April 24, 2022

Garden Design – Research, Preparation and Design Appraisal

It can be said that the garden, public or private, is still today the link between man and nature: an intermediate state, that is, between the natural, spontaneous aspect of the terrestrial world and human creation. The nature (or parts, elements of it) domesticated, in other words. Referring to the garden, we therefore speak of a nature shaped by man, made more suited to one’s needs. Regardless of the style adopted, one must think of a garden as a space designed and created by the human mind, which has replaced nature. Already in the design phase, man can dispose of some of the natural components at will, making a series of choices regarding:

  • the plant species to be used;
  • planting densities;
  • the position of the plants within the site;
  • any agronomic interventions to be carried out.
    But the emphasis must be placed on the fact that the choices made in the design phase can only be effective if the coupling between plant and natural environment, not always respected, has been appropriate. Even during the construction and maintenance of the garden, man intervenes on the natural components, modifying them, often improving them, at other times, unfortunately, making them worse. The definition of a garden as “domesticated nature” appears even more appropriate if one thinks of the introduction of artificial components into the garden. Artificial components are to be considered:
  • the architectural elements;
  • the flooring;
  • the furnishings;
  • earth movements; the plants.
    Their introduction is necessary, as it is not always possible to meet the functional, technical and aesthetic needs that may arise exclusively with the use of plant material. Therefore the garden can be considered, to all intents and purposes, a place of synthesis between natural and artificial elements. The natural components should be predominant, but not unique: they should rather be seen as the only ones capable of adequately characterizing a garden. In this regard, the initial definition speaks of domesticated nature, precisely to give primary importance to the elements of the natural environment, which are to be considered essential. Having said that, attention must be drawn to the artificial elements, which are still important, but can be considered as something that completes the garden, improves its use, helping to make it more livable and enjoyable. While, therefore, for natural components, in particular for plants, the adjective to be used is undoubtedly “fundamental”, for artificial components the adjective “complementary” can be used. It therefore seems appropriate to introduce the concept of ecosystem, since a garden is mainly made up of natural elements among which living beings and physical-chemical factors of the environment are distinguished. An ecosystem is the set of all living organisms in a given area, which interact (with each other and) with the physical environment, in such a way that a flow of energy leads to a well-defined trophic structure, to a biotic diversity and cycles of matter (ie exchanges of matter between living and non-living) within the system. From a biological point of view, an ecosystem can be divided into two distinct components: abiotic components (solar radiation, heat, water, air, wind, soil, nutrients) and biotic components (plants, animals, decomposers, man). The former can be further distinguished in the physical factors that determine the climatic regime and in the substrate. In this part of the volume some of these components will be treated, in particular it will be seen how they can influence the life of the plants that make up the garden and how, in turn, the presence of plants can influence the perception of some of these components. 

Garden design is a form of art, and just as with painting or music, there are guidelines that, once absorbed, help to make the creative process easier. The most important tools for understanding any form of visual art are our eyes, but often we look but do not see. This chapter provides the basis for design, explaining the various processes that will lead to the eventual layout or plan, taking you logically through the preliminary stages of garden design. It will help you to develop an observant yet practical approach to creating a garden.

Before any planning can begin, it is vital to assess how a garden is going to be used.

A climbing frame for children can be replaced by a pergola (right) when the children have grown up.


The Garden Owner’s Requirements

It is vital that any design for a private garden should satisfy the needs of those who own and use it. If you are designing your own garden you will probably have thought about how you want the garden to function, and the resources, time and skills that you can devote to it, but it is still useful to get this information down on paper. When designing for others you will need to assess what they want and need through sensitive discussion with them. Sometimes they do not know what they want and will hope for your guidance. The garden should reflect not only their needs but also something of their personalities.


By deliberating on site you can also consider the setting. No garden should be conceived in isolation. Every outdoor space, however small or restricted, is part of a larger whole with which it interacts, apparently fitting naturally into its surroundings. It may only extend to the back of neighbouring houses, or it may stretch to distant woods and hills. So, in contemplating your garden project it is necessary to look beyond the immediate boundary of the site and decide how to create your own personal paradise within the wider context while still supplying the practical necessities.

Today, with outdoor space an expensive domestic asset, gardens often need to serve as outdoor rooms for eating, cooking, entertaining and so on. Children may use the garden for riding bicycles or for a climbing frame, but as they grow older these needs will change. Try to cater for this by making your proposed design sufficiently flexible to be easily adapted for later changes in use.

Three possible designs for a small, featureless site. The chosen design should reflect the architecture and interior style of the house.

Linking Garden and House

If the garden is directly adjacent to the house, it is important that the two are linked so that they appear to function as one entity. You will need to study the architecture and the interior style of the house to achieve this. Note the type of building materials used to construct the house, and incorporate some of the same materials into the hard landscaping of the garden. Try to carry the colour schemes used inside, and the style of furniture and furnishings, through to the design of the garden. It is often possible to create a subtle, unified effect simply by carefully selecting and painting one or two pieces of garden furniture in the same colour as used inside, or by echoing, in nearby plantings, the colours of furnishing fabrics.



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