about this blog



I started this blog in 2008. It started mainly as a way of tracking the evolution of my dry garden, and that led to an interest in photography and in the creatures that live in the garden. It's still about the garden and wildlife, but now my passion is thinking about how we humans can learn to co-exist with wild animals and plants, especially in urban areas.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

DIY garden design



Here are some ideas about garden design based on my experiences over decades of continual and ongoing planting, unplanting and replanting.


1. There are heaps of different styles of gardens. There are no formulas, no rules that can't be broken. You can't please everybody. Everybody has different tastes and ideas.


2. You need patience unless you're going to spend big and buy mature plants. And even then, they'll take longer to settle in and it still takes time for a pleasing picture to evolve.


3. It helps if you see a picture in your mind rather than randomly and desperately using what you've got to fill in gaps. If you don't have a picture yet, one will evolve eventually if you keep thinking about it, looking at other gardens and pictures, in real and virtual worlds.


4. I see the garden as a picture and a picture needs a frame, like some kind of hedge around it. I use Pittosporum a lot. It's very common and some gardeners are quite snobbish and don't like it. But I think it's great. It's easy to grow, quite fast, can be shaped and doesn't need to be watered once it's established.


5. The garden needs a structure, like a body needs a skeleton. You need to decide where and if to use lawn, and where to put the paths and the seating area(s).


6. You're creating a picture, but it's a complicated three dimensional picture that ideally looks good from every angle. And ideally it looks good all the year round. Annuals and perennials disappear for a while, and you need to have something else to look at until they re-appear. Shrubs of different shapes and sizes create variety, as do different types of foliage. I like to use spiky evergreen grasses like Lomandras as fillers.


7. Green is a colour! And there are lots of different shades of green. And similarly grey. You don't need to have continual flowering in lots of different colours to have an interesting garden. For my taste I find it more restful to have fewer colours. But it's always about finding the balance between restful and boring.


8. Use groupings of the same plants, often in 3s or 5s but not necessarily - there are no formulas that always work. Again, the challenge is about finding the balance between restful and boring.


9. Unless you are aiming for a purely formal garden, consciously try to ditch the habit of symmetry. There are no straight lines in nature. In her attempts to create a natural looking garden Edna Walling stood at one end of the garden with a sack of potatoes and threw the potatoes onto the garden. Wherever a potato landed she planted a tree. Maybe this can be called the random principle? Of all the books I ever read I was most captivated and influenced by Edna Walling, incredibly influential Australian garden designer and writer from the 1920s to the 1960s.

Markdale's Garden in Binda, NSW, designed by Edna Walling
Photo by AYArktos (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5
(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)],
via Wikimedia Commons
10. Garden beauty is transient. You'll get it right but then everything will grow and change and it won't look so good any more. When this happens passion and obsessiveness help, but sometimes you feel tired and out of sorts and wish you could have instant and unchanging beauty.

When I feel like this I think how boring that would be. Like happy ever after in a fairy tale - that's the end of the story, nothing more can happen. Or like the Garden of Eden. I think Eve did what she did because she got bored. It was only after they got expelled that life got interesting.

16 comments:

  1. that grey corner is utter perfection in every detail! (including the painted bench, the clothes and pewter hair of the woman)

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    1. I'm so pleased you like it so much. Of course, already it looks different, more leafy.

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  2. I loved your post. I'm in the process of starting a brand new garden and your thoughts on design are appreciated. In my mind have a picture of how it will eventually look but even my imaginary picture changes.

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    1. Even the imaginary picture changing - sounds a familiar story. Good luck!

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  3. All your points are so valid! I especially like the statement that you can never please everyone. A garden is so personal and the only people who need to love it are the people who love it and tend it. The ever-changing nature of a garden can make gardening a very elusive thing, as it just seems to look good, then ... all change as the season turns yet again. I look at mine in winter and despair of it ever looking good again!

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    1. Elusive is a good word to describe it. I can relate to the despair when it's not looking so great, but I've noticed I'm the toughest judge, other people don't look at it so critically.

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  4. Good advice! Yes, I'm feeling the downer of your #10 sentences currently. Trying to add fall-blooming native plants to my garden and currently failing because of rabbits and chipmunks. I'll keep plugging away next year! I like your stone pathways--I need to add more of those. :)

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    1. Rabbits and chipmunks must be very discouraging visitors to the garden, Beth. Good luck for the plugging away. Like the hare and tortoise?

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  5. Interesting well illustrated post, I think we are always our own sternest critics although I now tend to have a more relaxed attitude and let nature take its course along with a little guidance.

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    1. Hi Rick, That's a good way of putting it. I think I try to let nature do its thing too to an extent, but of course we still have to decide when and how much to intervene.

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  6. Catmint - I do a lot of "unplanting" as I try to figure things out. But really, couldn't I have a FEW happy ever after endings?

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    1. Oh dear Linda - if wishes were magic, I'd wish for you a happy ending right now. But what happens when the happy ending ends?

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  7. I like Pittosporum. If it were hardy here, I would have it in my garden. My garden is mainly green. And you are right: it's always about finding the balance between restful and boring. Love your stone path.

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    1. Thanks, Denise. I adore your restful green Japanese garden.

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  8. Sue this was fabulous...patience, time, a vision and yes green is a color....

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