If, on the other hand, your first real garden is going to be your retirement hobby, aim for something simple (you’ll be glad you did as the years go by, anyway!) and put any spare money into maintaining it properly.
How much time do I have?
Do not overestimate the amount of time you will have for maintenance, as it will soon get the upper hand if you do not stay on top of it. It is no good thinking how much time you may be able to give, the chances are you can divide this figure by half as other more interesting activities jostle for your free time. If it is a toss-up between weeding the rockery or taking the children for a picnic, the rockery is unlikely to win! If you are retired but like to spend six months of the year abroad, you will have to plan your garden to be self-maintaining, or else be prepared for a jungle, or a gardener’s wages. Paved areas instead of lawns, shrubberies which can be kept weeded by the careful use of selective herbicides instead of fussy flower beds, well designed fences or walls as a substitute for hedges which require clipping, all cut down on maintenance without affecting adversely the attractiveness if properly thought out.
What is my lifestyle?
A garden should be a pleasure and an extension of your life, not a burden and a chore. You should therefore think very carefully about major factors affecting you and your family, and how the garden can be planned to accommodate and suit them.
It seems a pity if children have to go and play elsewhere because they could spoil your masterpiece. If you have a young family, try to make the garden fun to be in. No fancy or expensive treasures, but tough shrubs which can take the knocks. No Cumberland turf, but a hardwearing grass mix; even better, if you have the space, give children a play area of their own and cover it in bark chippings, available from most garden centres — they are kinder to small knees than slabs and gravel. They can have all their toys, swings, climbing frames etc. neatly concealed behind a substantial fence — children appreciate somewhere of their very own and, if you can do this, you save your part of the garden from looking a cross between a well used rugger pitch and Steptoe’s yard.
It is no good planning something exotic if you are going to be constantly nagging once the garden is planted up. Dogs have the most devastating effect of all pets, especially in quantity, converting lawns into muddy skating rinks and well turned soil into padded earth. Male dogs ‘cock their legs’ on your favourite conifers, leaving them eventually bare and stinking. Bitches ‘wee’ all over the grass, covering it with a rash of dead and dark green spots where the concentrated nitrogen in their urine has burnt it off. They cannot help it, so it is better to prevent the problem by avoiding evergreens and expensive turf. The answer might even be to replace the lawn with a well designed gravel area, or, if it is feasible, cut the bottom of the garden off and give them a place where they can romp and widdle to their hearts’ content, not forgetting that what your eye cannot see may be only too apparent to your neighbour’s eyes – and ears, and nose.
Rabbit cages, aviaries and pigeon lofts do not contribute much to the domestic landscape, so these should be sited if possible where they can be screened. Dovecotes are a more attractive proposition, but doves, pigeons, call them what you like, have a thing going for brassicas (cabbages, sprouts, etc), so if you like the friendly sound of cooing birds, be prepared for emergency action with plastic netting down on the cabbage patch, or buy your vegetables instead!