Just how do we design a garden?

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We offer a peak behind the Abbotswood garden design process, showing you the first steps we take in creating dream gardens for our clients…

Consultation

Meeting face-to-face with a prospective client is paramount in establishing the vision for the garden – as well as getting to know each other. This is our chance to see the site for the first time and become familiar with it. It allows us to understand what the client wants from the garden and how they are going to use it. In this first meeting, we’ll look at the basics that will influence the design, such as aspect (i.e. which way a garden faces and therefore which areas will get the most sun and shade), soil quality and light levels.

This is a chance to talk through what is realistic and what isn’t. For example, a client might want a wall in a particular place but we might discover it will pass over the roots of a tree with a Tree Protection order. New garden buildings are important but we can advise on whether they might detract from the ambience of the garden, or make the place feel cluttered. We also like to bring the house and living space into the design equation, looking at how the garden might be used and viewed from the house.

Site survey

Next we’ll conduct a full survey of the landscape, incorporating boundaries, existing buildings, trees and levels. During this stage, we can identify special requirements or major issues that may obstruct the desired design and talk through how we can overcome them. We love a challenge, so we will always come up with creative ways to remove, enhance or screen tricky garden elements such as composting and utility areas, ugly structures or materials not in keeping with the surroundings.

Concealment of boundaries is always a big consideration – but we also like to push the boundaries, perhaps showing the client something they may not have thought about doing. We’ll work with trusted tradesmen to talk through any new architecture or significant structures and come up with an initial concept. We’re looking to maximize the positive attributes of the landscape, capture its spirit and create a design that emphasizes the planting, topography and architecture of the site.

First sketches

Once we have the dimensions of the space and a good idea what the client requires, we can put pen to paper. These days our sketch process tends to be via computer-aided design software. We’ll input the overall shape and dimensions of the garden into a blank document, which is simplified to exclude any of the clutter of the original garden, and model, draft and build the new garden as well as overlay new versions, which can be printed out and discussed with the client. Visuals are a great way to give the client a real feel for the new space – and it’s an exciting time for them to see how their garden might be transformed.

The master plan

While every garden (and client) we work with is different, all our garden designs have common elements at their heart as we work towards a master plan:

·                      We work with overall shapes and key features whether they are buildings, distant views or trees, and look for strong axis linking key points and geometry, whether these are rectilinear or organic shapes. 

·                     We’re looking to create balance and proportion in the garden – either by mirroring sides of the garden, as you would in a formal scheme, or creating hidden balance in naturalistic schemes such as a large tree used to mirror a building.

·                     A unifying scheme is important in garden design. This might be the repetition of certain key plants, or perhaps materials used in the house and reflected in the garden. We often use materials from the locality, to allow the garden to work in harmony with its surroundings.

·                     Colour is one of our strongest design tools. In many gardens we use contrasting colours to bring energy but in others we’re looking to create calm. 

·                     We also want to create movement, and work out how the client will move through the garden, looking at sight lines and vistas. These might be highlighted by focal features such as a beautifully carved gate, a tree, an archway or a fire pit.

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Plant selection

As expert horticulturalists, planting is our specialism at Abbotswood. This can be one of the most fun parts of the project for many clients as they look to inject colour and energy, and perhaps even food production and wildlife, into their garden. We offer clients a mood board, plant list and planting plan so they can visualize the scheme.

We’re a big believer in the ‘right plant for the right spot’ and will hand-select each plant based on soil requirements, aspect, what competition it might encounter and the overall scheme. We want the plants to look good, but we also need them to flourish and grow with the garden. We’ll think about how big the plants might get, how to create year-round interest – not just a flush of flowers in summer – and also how foliage, bark, structure and seeds/fruits might also contribute. Sometimes we will suggest mature plants, such as fine specimens of trees and shrubs, which will give immediate impact.

We’ll consider how the plants will be viewed from different angles. It’s no good putting a delicately scented flower at the back of the border, for example, where it won’t be fully appreciated, or a tree with fabulous autumn colour behind a bank of evergreens. And the functionality of a plant is important. Perhaps it will offer fruits or nuts, summer screening or a fabulous wild ecosystem in a once barren space. It’s wonderful to see how a well-designed garden can transform a home, and indeed a lifestyle.                   

We’ll consider how the plants will be viewed from different angles. It’s no good putting a delicately scented flower at the back of the border, for example, where it won’t be fully appreciated, or a tree with fabulous autumn colour behind a bank of evergreens. And the functionality of a plant is important. Perhaps it will offer fruits or nuts, summer screening or a fabulous wild ecosystem in a once barren space. It’s wonderful to see how a well-designed garden can transform a home, and indeed a lifestyle.         

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