Focus on the landscape to complete your home's 'exterior design'
Landscaping, even on a small scale, can make a real difference to your home. First of all, it adds value to the property. Think of "street appeal" in real estate speak, and you'll understand immediately.
In addition, if each dwelling has attractive surrounds, the whole neighbourhood improves and that is good for the value of your property.
Houses in the leafy suburbs can often be fairly ordinary, but because the gardens are well maintained, the overall impression is one of beauty. First impressions do count!
I also think of residential landscaping as our contribution to nature and society. The mountains, the seas and the lakes are there to admire but we also claim part of the land as our private space. The least we can do in return is look after it and make it sympathetic to the building we have erected, so that humanity's intrusion in the 'real' landscape is acceptable. An aesthetic contribution to what's already there is definitely worthwhile.
On a more 'selfish' note: When you build a property, you also pay for the land around the building, so you want to derive enjoyment from that too. You can extend your leisure time by being able to sit outside in the summer, in the evening, or on weekends. And you'll give yourself something nice to look at from inside your windows all year round.
How do I choose what kind of garden is best for me?
There are three things to balance.
Your personal preferences are what you should consider first. How are you going to use the outdoor area? What plants do you like or absolutely hate? What colours make you feel good?
What the site needs is of equal importance. Is it a windy site, or exposed to salt because of proximity to the sea, or shady, or barren? Is it flat or a cliff, and is the soil poor or fertile?
Then think about style. What is the building like? What would complement it? What would be amenable to the wider neighbourhood?
How much will it all cost?
It all depends on the size of the land, the style of the garden itself, the hard landscaping materials chosen and the extent to which the grounds are planted. You might also have to factor in some digger work, or retaining walls, or drainage, fertilising and irrigation. Often a new house is left surrounded by a lot of rubble which will need removing, Whatever you spend on the garden, will be multiplied several times in value-added to the property overall.
We work full-time. What are some low-maintenance ideas?
For a low-maintenance garden the type of plants that will make the difference. Opt for shrubs rather than herbaceous plants, perennials instead of annuals, and evergreens instead of deciduous. Less grass and more paving or gravelled areas will cut down labour. In fact, you do not need to have grass at all if you'd rather be in the garden relaxing with a book, than pushing a mower.
We're downsizing and retiring. What can we do the future-proof the garden?
Gardening is highly therapeutic. If mobility and lack of strength are an issue, you needn't be confined indoors or give up gardening all together. Gardens can be designed with raised beds to a height that can be reached by people in wheelchairs and to a width that allows the span of stretched arms get to the other side. And those not in a wheelchair will not need to bend down too much or kneel. Areas in between should be smooth (paved or concreted it) for ease of accessibility to wheels or delicate/unstable feet, but not slippery.
If you need a hand, landscape maintenance companies can put you on their regular round to help keep your garden tidy. It does not cost a great deal if done systematically and will also provide you with a regular visitor.
It's our new family home. What about a garden for children?
Safety is a concern when children are outside. First think about containing them: fences or gates, if there are pools or ponds. Then think: can they slip or tumble down some steps, might they climb something dangerous, might they eat something that is poisonous, like oleander or hellebores?
A good design will include separate areas dedicated to outdoor play and they should be integrated harmoniously in the overall plan, without turning your backyard into a kindergarten. It is important to consider the age and size of the children who will use the garden, as well as have equipment which are safe for their active play.
I think it is a good idea for the children to have a chance to grow something themselves. So a strawberry patch or a few tomato plants in pots will be a useful addition too.
Should I go for native plants?
If that's what you like, of course you should. They are evergreen, low maintenance (well, most of them), and are particularly good for attracting native birds. Interesting designs can be created blending the various greens and juxtaposing the texture of leaves. Some natives have nice seed heads, but be careful – they spread easily.
Is it worth getting a professional garden designer or landscape architect? How much do they cost?
It is, and it depends. Getting professional advice can save you a lot of time, money and angst in the longer term.
A professional garden designer will be able to come up with a plan that is sustainable, practical, fits your needs and that will look good. The cost varies depending on the size of the property and the detail to which you want it planned.
Designers work through a process of incremental steps before presenting a final concept. This allows you to explore different options as you refine your ideas. They will consider your vision and needs, assess the context of your site, soil, choice of plants, building permits required, and all other relevant factors.
The designer will be able to implement the plan, suggest and coordinate contractors, supply plants and prepare a maintenance plan for you. It is important to understand that you can work with a designer to whatever stage you feel comfortable with. You do not have to use all of their services available, nor all of them at once.
You can have a one-off consultation on any aspect of landscape design or have a full concept plan developed. Once the plan is done, you can take over the implementation yourself, if you so wish. Water features, structures, garden furniture, lawns, fruit and vegetables, buying plants, outdoor living – you'll soon see that exterior designing is really a lot of fun.