Strike a balance in your garden

PUBLISHED: 11:42 25 March 2010 | UPDATED: 16:46 20 February 2013

Strike a balance in your garden

Strike a balance in your garden

Nicholas Newton on the importance of structure and proportion in the garden to help maintain interest throughout the year

January and February can encompass the darkest days of winter, not least of all because too often the garden is at its lowest ebb, deciduous foliage long since gone and the borders at their most floriferous a distant memory.
The well planted garden will have the diversity to include a number of winter flowering shrubs and perhaps others noted for their winter bark effects but the impact is limited and mostly confined to views from the house. So in these dark days, with the garden at a low point in its cycle, the one thing that will carry it through and maintain an interest is its structure; the way that it is laid out and the balance and proportion of all its elements both two and three dimensional.
How often, when visiting a grand stately home, do we stand back and admire its noble proportions and imposing appearance before we go inside to appreciate and take in the detail in the furnishings and dcor. And yet more often than not we do quite the reverse when visiting a garden. We go in and head for the nearest border and work our way round examining the flowers and foliage (the furnishings and dcor) as we work our way round and rarely do we step back and take an overview.
Yet this is a critical omission because the one essential ingredient for a successfully designed garden is its layout and not necessarily the detail of its content. And there is no better time of the year to review and reassess the layout of the garden than now. If nothing else, if it leads to new plans and projects for the spring, this sense of optimism can lift the gloom.
At this time of the year the garden is stripped bare of its distractions of flowers and much of the foliage and this allows you to step back and look at key elements such as the balance between planted areas, lawn and paving and the way these combine and relate back to the house. You should also be reviewing the way that the garden works for you. There may be shortcomings because you never considered this in the first place, or it may simply be that circumstances have changed and you have different needs from your garden. The best way to do this would be to set your self a brief; ask yourself who uses the garden, what are their requirements, how do they want to use it. Pure functionality aside, ask yourself and other family members about their personal preferences about plants and other garden features.
However in practice it could be that you are simply too close to the source of the problem. You may well have lived so long with any shortcomings and weaknesses in the way that the garden works and looks that they are no longer apparent. Familiarity has bred contempt. Or you simply could be in a new garden and you want to get it right from the outset. Either way theres a lot to be said for having a third party involved in the form of a garden designer.

Lets be honest, a few weeks at the local horticultural college does not a garden designer make any more than watching Casualty turns us into surgeons.

In the recent past its certainly true to say that this has become something of a trendy career move to make particularly with the plethora of garden makeover programmes on television over the last decade; some better than others. But lets be honest, a few weeks at the local horticultural college does not a garden designer make any more than watching Casualty turns us into surgeons. There is a lot more to it than drawing pretty plans. If youre going to buy in expert advice it should be just that; expert, professional, with a sound technical grounding and above all accountable to you the client.
Bringing in outside help may sound like an expensive option but if there are lingering shortcomings from the past or youre starting from scratch, surely its worth getting it right at the outset than forever fiddling around the edges without ever having anything resolved and always having to correct and adjust with ever ongoing expense. And it doesnt just end with the presentation of plans because there is still a garden to be built and planted. Someone with a track record of experience can steer you round a myriad of pitfalls in employing contractors and achieving value for money. However you go about it, spend at least some of the time over the next few weeks staring out of the window at your garden.

Nicholas Newton is a Registered Member of the Society of Garden Designers and may be contacted on 01728 638903 for further information or

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