DESIGNER LANDSCAPES 3

 Well, I hope you all enjoyed the last issues foray into looking at what you have. And in terms of a garden design course so far so good. While some of you may think I am trying to teach you how to suck eggs, I feel it’s important to lay the foundations well.

 

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Now, to get back outside with pen and paper, and measure more accurately your plot. Or, if you are lucky, measure lumps of it that you can put together to form one. All that is needed is a tape measure and a piece of wood. I am fortunate in this and I am guessing that most of you will have a basic education from when that meant something; the 50’s 60’s, 70’s and some of the 80’s, and can add up.
Find a straight line. There is usually at least one; a long house wall or boundary if not, make an imaginary one between two fixed points, but put it where you can find it later. Mark this on the plan. This is your Datum Line. Take complicated measurements from it and they will always relate to each other and you will find a sudden and extraordinary amount of space. It really pays to be as accurate as possible. This intimate knowledge will get you to know your plot more closely. Measure outwards from the house and split things down if they are unmanageable.
In the past I have visited what, at first glance, seemed impossibly hard slopes to contemplate turning into a garden; and I fell down quite a few. Well, you’re in luck. It’s not easy fitting, cutting and pulling the land around but it will give you very satisfying results. You will need the bit off wood and a spirit level. It is important to work out the right falls; or at least a good estimate.
Start at a point of known or fixed height, the naya, or front door step. Use this as your zero and take all measurements relative to it; take a level measurement out. Mark the ground where you stop and measure down to the mark. Carry on until you run out of land. Creating triangles in space, measuring the fall. Boring? Yes. Potentially dangerous? Absolutely, but gardening is meant to be exciting. I know of some gardens around that have 30 metre drops and more. Some of these are quite beautiful. And all have the potential to be so.
To summarise now what you should have on several scraps of paper in your folder. A visual assessment; a wish list, a list of views in and out of the plot and  house with notes on what you can see etc and the aspect of the house and garden. A site survey with real measurements, approximate contours and a plan of access and uses. Articles, cuttings and photos of gardens that you like and the odd picture of things you don’t! Some things which connect you to your garden, your house and your part of Spain. Your ad hoc soil survey notes and you will know where the sun is at 8am and 8 pm. More photos; this time of plants and furniture that you like. And something more ephemeral altogether, may be a colour swatch or two; some fabric or a lamp picked up at a rastro.
Start adding the wish list to the basic survey. Overlay with the site plan. Analyse carefully at this stage the available spaces and how they will interconnect, not only to the house but to each other. There are some design tools to use that will ease you through transition areas. Repeated motifs or materials and more subtle changes with planting can be highlighted with small yet extreme opposites, but more of that at another time. Think about how much of a change or imposition you are going to make, or are willing to pay for or how to reflect the landscape that exists
So far you have a lot to think about. Imagine what its like inside my head! Or it may be better for your sanity and your garden if you don’t.
Let’s start to think about some styles and begin the real work of designing something you like; not only for now, but for in the future. There is nothing more soul destroying than spending a great deal of time and effort producing something that is at best boring and worst ugly. If you have ever had that deep sense of personal dissatisfaction over the amount of ground really covered by a box of marigolds from the garden centre, you will know what I mean.
This is where I may lose a few potential fans; and so early in my column writing career! Plastic and gravel-I rail against these with my very soul. Plastic and gravel is what it looks like; cheap and nasty and is the Spanish equivalent of broken council slab crazy paving that insults many a front garden in the UK. It is a crime, a sin and an affront to all that is decent. Still with me? Good, I’m pleased. Add to that, four (even TV gardeners know even numbers are bad) undersized palm trees of dubious quality, surrounded by some rocks from the local quarry and the picture is complete. I may have to point out now that the comments in this article do not accurately reflect the publishers’ thoughts etc. But really, what did you expect? I thought I did quite well deleting the expletives.
Seriously though, I suppose gravel does have its uses. Gravel needs be used to create a dry riverbed, screed and extreme alpine gardens and if designed into a garden it should be used sensitively and not as an after thought. Good mulch? Hmm, possibly; but you may change the natural Ph and will add nothing to the quality of the soil; and a space filler for later landscapes. But please, don’t accept that a vast tract of low maintenance gravel is landscape gardening.
There are, of course, as many styles as there are landscapes and designers. Some inspired by great art; Mondrian, Miro (see patio photo) or even Dali. There are some based on very rigid mathematical proportion systems and grids. I am guilty of this myself. Other landscapes are inspired by a story line or a journey through a known space. When placed on a roof top, the results are extraordinarily beautiful. There are modernist, post- modernist, Arcadian, Italianate landscapes inspired by that dreadful old fraud Capability Brown. Gardens created to showcase the plants; Gertrud Jekyll and Beth Chatto and a good idea generally; and gardens of serene formality where the green stuff is restrained by ASBO’s and wardens with control issues. All have their place and nothing is wrong.
The important and most difficult thing to do is get a mark on a piece of paper and not be afraid of what you have done or the need to move it. Following a formal design pattern sets simple to follow rules; usually of proportion and symmetry. Expanding this thought to any style you must set the rules and adhere to them. This coordinates anything and everything you then do, forming a cohesive design which develops naturally and finds a garden or landscape where nothing is out of place unless deliberately done so for contrast or accent.
I can’t emphasise enough the first mark, but if you really are stuck there are some simple first steps to take. Trace over the site and visual surveys, including the contour lines,
(Sketch A).

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Circle the main seating area. Take a parallel line from the house and dissect this circle. Draw an ellipse from the centre of the circle to the nicest view on your site survey,
(Sketch B)
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Place two lines to either side of this ellipse, to represent the framing of that view. Now draw two lines from the second best view from the house towards those views. Thicken them up. Draw round everything you have,


(Sketch C)

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Repeat the parallel lines from the house to intersect the view lines and turn these into planted areas. Add a little spice and place a snaked line through the plot in your ideal walkthrough. Draw around everything one last time and read on,
(Sketch D)

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Now if you followed that, and I really recommend you do, you will have designed your garden,
(Sketch E).

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You may love it. I suspect very strongly that you won’t, but here’s the thing. You have just produced the first drawing and now you can start to move things about. Keep the frames or bring them forward. Create a secret space behind them. Include the pool in your scheme and maybe provide some high noon shade near by. Add or move pathways, increase the amount of planting areas. Turn the pathway into a waterway and put in a small bridge. Try reversing the whole thing. Develop the rules which you will use and follow them. Your rules are your design brief. Every point on the brief should be answered easily when finished, but it may take hard work to get that answer.
This exercise is simply included to free up the creative juices. Once you have gathered the information required it really should be an exciting pastime. I still enjoy what I do after so many years of doing it. I often don’t know the result in advance of starting a new garden. This is the best way to produce fresh, interesting designs that are a direct response to the plot.
(Sketch Plan F)

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If you have the opportunity, Google Beth Chatto; Gertrud Jekyll, AE Bye and Luis Barragan for some inspiration.
Thank you for the interesting e mails. Any questions are best via this route. Enjoy your week and  until next, I’m looking forward to it. Jon.
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© Jon Clokie 2006
 

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