Designing the garden – step 1: think big

When we bought our house, it was a new build and the only “garden” there was a lawn sloping away from the house. We knew that we wanted a lovely garden, not just lawn, but a garden with a large terrace, with apple trees, flowers, some berries, maybe some vegetables… We had many dreams at that stage, but as yet no vision of the garden. We now have created that garden, but dreams were not what got us there – rigorous planning did.

We started off jotting down our various requirements, dreams and visions. The list contained things like: a lawn for kids to play, pleasant views from dinner table and living room, view protection from neighbours (into windows and into the back yard area), fruit trees, berries, vegetable and herb garden, flowering throughout the season, separation from neighbour’s garden, a terrace large enough to fit family and guests on it, paths that allow for wheelbarrow and pram passage, wind protection from exposed directions, shade in summer heat, sun otherwise, connecting garden and forrest in a natural way.
At the time we loaned lots of garden books with plenty of pictures from the library and got one year’s worth of a gardening magazine from my mother-in-law. Browsing those and reading the design sections added further to the list: place to heap snow from paths, tree on the terrace (leaving a hole in the decking), prevailing colour scheme for flowers, a child-safe water-feature. Through all the browsing we got also plenty of ideas on details and started to see what are the done things here in Finland, which I found very different to what I knew from Germany and England.

What we had done at the time without realising, was to identify mainly functional requirements for the garden, or what the important things for us would be to utilise the garden. This is really an important thing to get right, as some decisions resulting from those requirements cannot easily be undone and a good garden should meet the requirements that arise throughout the various stages of life. At this stage it is really hard to think big enough. I find that in garden make-over programs the requirements are usually simplified to two or three and the designer does then all sort of extras to wow the customers. In contrast, I think it is possible to have tens of requirements on the list and even implement most of those, regardless of the size and lay of the garden. It is all down to creativity to get there. But having articulated what is required is the first step to getting there.

Our list did at this time not yet include too many technical requirements of the likes of: pavings must drain well, the quality of the ground, steps must be safe for toddlers and elderly people – in other words stuff that is needed for the garden to function but that may not be even obviously visible.

Next, we visualised the garden.

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