Staring at a blank canvas and trying to work out how to layout a new garden is a daunting prospect, as is trying to rework the spatial problems of an established garden. In smaller spaces, this isn’t as difficult a challenge, but as gardens get bigger, say those surrounding average size suburban blocks and larger, it becomes proportionately perplexing.
I constantly come across people who have been paralysed for decades over this very issue – clueless on how to tackle their space, doing nothing with it, hoping one day to have a miraculous brainwave and the solution will present itself. The other end of this spectrum is folk who have just begun putting a bit of a path here, a clothes line there and a bbq and some trees in some unlikely spots and before long things aren’t working like you’d hoped they would.
Though each garden space is different, there are techniques common to all size outdoor spaces that can make them operate effectively. It depends on the breaking down of space down into useable human scale chunks that we feel comfortable in, have clear functions and flow well one into the other.
The first thing you do need to be clear on is what you want to do in your space. With a list of clear functions you can then start thinking about assigning distinct functions to different zones in the garden. They needn’t be too complex, as simple as a place to sit, somewhere to dry the clothes, store the bins, lie down, and eat – for example.
The aim is to bring your entire garden to life, make it a used cherished vital place. All too often, garden space is seriously underutilised much to its owners frustration.
With functions in mind you can begin mapping out the space, breaking it down. Part of bringing your garden to life and ensuring that it used and lived in, is making it as easy as possible to get into it and move around it. With that in mind, the best place to have a gathering space, an outdoor eating space or a simple tea and chat spot is right outside the back door.
I subscribe to the path of least resistance theory – not for you, as garden lover, but all those others who you want to love your garden – keep the distance they have to travel, the steps they have to negotiate to an absolute minimum and you have a better chance of having a garden full of people. A paved space of around (minimum) 4x4 metres at the rear of the house accommodates this function well. Once you’ve got people to here, the trick is getting them further into the garden.
From here this is where it’s important to start varying the size of your spaces. Ideally a mix of contrasting size spaces is best. The biggest mistake is to have divvied up spaces in a garden the same size. Nothing is less enticing than a series of spaces the same size, cheek by jowel. A space twice the size of adjoining space is interesting purely because of the change in scale.
Without any coaxing or encouragement, people will naturally be drawn from one into another - this is simply tapping into the natural human tendency to explore something simply because it appears different.
Breaking up space doesn’t mean losing your sense of spaciousness. Sometimes people misread the practice of breaking up a garden into a series of rooms as quite literally that, and creating distinct spaces separated by vertical elements. This can work brilliantly in large country gardens , but in more medium size gardens it tends to not work so well.
It works better via a combination of divisions on the ground plane and lower vertical elements. On the ground plane combining different areas of say paving, lawn, gravel and compacted earth as well as changes in level, create clear divisions of space which is then aided further by the incorporation of low vertical elements such as low sitting walls and planting .