Gardens are outdoor sanctuaries: places where we can play, rest and socialise, cradled by nature. Tom Balon of Vigoro Nursery talked to us about some of the golden rules and pitfalls to avoid when creating your garden utopia.
Words by Natasha Were
In a climate that invites outdoor living, a garden truly becomes an extension of one's living space. But in order for it to be both pleasing to the eye and fully utilised, there are a few key elements to consider.
Balance with the Building
The house will always be the dominant structure in a garden, so the landscaping design should aim to work with this, not against it. "Any building," Tom explains, "will have various architectural focal points. Your landscaping should enhance these, rather than obscure them."
Consider the views from indoors – you don’t want to block them with ill-placed trees or shrubs – as well as the elevation of the building, so that the planting does not dwarf the construction.
Native and Existing plants
Whenever possible use existing landscaping and any plants or trees that are already there, even if they have to be relocated. Not only does it reduce work and costs, but you get the assurance these plants will do well in that location.
Similarly, when choosing new plants, opt for hardy, native species that are adapted to the climate. Each garden will have its own set of conditions – type of soil, exposure to wind, proximity to sea – that will affect what grows there, but a peek at your neighbours' garden will give you a good idea of what will thrive.
To make your garden a tranquil retreat that you can enjoy year round, shade is essential. Covered terrace areas may well be part of the architecture, but if you want to create play areas for kids, quiet reading corners or a place to string a hammock, you’ll want to keep the direct sun off.
A pergola with a vine trained over it can make a wonderful alfresco dining area, but if space permits, trees with a leafy canopy will give you more than simple shade: plant mangos for delicious fruit, poincianas for a vivid burst of colour, neem for its pestdeterring properties, or for more confined spaces frangipani, which will not take over a garden and also does well in pots.
When planting trees and shrubs, bear in mind that they will grow upwards and outward. "We see this all the time," Tom says. "People plant something like a date palm six feet from the house and within three years it is swallowing it. Or they place buttonwood a foot apart, when they would do better being two to three feet apart." Also, he cautions, look up – you don’t want to plant under power lines.
Zoning and Privacy
Rather than one big open space, an appealing garden will have various zones - a seating area, a kids' space, or a barbecue spot - within it. Pavers or flagstones are great for both dividing the spaces and leading you to your destination. Alternately, bamboo, palms or even inanimate things like timber screens can be arranged to isolate small areas. When it comes to ensuring privacy from outside eyes, however, Tom advises that this is better achieved with layers of full, lush informal landscaping than straight hedges or rows of trees.
With this framework in place you can then have fun adding plants for texture, colour and fragrance, water features for their soothing sound and ability to invite the wildlife in, artificial grass or rubber surfacing for play areas – whatever will make your outdoor space into a relaxing refuge.
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