Road to a beautiful garden

Great Outdoors

Road to a beautiful garden

Building your own green space doesn’t just start with buying a few plants. It requires a lot of planning and attention to detail. Surabhi Johri gives you a step-by-step approach to the process

Creating impeccable gardens is a combination of vision, skill, expertise and a penchant for not letting mundane practicalities and logistics discourage you. Great outdoor space is a reflection of creativity, good taste, and discipline. Most enjoyed garden is the one that is meant to be used not just looked at. It sooths a weary soul and brings friends and family together. The hard work that goes into crafting personal, meaningful spaces becomes most rewarding if the planning is in right place. 

The term garden is a commonly used word for outdoor space, but this should not restrict your imagination in considering any space that opens up to the sky and soaks in fresh air. A backyard, a courtyard, roof, balcony or acres of land, anything it can be. Dimension of such space should not discourage you from developing it and making it your own. Too big can be broken and dealt with in smaller parcels, while too small is always big enough to be made appealing.

It all begins with imagining what appeals to your soul. Close your eyes and let imagination be guided by your needs. Do this mental visualisation with the family members and speak out one by one. I had an opportunity to participate in one such session while developing concept for a garden at a rehabilitation centre in the US. This garden was suppose to heal, enable and empower, recovering stroke and trauma patients. What came forth was a culmination of creative practicality and touches of whimsy in a space that appealed patients and staff alike.

 To take up any project, big or small, the lessons are same. Goal is one — Crafting an easy and functional outdoor space. Start with a scale plan of the area and a list of what you want from the space. Take inventory of existing features for keeps and let go. From your wish list identify the must haves. Think of ways such that the space can serve you both during daylight and post sunlight.

Expense is best justified when garden is utilised. Treat the space as a plot on which many different rooms are built for different activities. Activities like relaxing, dining, meditation, cooking, play area, entertaining, orchard, vegetable garden, swimming pool etc and special features like fountains, pools, rockery, sculpture etc. Allocate optimum plus a little more square footage to these various functions in order of priority. 

Always keep the movement of sun in mind. This is called spatial planning — the most relevant step of any garden job. You may wish to improve the functionality by adding night time lighting arrangements or sprinkler system or speakers. Take such wishes into account too. Judge your choices realistically. Smaller spaces must pick a theme and follow the discipline of choosing fewer but better. There is little scope for flaws to get ignored or foiled. 

At this stage calculating a budget is possible. The number that comes up will guide you in material selection, breaking the project in smaller parts, deferring certain aspects for later time. The main expense outdoors is creating hardscape, ie construction related jobs. A great design follows function and therefore it should never be compromised due to the daunting numbers. Only the material choices and time lines should be adjusted so that you stay within budget. Discuss with experts.

 It helps you avoid costly mistakes and they may help you see worth in something you rejected. Go in small steps, better ideas may spring up or you may face an obstacle. Small steps allow room to accommodate. Not everything has to be done at once. It should not be an expectation to go all out and install everything on paper. 

Budget should give priority to foundation elements. Don’t jump to plants yet. In any outdoor job plants are like icing on the cake, but too often people start planning backwards. Works like drainage, soil improvement, hard scape areas, rainwater harvesting, waterproofing, underground cables, pipeline for future gas supply (in case you want a kitchen), electrical points, water points should be addressed first. Postpone fixture installations but do make the preparations for future installations. 

When the foundations have been worked out and are in place, move on to the icing and the fun part, ie plant selection. Decide planting locations on the plan. Colour code it with the suitable plant choices for rhythmic and harmonious palette. Discipline is important here because too many plant types without a sense of rhythm create more chaos than impressive appeal. 

The systematic repetition of planting across the garden ties up the whole space and brings coherence. Apart from choosing the right type and right number, right size also needs attention. Of course all saplings will eventually grow but when you have spent so much to create a enjoyable space then at rewards time practice discretion, as in where money should be saved by purchasing a smaller plant and what deserves a mature piece. Allow some months for things to settle in but start enjoying right away. Outdoor spaces are long term and labour intensive investments. Your proper planning, discipline and patience will continue to bring joy for decades to come. 

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