I’ve been asked to write down, on a single sheet of paper, what I think are the five most important principles of garden design. It was an interesting exercise, not least because of what I had to leave out for reasons of space- things which are important to me, such as the use of vibrant colour and the need to make the garden productive. This is what I came up with:
Garden Design Principles
1. A Garden for All Seasons
Too many gardens are good for one season and boring or drab for the rest of the year. Good garden design should ensure that gardens look good all year round. To achieve this, the first essential is a strong structure, so that the basic form of the garden is there all the time. In a larger garden strong architectural focal points are essential. Great care should be taken over the choice of trees, shrubs and flowers so that one season doesn’t overwhelm the rest.
2. The Inside-Out Principle
A garden belongs to a house and it’s important to remember that for much of the time a garden will be viewed from the inside looking out. The design of a garden should take account of how it looks from the principal rooms of the house- especially the sitting room, main bedroom and kitchen (most importantly from the kitchen sink if it looks out onto the garden, as it should). This is especially true in winter, when little or no time will be spent outside in the garden. Special attention should be paid to winter planting close to the front door and on paths leading from the house, to give colour and scent at a bleak time of year.
3. Use the borrowed landscape
When a garden is lucky enough to have a view, don’t shut it out. Make the most of a view by incorporating the “borrowed landscape” into the garden. The view from a house should be of the whole vista, but from a garden a ‘framed’ or partial view can be effective.
4. Be True to the Place
Respect the natural attributes of the garden’s situation in respect of climate, soil, architectural style and natural features. If the local stone is sandstone, use sandstone, if it’s limestone, use limestone. Architectural features should complement the style of the house. In this way the garden will blend in with its natural surroundings and plants will thrive in a habitat which suits them.
5. Think long-term.
Avoid the temptation to follow the latest fad or be too ‘conceptual’- it will look good for a while but will quickly become stale. Prefer the traditional over the modern and always respect the basic principles of proportion and scale.
Always take the long view and prepare to be patient, especially when choosing trees and shrubs, whose size and shape when mature must be taken into account.