Planning a Garden: The Location

Assessing the site is one of the first things to do when planning a garden. All plots are different; even if they are the same size and in the same road, the conditions found in each will demand differing approaches. One plot may be bathed in sun while, next door, a tall tree may plunge part of that garden into deep shadow. Winds may make it necessary to install a windbreak in one garden, while in another breezes may he hardly noticeable. Each plot must be judged on its own characteristics.


The type of vegetation already growing in a plot is often a good indicator of the nature of the soil. If gardens are lush with rhododendrons and azaleas in the spring and there is an abundance of heathers throughout the year, it is certain that the soil is acid. On the other hand, if the surrounding countryside is supporting luxurious growths of traveller’s joy (old man’s beard), whose botanical name is Clematis vitalba, the soil is definitely chalky. The point to bear in mind is that some plants are lime-haters while others cannot thrive in acid soils. If you are starting a garden from scratch it’s a good idea to buy an inexpensive soil-testing kit. Test the soil in several places all over the garden: it is possible that it will prove to be acid in one spot and alkaline at a point only a few yards away. Mark your results on your site plan.

Sometimes a barren site will have a small area where water collects, so that the soil remains permanently wet or water-logged. If this spot is covered in vegetation it may not be easy to detect; but a preponderance of marsh plants -rushes, reeds and sedges – among the wild flora will give a good indication of such a problem. If the whole plot shows signs of being wet, the ground will need to be drained. Such a spot in only one part of the site, however, provides the opportunity to have a marsh garden or natural pool as a special feature. Indicate any such wet areas on the site plan.

It is also important to mark the position of any places where the soil appears to be exceptionally dry, so that planting can be carried out accordingly.


How the site is positioned in relation to the points of compass is the next consideration. The aspect bears on the ‘well-being’ of a garden in two main ways. First, it determines how much sun the garden enjoys and at what time of the day certain parts of the area are in sun or shade. Second, the aspect of a plot will in some cases -coastal districts and very exposed inland areas in particular – determine what spots in the garden are exposed to strong winds and so need to be screened.

The best aspect for a rear garden in the northern hemisphere is south or, better still, south-west. It will get the maximum amount of sun during the day: if the garden is not over-shadowed, the sun will shine on it from early or mid-morning until evening. The principal draw-back to such an aspect is that in some districts it may be exposed to strong south-westerly winds, although these are usually relatively warm.

The worst aspects for a garden are east and north. In the case of the latter, the amount of sun that shines directly on the garden may be restricted, while a garden that faces east is likely to be in shade during the afternoon. In addition, the winds that blow from north and east are often strong and biting, and if the site is in a very open position, such as on the outskirts of a town, this could have a damaging effect on plants. West and north-west are much more favourable aspects as they provide a certain amount of warmth, shade and moisture.


Soil has to be improved, modified or manipulated so that the best conditions for plant life can be created. Good soils offer anchorage and support, sufficient food, warmth, moisture and oxygen, and room for plants to develop.

The critical soil factors for effective gardening are: land drainage, moisture retention, food content, acidity or chalkiness, and temperature. Fertile soil is easily worked and crumbly. It is dark in colour, well-drained and yet retains moisture for growth. It contains reserves of plant food to support sturdy, balanced plant growth. Examination of good soil will show moist crumbs of solid matter, pieces of old root-fibre, small pebbles, a worm or two – and innumerable tiny life-forms.


A trial dig to a spade’s depth or more will reveal much about a piece of ground. Under wet conditions, clay soils will have puddles on the surface, and be greasy to the touch, and will stick tenaciously to your spade. A sandy soil will be well drained and gritty; feet and spade are easily cleaned, and the hole dug with comparative ease. Loams lie between the two extremes.

Under dry summer conditions clay soils become cracked, hard to cultivate, and lumpy. Conversely, sandy soil is easy to dig and is dry and dusty.

Digging chalk soils will reveal the tell-tale whitish subsoil of chalk or limestone, and whit-ish coloured lumps in the soil. Peat soils are usually dark, spongy and fibrous.


When making a new garden or improving an established site, check the drainage by making a test dig. During the winter, dig out a hole 600 mm (2 ft) deep and cover it to prevent rain falling in. Inspect the hole daily, replacing the cover each time. If after 48 hours following heavy rain, less than 450 mm (18 in) of soil shows above the water table or water level, then attention to drainage is needed, especially if trees are to be planted. Surplus moisture in gardens is best drained by means of a soakaway or underground pipes or channels.


There are two groups of manure: those which breakdown readily to release plant food; and those, such as peat, which are much slower to decompose, providing little by way of plant nutrients, but, like the former, improve the soil’s humus content. The first group includes farmyard manure, composted straw or garden waste material, spent mushroom compost, and seaweed. Peat, pulverized tree bark, leaf mould, and spent hops belong in the second group.


Some fertilizers are used as a base dressing before planting; others are applied as a top dressing while plants are growing. Base and top dressings usually provide the main needs of nitrogen, phosphate and potash.

Base fertilizers are mostly available as ordinary or high-potash types. The ordinary grades contain equal proportions of nitrogen, phosphate and potash, and are used for general feeding. The high-potash types are designed for fruit and flower crops and contain twice the amount of potash.

Top dressings are applied dry or as a liquid feed. Proprietary brands are sold as three grades: high nitrogen, used for celery and cucumbers; ordinary grade, for bringing on young plants; and high potash, for fruit and flowers.

05. June 2013 by admin
Categories: Featured, Garden Management, Top Tips | Comments Off on Planning a Garden: The Location


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