Garden Design

In my next life, I plan to be taller: not much, just tall enough to reach the top shelves of kitchen cupboards. In my next life, I will realize very early that my true calling is to be a garden designer, and I will set about acquiring the skills, knowledge and credentials to make this my life’s work. I realized this when I took a Home Landscape Design Workshop at the Vancouver Island School of Art in March 2008. The teacher was Bev Windjack. Here’s the course description:

This is a two-day workshop for students wanting to learn the basics of home landscape design. Students are introduced to a rational design process that covers landscape styles, site analysis, spatial diagramming, and an overview of materials and the plant palette. It culminates in preliminary design development of a personal or hypothetical garden. Discussions are illustrated by slide presentations and an in-class reference library is available.

The funny thing is that the rational design process presented in this course was similar in a lot of ways to the “top down” analysis that I learned to use in the information systems career I actually had in this life. I used to enjoy drawing Data Flow Diagrams (DFD’s) as part of Requirements Analysis for new computer systems, starting with a context level DFD and “exploding” the diagrams into greater and greater detail.

In the garden design course, we started out with a scale drawing of the property we wanted to design. This may be copied from a survey of the site, if one is available. Many municipalities now provide online GIS (Geographical Information System) maps that can be used as the starting point for a scale drawing. You can zoom in or out to determine the scale.

An indispensable tool of the design process is tracing paper. Starting with a high level view of the property as it exists, the drawing is traced and retraced as each iteration of the design provides greater detail. In the first step (Goals & Central Issues), the home owner is asked “What do you want?” This question is to be answered in general terms: not, “I want a few rose bushes,” but rather “My children need a place to play”.

The next step is “Site Analysis,” which results in another drawing overlay that includes existing features such as sidewalks, stairs, patios, trees, etc., and identifies significant views, either because they need to be preserved (distant views of the city, sea views) or because they need to be blocked off (the neighbour’s trash barrels). Areas of sun or shade and the direction of prevailing winds are also noted.

The “Schematic Design” is a bubble diagram that shows the basic areas required in the landscape as freehand shapes indicating where the spaces are to be located and their relative size to each other.

In the “Concept Plan,” the drawing becomes more specific in terms of pathways, view corridors, surfaces and planting areas; however, there is still no mention of specific plants. Trees, shrubs and planting beds are indicated, together with their size and purpose: are they to provide shade, scent, food, colour, flowers for cutting, screening, seasonal accent?

The “Masterplan” brings all these ideas together in an accurately scaled drawing containing everything that is known about the proposed garden.

I have only skimmed the surface of what was taught in the class, let alone of the subject matter. I still have a tendency to prepare a garden bed and plunk in one of every plant I happen to like at the moment, but I am a believer in the superiority of the planned approach. My next garden, like my next life, will include a lot of time spent in the landscape design phase.

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2 thoughts on “Garden Design

  1. This is such a good idea to do- sat down and sketched out some changes I want to make in my garden after I read this article!

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    • You would have loved the workshop, Laura. Some of the participants were using their own gardens as starting points for the designs and it was fascinating to see what they came up with.

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