Designer Landscapes 1

 landscape_designers10.gifOver the next few articles I hope to cover the basics of site surveys, initial designs and more detailed design responses to your plot. My approach is one of practicality. I create real solutions for real landscapes. That does not exclude or include any pre-set design narrative. I have had as much success with simple designs as I have with the very modern ones using glass and stainless steel. As, I hope, will you.


 
 It may help while reading this to imagine a man of average height, slightly messy at the edges, standing in your garden, waving his arms around and smiling a lot. Someone who used to work for me once said ‘Jon moves in a mysterious way around your garden, but it seems to work’.
 
So, if you’re coming to this from the beginning, firstly; congratulations you’ve bought a beautiful house; they still haven’t fitted the light sockets, but have promised to come round on Thursday. What are you going to do? Walk outside and take a look at your plot, that’s what.
 
Grab a drink (green tea with bergamot is particularly good for this) and take a slow walk around your plot. Doesn’t matter how small it is; look long and hard at every view, in and out of the plot. Look away from and towards the house. Peer out of windows and stand on the roof terrace if you have one. We are aiming for completeness. At the end of the process you should have all the answers. Ambitious but achievable. This is your garden. It may not be much at the moment, but pretty soon the creative juices will be flowing and the ideas will be perfectly executed to form the most delightful space. The one you have always wanted.
 
Now go back to the start. Get paper and pen and walk around again, this time really start to see. What have you got? Make notes of the trees, inside and outside your boundary. Look at the plants on the ground. You don’t need to know there names yet, just get an idea of form and function; evergreen, spiky, tall, flat, shade giving, spreading. Make a detailed list of what you’ve got and where they are.
 
Add to this hard features; rocks mainly. Spain has a lot of rocks and their position may drive you down one particular route in the design process. But also, existing features; bancales and terracing; slopes and hollows; existing landscaped areas. Colours, sights and sounds.
 
Now, to a very important area. Where are the services to your plot? Electricity, water and waste, the fosa and deposito, gas if you are lucky. Mark these in big writing. If you don’t know, find out, that is your mission for the day!
 
List the views you like and those you don’t. Listing them both will give you focus. Add notes on how these views can be reinforced; framing or opening them up by removing something or adding to them.
 
You have a site survey forming. Easy so far. Now determine how high you are form sea level.  You may have to look at a map or better still, speak to people. Heights above 300 metres may determine your planting regime later in the process. Note where the sun is at the time of the day you are working. Make a note of the date you take this, your first survey. Spanish sun moves an extraordinary amount throughout the seasons
 
OK, you have some simple information. You have height above sea level, which way the plot faces, existing trees and landmarks, existing views and vegetation. Now if you are lucky enough to have bought a plot on an old Huerta no problem, your soil will be fine, otherwise you need to do a quick soil test. Grab a handful. Red and crumbly, ok. In fact this is known by people who have not been to the Fens as Tierra Buena. Grey and crumbly, think about improving it and make a note that raised beds will be easier to establish.
 
You have an important list of views. This is a Visual Assessment; now make a note of the ones you like. And this is what you like, not the arty farty designer but what gives you pleasure. I personally like industrial landscapes and derelict buildings, but it’s my choice and I wouldn’t inflict it on anyone else.
 
Ok you have quite a comprehensive site survey now start the fun bit. Write a wish list. Put on the list everything you want to achieve with the garden. You can use flowery English like connectivity and sympathetic healing environment or you can say paths, patio and flowers. Whatever suits you. But make it a list of everything. Look in books, read magazines and peer over garden walls, talk to your friends and silly old men in cafes; re-visit places you like and watch the telly. All these are legitimate sources of information and help give you ideas. A wish list is just that, a list of things in a perfect world you would like to see or achieve in your garden; now prioritise them. List the most important. These are achievable.
 
Get new piece of paper and more to drink. (Back to the tea; Sangria doesn’t help as much as you think it would) Draw out the rough shape of the plot. Don’t worry if you can’t draw, not many people can, that’s why we pay so much for good art. Start by drawing the rough outline of the house. Walk round the outside again if you can’t remember it all. Then mark the rough outline of the plot around it. Start to make marks on the paper; arrows to mark the best views; thick lines to mark routes through and to things. Circles with crosses in them to mark trees and plants you like. Rough ovals for areas to put things in; seating, bar-b-que, tennis court, drive way, heli-pad. Nothing is too ambitious at this stage; I was once asked to design a swimming pool for a clients dogs.

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Think very hard about accessibility both inside and up to your plot. You are starting to form the backbone of your garden. Connectivity and ease are the buzz words. No point at all putting a patio more than 20 metres from your house and pool because, in time you won’t use it.
 
Look at the relationships between areas of different use. How close to your house is the seating area, how does it connect to the pool, how do you access it. Keep moving things around until you are happy. It will not happen in one hit. This is what I am trained to do and sometimes it can take a while. It is important to keep the momentum. New paper, new marks, editing all the time. Always keep everything. Never throw away a scribble until the project is finished, it’s amazing the number of throw away ideas that become the backbone of a successful design.
 
There we are then. You should have a simple and easily achieved basic site survey. More, perhaps a list of what you’ve got and what you want. You also have, although you may not know it yet, the first steps to a successful design.
 
 
I hope to show you next time how best to physically measure plot heights and falls so you use the landscape to your design, or make decisions about how much to change it. The choice is yours; it’s your garden; it’s what you want. Then we can move on to some ideas about form and function; design styles and plants for certain purposes. Included in this article are some basic illustrations; what I actually do as I arrive at a site. They really are my actual drawings; this is not definitive but may help illustrate what I am banging on about.
 
Until then, good luck and enjoy.
Any questions, to
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www.designerlandscapes.org
Tel: 00 34 679 464 857
© Jon Clokie 2006

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