Spending time in your garden can help you assess whether the design works. Kim looks at ideas to make your garden a healthy place to relax.
Looking at other people's gardens for ideas is great fun - there is always something you can borrow, as well as arrangements that are definitely best avoided. I spend most train journeys spying on gardens because there is something very useful about assessing the space from above. Looking down on your own garden from a top window is a bit like doing a mental drawing on paper - you can clearly envisage how the space could be best divided.
Whatever garden space you have, you can find a brilliant design solution that will enhance your enjoyment and increase the health benefits.
So ask yourself if you're getting as much out of your garden as you'd like and, if not, make plans.
Plan of action
Without doubt, it's often the most simple shapes and basic design that produce a successful garden, but first you need a plan. A plan doesn't mean tha tyou hav eto implement it all at the same time. This can be worked on in your own time and as your budget allows. Always start with a list, including all your garden requirements, from a place to store the bins to a romantic alfresco dining area.
Then get your thoughts down on paper. This doesn't have to be very technical, just lengths and widths, as well as anything in the garden you wish to keep, like a favourite tree. A simple scale drawing will help you keep your design in proportion. Use two centimetres on your plan to represent one metre in your garden, which is a scale of 1:50. A garden can be described in terms of masses (planting, sheds, pergolas) and voids (open spaces such as patios and lawns). The trick is to get a balance of these. Too much void is a common design weakness. Just think of the long garden with a wide lawn and narrow rose borders down either side!
Experiment with mass and vd by cutting out different-sized squares, rectangles and circles, and arranging them onto your drawing. The void could be a circular shape that represents a lawn, the mass would be the planting area surrounding the circle. Circles are useful shapes for awkward areas. I used this simple idea to great effect in my sister's garden. Now, a circular patio detracts from the awkwardly shaped garden. We've also used climbers and shrubs to disguise the boundaries.
A room for everyone
Think, too, about creating garden rooms, just as you have different rooms in your house. A garden divided into rooms by hedges or trellis is more interesting and an opportunity to create several themes or functions. You could have a formal area leading into a wildflower meadow, or a sunny gravel garden next to partially shaded woodland. It's good to create shaded areas - like woodland or covered pergolas - for shade from the sun.
Long, thin gardens are perfect for dividing into rooms. You can have a dining patio area close to the house (particularly if it's a sunny, west-facing garden), perhaps leading onto a lawn with flower borders, then beyond you could go for a vegetable plot or a play area for the children. Play areas can be rectangular, circular o square, joined together by pathways, using a series of arches or tall plants such as bamboo.
Small garden spaces are among my favourite to design, as a big impact can be made without breaking the bank. Again, simple shapes work best, with an emphasis on contrasting foliage shapes such as ferns, box and Fatsia japonica. Brick walls can be painted white to help reflect light and increase the sense of space, while strategically placed mirrors can make a small space appear twice as big.
Gardens and gardening are great for tackling stress - the most insidious of 21st century diseases. So make sure you find a style so fantastic you barely venture indoors this summer!