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Landscaping from Scratch

When you move into a brand new home, one of the things you have on your ‘to do’ list is to establish a garden. 

Patience is absolutely key to landscape design for beginners, and if all that bare space is too much (and all that dust and mud being tracked through by kids and dogs!), you can rely on temporary solutions – annuals, fast growing ground covers, and even mulch – while you decide on how to approach the larger space.

If you’ve never tackled landscaping from scratch before, creating a practical and beautiful garden space can be overwhelming. But you need to approach the design of the outside area in the same way you approached the inside of your home – with practicality, flow and aesthetics in mind. Here are a few ideas to help get you started!

1.  Make a list of needs and wants and sketch out a plan

Do you have children who need a dedicated play space, or room for backyard cricket? Will you want a patio to gather for a barbecue with friends and family? Do you want to put in a vegetable garden? How much ‘utility’ space will you need (for bins/clothes-line/tool shed/bike storage/potting shed etc)?

Consider your personal taste, and especially the style of the home – a garden should be an extension of the home and therefore complement the character (ie; modern sleek garden elements to go with a modern home. A more traditional garden space to go with a traditional home etc.)

Do a rough sketch of the yard space, and nominate areas for each of the things on the list that are important to you. This isn’t a master plan, and it may just be a few lines and squiggles, but it will give you a starting point for the layout of your garden.

2. Study the sun and wind patterns

Placement of key elements may be affected by the sun and wind – you don’t want to have a fire-pit or bbq area in the direct path of frequent gully winds for example. (Though, that may be the perfect place for your washing line…) A patio or al fresco area may not be well placed on the western side of your home – at dinner time of a summer evening, it will get hot.

Live with your rough plan for awhile, and spend time literally walking around and sitting in the space to work out whether your placement for certain ‘functions’ is practical and works with or against the natural (and physical) elements.

3. Work around a focal point

Just like a room design inside your home might take inspiration from a single work of art, a favourite fabric or colour, any good garden design has a focal point (or a series of focal points) to draw the eye and guide it through the space, and to dwell where it is the most beautiful. In the garden, trees or a series of shrubs, or even some kind of structure (water feature or arbour) can perform this function.

4. Scale and pace

This is possibly the trickiest thing for beginners, but it simply involves creating a ‘balanced’ and ‘pulled-together’ looking garden. You have to think about the variations of size, shape and colour you’ll be using in the garden, with tall plants to the back of the flowerbed or against a building, and paths leading people through the space. You will want to repeat some of the elements at intervals – whether that’s a couple of ‘hero’ plants, or a repetition of a certain colour or shape, in order to make the space look cohesive. But just like a mantelpiece, you don’t want each side to be a ‘mirror’ of the other, because that can become monotonous. Try adding in an occasional element which contrasts with the landscape, and allow some relief from the ‘pattern’.

5. Let your garden evolve

Once you have your major elements in – a significant feature tree, or lawn area for example, go about the rest of the garden a little at a time - think ‘small.’ Don’t pack a garden bed with planting, wanting it to look ‘full’ immediately. Allow some space for the plants to establish and spread out - sparse isn’t the worst thing, and it won’t last long. Pretty soon you’ll be able to properly identify the ‘holes’, and you can fill them in over a period of time. Major builds, like a deck or pergola, will be very much reliant upon council approvals (and often, your budget), but the rest of the garden can evolve slowly over time.

Doing your own landscaping can be a very rewarding pastime, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that once you set it up, that will be it forever. Your taste will change over time, and you must be open to change. Unless it’s a well established tree, just about anything can be removed, or relocated in the garden, so there are no ‘mistakes’ that can’t be fixed. Just like your home, trends come and go, and this applies to the garden as well. 

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