Having overcome all the challenges involved in moving to a new house, or building an extension onto a long-established home, any urge to immediately transform the property’s garden should be resisted. It is better to allow enough time to discover the new garden’s opportunities and to observe how nature influences this unfamiliar environment. This period of study, reflection and analysis requires patience, a rare virtue in today’s fast-paced world.
By allowing the new garden’s patterns of use to gradually develop and become established, by taking time to better understand the site’s helpful or hindering attributes, well-informed revisions and improvements to the garden will ultimately provide greater satisfaction and a more fulfi lling sense of pleasure.
To learn enough about a new garden, a full year is needed to observe and discover the plants and other wildlife already established there. How well, or how poorly are plants growing, where are the garden’s warmest and coldest corners? How far across the available space do seasonal shadows extend? How high is the winter ground-water? Does the garden have a drainage problem in the wettest months? Frequent use of a camera assists this process,and creates a helpful visual record of plant details and views across the space. Ast he seasons unfold, problems can be seen, opportunities discovered, the garden’s limitations and advantages understood. Prolonged observation and analysis can inform a clear description of the garden’s priorities for improvement.
Every garden has a history. Although our gardens may ‘mature’ faster than we do, they usually outlive us. When properties change hands, their new owners rarely dig out and destroy all the plants and structures of their newly acquired garden. Even where an newly built house requires a completely new garden, the landforms underlying the site may harbour evidence of past lives. Most gardens have witnessed a succession of land uses, whose traces can be discovered beneath the soil surface, such as structural remains of demolished buildings, or in the evidence of earlier plant communities,surviving perhaps from old hedgerows,more obviously as trees, and sometimes as dormant seeds. Above the ground, the garden’s site-specific history may be identified in visible structures, such as boundary walls, pieces of carved stone, locally made bricks, or the outline shape described by the site’s boundaries.
Successive garden owners acquire a valuable, under-appreciated historical legacy. A garden’s many layers of history bring continuity from past to present, and offer similar opportunities to provide evidence for the future. Remnants of a site’s earlier uses should not be destroyed wantonly. Twenty-first century gardens offer a deeper experience when they add to the story of their continuing evolution, rather than wipe away the wealth of past experiences.
To optimize a garden’s assets it is important to identify which have greatest value and are most deserving of protection and expression. Inferior elements may need to be hidden or disguised, while attention can be drawn away from others by the provision of better alternative elements of focus. If you have been living with a problematic garden for too long, or if you are uncertain about where or how to make improvements, the experienced eye of a garden designer may be just what your garden needs.
©Douglas Dalgleish Garden Design 2010