Issues for a Garden Designer in the 21st Century – Wildlife, Sustainable Design and Climate Change

A garden is a living entity – it is not like decorating a room or designing a house in which clever use of space is required for maximum convenience of its inhabitants. Whilst clever use of space comes into garden design, understanding the ecology of a garden – what is needed to keep it functioning healthily, is fundamental. It is no use placing attractive planting in the wrong place where it won’t survive – Lavender in damp shade, or Rodgersia in dry sunny conditions, Rhododendrons on lime or Clematis in acid soil. We also need to give plants adequate growing room and take into account changes that will occur over time. But more than this, the garden is a living plant and animal community, which means thinking about attracting beneficial insects in to help deal with pests; providing nesting and overwintering places for insects, amphibians, birds and small mammals who will eat pests; companion planting; providing food sources for insects and birds – nectar and pollen rich flowers for bees and other pollinators, berries for birds, and using some native plants. All these considerations are not just for people who love to watch wildlife or want to feel they are doing good – they are a matter of keeping the garden in balance and healthy – not allowing a pest to get out of control and ensuring our own survival by supporting pollinators. These factors can be designed in to a garden and I would say its beauty and value to humans can be increased rather than compromised as a result, not only because the garden will look and feel healthier, but because choices made for wildlife also please humans – who would dispute the beauty of simple flowers ideal for pollinators, a dry stone wall that can provide a home for solitary bees, or a tree or shrub with autumn to winter berries or fruit (such as a Sorbus, Cotoneaster or crab apple)? Most gardeners desire long seasons of bloom, from Hellebores and snowdrops through to Michaelmas daisies and Japanese anemones – this extended season is good for pollinators too. A pile of twigs and stones can provide overwintering for insects, but a designer can instead build an insect hotel which looks beautiful as well as housing wildlife.

However, it would be disingenuous to say that there are not some compromises to be made between the needs of wildlife and the human inhabitants of gardens – people who enjoy a very neat garden throughout the year, if they want to encourage wildlife, may have to learn to leave fallen leaves on flower beds in autumn, where they will be taken down by worms to enrich the soil, as well as providing leaf litter for over-wintering insects, and perhaps leave a patch of grass to grow long for wildlife in spring. A garden designer can design this is, so that it looks right rather than scruffy.

But one of the most problematic sources of tension between the needs of wildlife and the needs of people is ivy, for ivy is invaluable to wildlife, providing a reliable source of late season nectar for bees, berries for birds when there is almost nothing else, and if allowed to grow, nesting sites, as well as homes for many insects, spiders and even small mammals and amphibians when on the ground. However, it can be rampant and difficult to control. It mustn’t be allowed to grow up young, small or weak trees and is best kept away from houses and pergolas. The best solution, which is not possible in every garden, is to find a wall away from the house, where it can be allowed to grow without out-competing everything else, and to keep it in check.

There is interest amongst garden designers of today in environmentally responsible approaches to design. This is linked to gardens for wildlife, but also to wider environmental concerns. As garden designers we are always concerned about fitting the garden into its wider environment. Many of the gardens I have designed or am working on are in conservation areas, where it is important to use local materials that fit with the area, and to design in sympathy with the locality. This often means, for instance using native trees and does set parameters but doesn’t mean you can’t be imaginative. The other aspect of being environmentally responsible is to think about the environmental footprint or cost of the garden – are we going to use stone that has been shipped across the world, or are we going to try to use more locally sourced materials? Can we recycle or re-use existing materials? Are we using timber from sustainable sources? We must be interested in the environmental costs of our designs, as we are so affected by climate change. The weather is unpredictable at the moment. No one knows whether we are going to have drought, floods, harsh or mild winters. This all effects what we can grow and get established successfully. Working in Oxfordshire I always specify fully hardy plants, and most well established plants in gardens that I know have survived, with the odd one or two dying off in recent winters, including Bays, Cotoneasters and Ceanothuses. 2012 was also a very bad year for top fruit (pears and apples). So perhaps plant failure is going to become more common in the future as weather patterns vary and will be something we have to live with. The best policy for a designer is to ensure that the plant is right for the situation and aspect, and give it the best chance by ensuring appropriate ground preparation and care.

Plant diseases and pests are also a worry with ash, horse-chestnuts and now oaks being threatened. Environmentally responsible designers are looking at using home-grown plants rather than importing plants and importing pests and diseases with them. But it’s really a matter of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.

These are some of the most important issues facing garden designers today, and I hope I have generated some thought around these issues, for further discussion.

Garden Design – A Journey Down the Ages

Gardens add beauty and charm to our lifestyle. The tranquil peace and serenity works like a balm over the stress and rush that make up the modern world. Garden designs are on the priority list for both homemakers and home builders more than ever before.

Garden designs have become more unique along with being more utilitarian. The gardens were initially a green plot of the household where the family used to grow edible products. The entire concept was either for commercial or entertainment. The palatial gardens had pompous designs with grand structures and accessories.

The ancient gardens of Babylon; around 600 B.C could be coined among the first famous examples of garden designs which possibly even applied the Archimedes screw for proper drainage. Garden design includes the use of fountains, statues of exotic animals and rare flora.

Influenced by the styles of various periods, the English gardens have had the most dynamic styles and evolution over the ages. After Charles II’s return from exile in France in 1660, the High Baroque style of garden design crept in. It involved planting ranks of trees in straight lines on the avenues. It had a tendency to be enfolded by walls.

This form of garden design was best adopted in Melbourne Hall Gardens, England. It was designed by London and Wise. The typical old Augustan garden design was given a concrete shape by William Kent, a professional designer. Water, wood, glass and the archetypal statues were used for deriving the perfection. The West Wycombe Park, Castle Howard, Chiswick House as well as Riveleaux Terrace and Temples are a few examples where the Roman influenced Augustan style is evident.

The gardens were an integral part of the Mughal architecture. These gardens had luxurious fountains, water cascades, stunning structures and arrangements for relaxing. The Mughal gardens also had an extensive collection of plants and flowers. Moreover, the seasonal variations were complemented the garden design.

During the 18th century, the unbendable, frozen style of earlier garden design gave way to the pleasant designs. These were result of the careful selection of garden materials. The designers preferred using rocks, tarnished timber and earthy blocks ruled the gardens, along with appealing fittings.

The gardens, however, are planned counterparts of their natural entity. There has been a widely popular phase of garden designing which included forest-like gardens by Stephen Switzer. It had massive estates full of trees, caves, lakes and hills to give it a semblance of a stylized forest. The entire concept centered on more of serenity and economy by using the genuine works of nature. The concept’s success lay in the practical idea of having a comfortable garden with the pattern of the ‘cut-through the avenue’ concept.

The Post Modern style of garden design had designers experimenting with primary geometric patterns. Today almost every next garden is technically planned. The expertise of garden designers is recognized and in demand. Before executing the design, the garden designer draws a blue-print of the future garden with the natural and stylized elements available. Garden design is an intrinsic part of the present trend of setting up well-decorated gardens. Garden designers set-up the initial garden design plan, based on the natural flavor of the land, purpose, location as well as budget.

Enliven Your Creativity With Your Garden Designs

Your garden can be a manifestation of your own creativity. It is no longer a place where you plant fruits and vegetables. If you would like to add a little more life and enhance the look of your garden opt for interesting garden designs.

Before you go ahead with some garden designs, you may like to keep some guidelines in mind to for better synchrony of your surroundings:

The Golden Rule

The key to innovative garden designs is a simple rule. THINK BEFORE YOU PLANT. Plan your garden in sync with the look of your house to make a cohesive unit that is in harmony with each other.

Discover The Purpose

Prior to finalizing your garden designs, you may like to consider how the garden would be used. Would you like to enhance the view of the house or would you like to entertain guests? Would little children be comfortable playing in your garden or would senior citizens love taking a walk there? Would your garden occupy private space or would it be in public view? It would really help if you finalized the main purpose of your garden, and then proceeded to design it.

Landscape Matters

Opt for garden designs that compliment the landscape and the house. It is important to remember that the house is the most important part of the landscape and the garden needs to be designed in harmony with the house and the surroundings. Then the different elements of the house and the garden can connect better to provide an interesting style to the house and the landscape.

Choose Your Garden

You have a choice of formal, a semi formal or natural garden designs. A formal garden has the plants and shrubs arranged symmetrically around two axis, which provide a cross with the pool or a gazebo at the center. These gardens are usually adorned with evergreens, hedges or walls and have a hard surface terrace. A semi-formal garden also works on the same axial plan as the formal one; however the garden designs are a little less rigid. In many instances, the hard surface terrace is replaced by grass or evergreen shrubs. Besides, you may also see flowers, vegetables or herbs spilling out of the beds.

Natural garden designs follow the intrinsic landscape. They usually meander around the surroundings and have a casual or softer look. The architectural style of the house, the budget and the personal preference of the owner may eventually decide upon the design of the garden.

Create A Theme

Most garden designs are usually creations of the owners or the gardeners mind, and you have a range of themes to choose from. Let your creativity decide the theme; just make sure that it compliments the overall landscape and the style of the house and garden.

Play With Colors

Colors play a very important role in garden designs. With practice and experimentation you will be able to understand the essence of combining colors. However, you may begin by referring to the color wheel, where colors are arranged according to their relationships with each other. Most color wheels contain 12 colors only, but you may be able to color coordinate the plants and flowers better a violet-red to red to orange-red, in the same order as they appear in the color wheel. Move Around.

Garden designs should be able to accommodate free movement. Designing walkways, pathways or driveways are very important aspects. To make the view of the garden interesting, you can expose vistas that would make a pleasant view. This may encourage visitors to get off the path or driveway and take a closer look at the garden.

Drainage

Drainage is another important factor in garden designs. A sound drainage system will ensure hygiene and maintain overall garden health. On the other hand an unsound drainage system will destroy your garden.

If you are not happy with your existing garden design, follow these guidelines and spice up your view! Add your imagination and creativity to these simple guidelines and create garden designs that will make you proud.