have to create a wildlife sanctuary to encourage local wildlife. A simple bird bath or even a section of long grass can encourage more exciting biodiversity.
15. Grow things you like to eat
Anyone who has ever grown a fruit or vegetable for the table will tell you how magical it is! There is probably nothing more fulfilling and delicious at the same time on this earth!
Even if you’re not a keen gardener it’s always great to have a small growing area for delicacies. Sometimes just a small patch for growing herbs can be all it takes. There is something amazing about producing fresh treats from your own back door!
16. Provide a place to relax
If you genuinely wish to create the perfect garden then it should have a place to relax. This can be a more conventional seating area or perhaps something different.
Maybe you relax by performing yoga or martial arts! If so you can create your very own outside studio or dojo. Perhaps you wish to create a spiritual hideaway to meditate every morning.
A great way to create a relaxing escape is by surrounding a specific zone with tall plants. This could become your very own little jungle where you can nature bathe and recharge!
17. Incorporate entertainment
In our modern Hi-Tec world there is no need for the garden to be any less entertaining. There are so many products and gadgets which can make outside as comfortable as inside.
Patio heaters and colour changing lights can alter the environment at the touch of a button! Outdoor, widescreen TV’s and garden speakers can really get the atmosphere going!
Even better a heated Jacuzzi with built on bar and a flat screen TV. Just an idea!
18. Create a dining space
There is nothing like a little piece Mediterranean living during the summer months. When the weather is fine eating outside with family and friends can be a real treat! One of the best ways to realise this is to create a specific dining space.
This can be a sun trap or patio that enjoys some late afternoon sun. Perhaps you want a dining space overlooking your vegetable garden so you can impress your guests.
19. Create a kitchen
Garden kitchens are becoming more and more popular in contemporary times. The idea of cooking outside in warm weather is a fun and appealing concept.
This can provide the patio with a holiday feel and can be very theatrical during get-togethers. Garden kitchens do not have to be anything too permanent or elaborate.
They can simply be a usable, work top, space with a grill, basin and some storage. If you really like to entertain for guests an outside kitchen can be the ultimate garden feature.
20. Make nights special
One of the most affordable garden installations with the highest impact is outdoor lighting. Lighting can be a design speciality in its own right and can completely change a space.
Lighting can effectively transform an inhabitable garden space to a dazzling event when the sun goes down. Creating the perfect garden does not just have to limit you to the daytime. Call some friends, have a few drinks and talk about old times and new!
21. Incorporate water
Water has so many properties which makes it truly enjoyable in the garden. Fountains and water features provide relaxing sounds and an indescribable energy.
The reflective properties of water also make it a great way to make a space seem larger. Water generally has a spiritual allure as there is something multi-dimensional about its volume.
Water is essential for all life and is a perfect way to encourage birds and other wildlife to your perfect space.
Thank you for reading our article on how to make the perfect garden! Did it help inspire you to create your own magical garden?
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Planning on creating your very own perfect garden? Why not check out our resources page here.
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Paul Nicolaides has over 30 years of recreational gardening and 20 years of professional landscaping experience. He has worked for landscape contractors including design and build practices across London and the South East. In 2006 he qualified with a BA Hons degree and post graduate diploma in Landscape Architecture. In 2009 he founded Ecospaces an ecological landscaping practice which aims to improve social cohesion and reduce climate change through landscaping. In 2016 he founded Buckinghamshire Landscape Gardeners which designs and builds gardens across Buckinghamshire and the South East. This blog aims to provide easy problem solving information to its audience and encourage others to take up the joy of landscaping and gardening.