If you’re lucky enough to have an outside space, it’s a wonderful opportunity to use your design skills to create a beautiful extension to your home. You don’t need a large space to make an effective statement, so if you have a balcony or a roof, or even just a window box, you can create an attractive feature that will enhance your living area. You may not have the expertise of an experienced gardener, but you’ll find there are plenty of websites and books available that can give you advice on plant choice and care, and ideas for designs that will work where you live.
Choosing your plants
Before you start your outside space makeover, you need to sit down and do some preparation. You need to be realistic about how much time you have available to maintain your space for starters. If you have plenty of time, or are keen to learn about plants and gardening, then you can incorporate a variety of different kinds of plants, and include some that require an investment in time to look their best. For example, a rose bush will need pruning, feeding, and checking for aphids if you want it to produce plenty of blooms. If you have a busy lifestyle and want to enjoy looking at your garden rather than working on it, then hard landscaping and low-maintenance planting will be more suitable.
Designing your space
Once you’ve decided on the kind of planting you want, you should sketch out a rough drawing of the space and start adding ideas for how you want it to be laid out. You can use garden design tools on your computer or tablet if that suits you, or stick with a pencil and paper, whichever you prefer. It doesn’t need to be precisely to scale, but your drawing should have the right dimensions so that you can see how your features will work together. Even if you have some clear ideas on what you want to do with your space, it’s advisable to browse through some designs online or in gardening books to find further inspiration, or hints on how to achieve the look you want.
Most gardens have a theme of some kind, such as English cottage garden, Italian formal garden, or a modern geometric design. Your theme could be based on the type of planting you intend to use, for example, a tropical garden with banana plants, tree ferns, and other jungle-type plants; or a garden that is themed around a specific plant species like roses or dahlias. The only limit to your design is your own imagination, so however unusual your idea you can find a way to create it with planting and landscaping. For instance, if you are an art-lover, you could create a surrealist garden with incongruous juxtapositions of everyday objects amongst the plants, or an impressionist planting scheme that combines many kinds of pastel-colored flowers for a border that gives an illusion of the blurred brushstrokes of a Monet or a Renoir.
Garden spaces for specific purposes
If you’re creating a roof garden or filling your balcony with planters and hanging baskets, you need to be sure that the infrastructure of your building is able to support the weight, which can be quite considerable when you put together heavy pots, soil or compost, large plants, and then start watering them all. You may also have limits on what you are permitted to do if you live in rented premises or a building with restrictions in place. Check your documents and speak to the landlord or homeowners’ association to make sure you stay within the bounds of what you are permitted to do.
If you want to create a garden with a practical purpose, i.e., one that your children can play in or that you can use to hold social gatherings, then you’ll need to consider what you need to make the space work, and how it is going to fit in safely. For example, you wouldn’t want a barbeque to be situated near the French windows, or put a swing too close to a boundary so that when it’s being used it knocks the fence. There is an added challenge to designing something beautiful when you have to incorporate practical elements, but it’s perfectly possible to combine beauty with practicality if you take the time to come up with effective solutions. If you are stumped for ideas, having a browse online should get your creative juices flowing. Try searching for exactly what you wish to achieve, for example, patio ideas, dog-friendly planting, or gardens for children, and see how other people have tackled the problem. You can take ideas from a selection of different designs to make something unique, or just use the practical tips to make your own ideas viable.
Planting your garden
Once your plan is settled, you can then begin work. If you need any radical groundworks done or hard landscaping that is beyond your skill set, you’ll need to arrange for professionals to come in and take care of that aspect of the project. Once the base is ready, you can start planting. Before putting anything into the soil, you need to put the plants out in the design you want, so you can see how it will look and make any adjustments before actually planting. Follow the instructions on the plant label or in your plant guides to make sure they have the best chance of thriving, and make a note of when plants will need maintenance like feeding, pruning, or lifting for the winter. Once you have your garden planted, you can sit back and watch it grow and enjoy what you have created. Even low maintenance plants do require a little care and attention, so don’t neglect watering, feeding, frost protection, dead-heading and other routine tasks if you want your garden to look good and keep growing.
A garden is a living organism and over time as plants grow, change, or in some cases die, the effect of your planting will change, and you may need to do some updating – but that’s how so many people get hooked on gardening, because there’s always a way to make it look even better.