How to plan your garden
The landscape architect, Ferdinand Leffler, will accompany us throughout the story of the establishment of a garden, from the very first decision through to its final implementation. In this issue, we asked him what we should expect, what planning a garden involves, where it is possible to accept a compromise and where it is much better to insist on your ideas intention or not to be too thrifty.
What things should be addressed when planning a garden? What affects its final shape?
“There are two groups of factors. Firstly, those which are out of our hands: the size and location of the plot, the climatic conditions, etc. The second category is the garden’s purpose, the specifics of its users, the presence of children, animals… There is also the question as to which needs the garden should meet, how many people and who in particular will use it, how many guests could stay there during a party, whether the family intends to use the garden as a group or whether each family member would rather use it for his or her individual needs. And last, but not least, whether you would rather walk in the garden or look at it from a rocking chair on the terrace.”
What you should start the project with?
“It’s good to look around. Initially, this is the task of a landscape architect, to assess the architecture of the house. The house should not simply end somewhere and the garden begin. There should be continuity of style, emotion and colour. Then there is the issue of fencing: this is highly important, because it connects the garden with the wider area. I would therefore suggest that you go through the neighbourhood and see what is characteristic for the area.”
Can such a strategy be applied to a garden, too?
“Definitely. For example, if you live in a neighbourhood which has been characterised by walnut trees, you should think about how to reinstate them in the area or how to develop the theme. If your site is located on a vineyard slope, it is a good idea to think about the tradition and atmosphere and maybe you can also reflect this history in your garden.”
Even though the fence belongs to you, there is no harm in showing some respect and honour to the site. Do attempt to not stand out at all costs.
The architect tip: nowadays, some people experiment a lot with fencing, as it is a type of expression which they want to show. They often choose unnecessarily expensive or overly original fences. Nevertheless, a fence should be something which, on the contrary, connects with its surroundings. This shows also a certain amount of humility on the part of the owners, i.e. that they do have a personality, but they also respect the environment in which they live. This does not mean that you should necessarily duplicate your neighbour’s old, neglected fence, but the necessity of adhering to the basic structure of the slats and the fence posts.
Respect for the site is the alpha and omega of any good garden.
SUN, WIND AND SOIL
Once an agreement has been reached on the overall style, about the character, what is the next thing we have to deal with?
“There are some particular environmental conditions which now have to be debated. It is extremely important to have an idea of how the sun moves around the garden in various periods of the year. In such a case, I recommend a thorough investigation. The clients should give the architect as detailed an insight as possible. The architect should ask where they are most comfortable with the sun, where sun is not hot too bright or where it does not burn the eyes and where is nicely warm in spring or autumn. Such places are hugely valuable for the garden and the client knows them better than any architect. However, it is a good idea for the architect to visit the garden at different times of the day in order to get some personal experience of the conditions. Similarly, the architect should also seek a suitable shelter where people can sit at the table without wind gusts lifting the tablecloth or blowing out the barbecue.”
Speaking of outside seating, people would mostly prefer privacy. How does an architect work with such a requirement?
“Privacy is certainly one of the most relevant aspects. It is necessary to see which of the neighbour’s windows face the garden and where exactly they are and what can be seen of them, as well as what can be seen from the street and what views could be embarrassing. The architect also needs to know, if there is a neighbour, with whom you want to be in close contact: therefore, it would be reasonable to leave gap enabling access to the neighbour’s garden, the opportunity to chat with your neighbour or to swap produce from your garden. In short, it is necessary to make a decision about what you want to cover and what not. I recommend that you should be uncompromising in this, because only then will be able to live well in your garden well. Anyway, a neighbour’s window facing directly into your garden does not always mean an insoluble problem. All it takes is one suitably located tree and you will suddenly have more privacy than you ever dreamed of.”
Do you want to stay in touch with your neighbour? If so, remember to include access points in the project. After all, a friendly conversation is part of garden relaxation.
The architect’s comment: “For many people, this is an example of a well prepared and maintenance-free garden. My advice is that, if you have some kind of urge to experiment with curves and wavy lines, make it as simple as possible. Instead of five arches, create one. There is no need to undulate the edge of the beds to differentiate them from the lawn – the plants are bushy enough to take care of the natural dynamics. The second thing is, of course, the selection of the plants for the bed. Where is the undergrowth? What are the planting levels? This type of planting is never connected into a unit, because it will be full of weeds in a few years and the maintenance will be never-ending.
The selection of what we want to have in the garden depends primarily on the quality of the soil.
“Of course. It is necessary to ascertain the quality of the land and what grows well at the given location. Whether there is rather heavy soil which is suitable for plants which are tolerant to long-term waterlogging or lighter soil where you can afford to use some more sensitive species. The architect should also look at the neighbours’ garden to see what kind of plants are thriving there.“
Most parents try to give their offspring the very best. When it comes to games, an artificial stone castle on an artificial rockery in the middle of the garden might not be the best option. Keep in mind that children change their preferences rapidly, so it is better to use easily removable entertainment options.
FUN AND SAFETY FOR CHILDREN
What if the garden is to be used by children and animals in particular? Perhaps we should avoid planting poisonous plants…
“I think that this sort of risk is a little overrated. I know from experience that water present a more significant danger in the garden for children. It is therefore important to carefully think out the location of any water areas and to place the emphasis on security. However, it will definitely be a reasonable thing, if you eliminate any poisonous plants. On the other hand, I would definitely put in some plants and shrubs that children will enjoy: raspberries, wild strawberries and so on…”
How do you take children into account during the design process?
“Children are living and they want to run. We try to make gardens so that children have an open space where they can dominate, where nothing is forbidden and where they can climb and run, even in the beds (you can make this possible with some stepping-stones). In short, so that the feeling which they have inside (i.e. that something should not or may not be touched) is not transmitted to the garden. A garden should be the exact opposite. Every child is different, of course, so it’s good to take into account how he or she likes to play and to adapt the garden. Ideally, however, it is important to use elements that represent minimal intervention and can be easily removed, because they can cease to be fun for children after a certain period of time.”
An architectural tip: Sandboxes and play equipment, as well as a children’s swimming pool, should always be placed where they can easily be seen by the parents. Safety takes precedence over aesthetics. Close your eyes and tell yourself that the children’s play equipment will only be a temporary thing anyway. Ask the architect for a proposal which takes into account that the sandpit will only be in the garden for a few years or that the sand will be taken away one day and a new bed will be planted in its place.
If you have a pet which is not overly well behaved, you will probably have to accept the fact that you will never have a perfectly landscaped garden. But the blissful expression of your four-legged friend rolling or grubbing at the lawn will be well worth it.
What about pets?
“This is one of an architect’s most common questions. If you have animals which are outside in the garden, you will never have a perfect lawn. Of course, there are also extreme cases where dogs pull up flowers, etc. too. If it is a puppy, wait until it has grown up before establishing the garden. Anyway, it is always a trade-off: if you have a restless dog, you cannot have a cosy garden. The location of the kennel is also a theme.
This is also something which the landscape architect must resolve, but only based on an agreement with the client. Only the client knows where his or her dog feels best. The dog should have an overview of the garden, it should see be able to see the garden entrance, its master’s door… . On the other hand it is also good for the dog’s owner to have easy access, i.e. when taking food or water to the dog. It is a good idea to locate a tap directly next to the kennel, etc.”
Water features in a garden are a popular diversion: they are not only pleasing to look at, but they also bring some delicate sound effects into the garden. However, the budget is a significant factor here.
We have already discussed this a lot, but we have avoided the most important element, i.e. finance. We all know from own experience that the costs mostly increase during an implementation. How can this be prevented?
“It is all about proper planning. It is the responsibility of every architect to provide the client with a budget as soon as possible which will clarify what the client can get at what price and what is not financially feasible. Clients often have very distorted ideas about financial costs and that is why the project often ends up in a drawer…“
When is it necessary to have the matter clarified by the architect?
“At least a rough idea of the cost should be given at the second meeting at the latest, where the architect suggests a concept, and the client should intimate whether this is acceptable. Personally, I already have some very rough calculations at eh second meeting, how much will each square meter of lawn or flower beds and planting trees will cost … The client either approves the budget or says that it is too high. When we start to think about how to reduce the price, I recommend how to reduce the final price and what it is definitely not worth scrimping on.
We also agree what to drop completely and what could be added at a later stage, if the client comes up with more funds. I am of the opinion that it is better to plan everything in detail and in phases than to make too many compromises. It is important to prepare the terrain well and soil cultivation should never be skimped, even if it is something which is not overly visible. It may be even a third of the budget. All the rest can wait.”
Could you give an average price to give us some idea?
“A well-made garden costs around 1,000 CZK per square meter. There may already be a water feature or comfortable seating. This does not mean that you cannot make a nice garden for 300 CZK per square meter. But, of course, it will be a little more modest.”
The next thing is the architect ‘s fee. This probably raises the cost, too…
“A landscape architect’s price ranges between 400-600 CZK per hour. In my opinion, the architect should be involved in the realisation from beginning to end: the architect should help to choose the implementation company, help to evaluate the individual bids and be able to explain why a company is so cheap and whether or not that is a good sign. The architect should also undertake regular inspections, represent the client and check that everything is going as it should, check the soil composition, the plants, the seating, etc. This all will increase the cost of the architect’s services, but I think that it is well worth it.”
Ferdinand Leffler is a garden architect and designer and the founder of the Flera studio. He selects careful, reliable and creative architects for his team. He will help you to come up with a garden which is made to measure to meet your requirements and needs and so that you feel good in it: “We are advocates of the fact that the architecture of a property should express a story which has a beginning, gradation and a point… The garden should arise from the consistent interconnection of all the elements, functions and motifs which the client’s requirements bring to it and it should have a single author.
Source: Home Architect 05/2013
Text: Dominika Záveská
Photo: Thinkstock, Atelier Flera, www.gardenshit.cz