Starting a Garden – Planning Stages
Making a plan
The importance ofin stages, in terms of time and expense, should be emphasized. Always remember that running a garden is rather like running a business: defining the priorities comes first.
When making a garden it is much better to start off at the beginning rather than in the middle. Of course you can just letgradually grow, and as your taste changes, knowledge of plants expands and visual perception develops, you start making adjustments. You alter the shape of the lawn, add a new or two, decide you have too few, or too many evergreens, extend or reduce the paving area, simplify the planting in some areas add a focal point, or decide that you have put one in the wrong place and move it. New plants are bought without thought and scattered here and there. You think that the garden needs more height and plant another tree, or perhaps it needs less shade, so another tree comes out; plants are constantly being disturbed by being moved to where you imagine they are going to grow, or look, better. But this haphazard approach is, ultimately, time-wasting and unsatisfactory. In the long run, much time and money will be saved by planning the garden in stages, and carefully finishing one at a time.
Clearing the weeds
There are many aspects to . If the garden is heavily infested with serious weeds ( , couch grass and ground elder), the very first necessity is thoroughly and meticulously to clean the whole area — weeds such as these think nothing of a layer of cement or paving stones over their heads and will quickly make their way up the sides or through the cracks. The safest way is to clear the ground by digging and picking the weeds out by hand, but this is time-consuming and you have to make sure that bits of root are not overlooked. You must also be extra careful not to propagate pernicious weeds by accident — a small portion of chopped bindweed root will behave just like a root cutting and start to grow immediately in the freshly dug soil. You could spray a weed-infested area with an appropriate weedkiller, but beware of damaging any plants you wish to keep.
Try to resist the temptation to start buying plants until the soil is totally clean of weeds: if you have ever spent half an hour trying to disentangle couch grass (a master of disguise) from the roots of some plant, you would understand why. Usefor the first year if you do not have time to clear the ground properly.
Having dealt with any serious weeds, you can start to think about laying down the hard landscaping — the paved areas such as, terraces and patios. This is probably the largest initial expense in creating a flower garden. Building materials suitable to your area should be chosen for paths as well as steps and walls to keep a unified appearance, wherever possible. But if you have to use concrete slabs, try to soften their look (see below). The new paths will immediately give you access to all parts of the garden, whatever the weather, dry-shod and with a wheelbarrow.
You need to give some serious thought to where you will have a sunny, sheltered, paved area, for sitting in the sun, for entertaining and for children to play. Ideally it should be immediately outside the house, but if the main garden faces east or west you may well need two areas — one to catch the morning and one the evening sun. If the most sunny, sheltered area of the garden is away from the house, make sure there is easy access to the terrace by a good path. Whatever you do, make sure the terraced area is large enough — you will want plenty of space for pots of flowers to soften the effect of the paving slabs.
The flower beds
When deciding where to position the flower beds, an important point to realize is that it is far more difficult to make a successful bed if it is seen in its entirety with one glance (that is, if it is parallel to the house or the main view point). If there are any gaps, they will be immediately noticed, and you will have to be much more skilful about arranging shapes and colours. However, if the flower bed is seen end-on (in other words, if it is at right angles to the house or main view point) it holds some mystery simply because it is not seen all at once. And if some important plant has gone out of flower, or some of your colour-scheme has gone awry, you are more likely to get away with it.
One of the most common mistakes is to make the beds too small. It is hard to achieve a good effect with plants in a very narrow bed, but with a good depth from front to back you can create a much more interesting balance of plant colour and form. Ideally, ashould be at least 3m (10ft) in width. Always prepare your flower beds thoroughly before planting them. If your paved area is near your warmest wall, make sure you leave room for a good-sized bed here to experiment with the more tender plants.
Try and avoid meaningless wiggles in the shape of your beds and think in terms of wide, gracious curves or generous, rectangular beds. Avoid any shape reminiscent of innards — kidney-shaped beds have no place in the garden.
After digging the flower beds comes the, or sowing of the lawn if you are having one. Decide at this point whether you would like to have a edge, since it is much less of an upheaval to install it now rather than later. This can be a paved edging, about 30cm (1ft) or a little more in width and sunk about 1cm (1/2in) below the level of the lawn, which is invaluable as the plants growing on the edge of the flower bed can then fall forward, breaking the formal line of the bed, spreading their leaves and displaying their flowers onto sun-warmed stone, rather than flopping onto the lawn and damaging it.
The living structure
The next stage consists of deciding where to place the ‘living structure’ of the garden, the and important trees and shrubs. The balance between the amount of evergreens to specimens should be considered carefully. Too few evergreens can present a bleak appearance in winter, when the eye most craves the pure dark green of yew, box and holly, while too many can give a heavy feeling to your summer borders. You can often tell a garden that has been planted up in winter when, to give it an instant, well-furnished appearance, you may see a mass of plants, predominantly , fresh out of their containers. But how dull such a garden will seem next year, when there is little room for roses, delphiniums and peonies and all the joys of mid-summer.
Trees and shrubs for the flower garden could be placed into two categories: those that are planted in prime positions and allowed all the space they need to develop into beautiful specimens, any surrounding plants that interfere with their development at a later stage being removed. Such specimen trees and shrubs include a Magnolia or a Cornus. The other category is those that look quite in keeping mingled withand annuals in the , like Weigela ‘Praecox Variegata’, Genista aetnensis, Bupleurum fruticosum, Caryopteris, Phygelius, Philadelphus, Cotinus coggygria, as well as Hydrangea, Buddleia and .
When these first plants go in, the garden can still look very empty. As well asand annuals to fill up this spare ground, you could plant shrubs that grow fast and are easy to propagate so you do not feel guilty when you have to take them out in a few years’ time. Great care should be taken about the placing of your important trees and shrubs.