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  • Nottinghamshire Today - March 2006

Nottinghamshire Today - March 2006

Don't be a charlie on garden design

Here's an interesting exercise to do when your home. On any day you care to choose, Make a note of the amount of time you gaze out over your outdoor space compared to the time you spend looking at the interior. Chances are, it will be a lot more than you realise.

Now, ask yourself whether you have spent time, effort and money on those areas in the same proportion. the keenest gardeners may have spent the time, but very few of us will have spent the money. Beyond the obvious cash shortages that face us all, why is it that we tend to try and cut corners when it comes to our outdoor space?

I blame Charlie Dimmock, Titchmarsh, Tommy et al. It is a symptom of our age I am afraid, that we are led to believe we can all DIY.

From the countless internet sites offering hints and tips to the myriad of TV makeover programmes, they all play a similar game. Take a horrid looking garden and turn it into a haven of peace and beauty in 48 hours for less than a couple of grand. And we swallow it!

I am all for inspiration, but it is time to bring a bit of reality back into the garden. I think the BBC has realised this with their latest series : Christine's Garden. While I don't really like the programme itself, I have to admit, it is real. Real people, real grades, real plants. Most of it pretty plain.

Which brings me to my point : Not everyone can design a beautiful garden. In fact, only a small number of people can do it properly. If you have genuine artistic flair, the skills can of course be acquired with years of serious study, but there are few who cut the mustard when it comes to scribbling a few ideas on the back of an old seed packet, me included.

so, if you seriously want to improve the outdoor space you spend all that time gazing out on, it is time to employ a garden designer. And a proper one at that, not some guy who can lay a path who offers 'free' design or the friend who, anxious to find a hobby, has been on an evening class.

A proper designer will have either spent years honing their skills or have completed a number of full or part time courses to learn the detail required. Horticultural knowledge has to be supplemented with many technical skills and artistic flair. Just as you would not be wise to employ a builder to design an extension to your house, try to avoid the temptation to employ a landscaper to design. Think round pegs and round holes. Think about your garden designer in the same way you would choose an architect. You want someone who you can relate to, whose style reflects or adds to your own and who has the competence for the job in hand. A proper garden design can be a sound investment whether you are planning to sell your house or stay for ever, but it is vital to get it right. We have a client who is having to spend thousands to put right the efforts of her (ex)husband.

Do as much research as you can bear and think clearly about your objectives and what your needs are now and how they might change in the future. Think about your budget and allocate between 10% - 20% on design. If that figure has only three numbers you either have a very small project or will probably not achieve what you want. Don't be over ambitious. The best gardens evolve over time, so while you may want to do everything at once, it may be better to spend your entire budget on designing a grand plan and then implement it in stages.

The best garden designers will produce sketches from a variety of angles and will modify the design in stages until you reach something that looks right. At that point it's time to draw up a detailed planting plan so you can consider the colours and shapes more fully. More sketches may be necessary. When you've settled on the plan they will then help you draw up a specification and find contractors to quote on implementing it. The whole process can take a number of weeks or even months so if you are looking for an overnight solution get real, or get Charlie!

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