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What will be the primary use of my garden?

Every garden, backyard or window box has a predominant function: it may be to give the owner pleasure by presenting a riot of colour or a subtle blending of flowers and foliage. Other gardens may be the basis of a collector’s paradise, provide plants for flower arranging or provender for the hungry flock which returns to the roost at the end of every school or working day, as well as giving the dog a place to run after his ball, or the children somewhere to bring their friends to play. A garden’s main use plays a large part in its design.

If you just want to relax and admire the wonders of nature without too much effort, you should aim for a lot of permanent, low-maintenance tree and shrub plantings with plenty of low-growing evergreen ground cover, and comparatively large areas of attractive paving. If, on the other hand, you cannot resist buying something every time you go to a garden centre and intend to cram every plant in creation into your piece of God’s earth, you will want more space given over to beds and borders than lawned and paved areas. If you are heavily into self-sufficiency, you will need to give far more of your garden over to fruit and vegetable production than ornamental plants, terraces, and lawns. If you are a pillar of your local flower arranging club you will be looking for sites for cut flowers and shrubs which do not take exception to being hacked about for greenery. If barbecues and alfresco meals and parties are your thing of the moment, then you should be thinking about sunny, sheltered sitting and patio areas, and perhaps a tree of two to provide some light shade in the hottest part of the day.

Once you have a general idea of what you are looking for in the way of a garden, you must then give some thought to the permanent features which will affect your design.

The property

Gardens attached to bungalows require slightly different treatment from those belonging to houses, as it is very easy to dominate a low building by planting too much tall stuff, especially if it is not a very big plot. Taller properties are not affected quite as much by this sense of proportion, though bear in mind the detrimental structural effect of planting unsuitably large trees too close to buildings. Cottage gardens can benefit from an informal approach, especially if suitable subjects (hollyhocks, herbs, etc) are favoured. Of course, if it is a balcony attached to a tenth-storey flat, then the style is a bit limited!

The period of construction can sometimes play a part in design — for example, ultra-modern architecture blends well with mass plantings, paving features and ornamental walling constructed of contemporary building materials.  On the other hand, a pre-war semi can benefit from a slightly more traditional approach, though again personal preference is possibly a more influential factor.


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