I’ve always thought that the best gardens are those that make people happy and comfortable. Sure, great gardens look good, but they have to feel good, too. The gardens I admire most are relaxing, easy to move through, and not too hard to maintain. Paths and structures must be simple to navigate, while the plants selected must provide interest and serve a function without being bullies or prima donnas. As a landscape architect, I tackle these issues of comfort and utility every day. Here are 15 practical tips that have helped me create enjoyable, livable gardens for myself and my clients.
1. GIVE A WIDE BERTH
2. WATCH YOUR STEPS.
Outdoor steps and stairways should ascend gently; otherwise, they are liable to seem daunting. Steps with a rise of 6 inches or less are the most comfortable. The run (or depth) of each step plus twice the rise (or height) should equal 26 inches. So steps with a 6-inch rise would require a run of 14 inches. If your garden stairways include more than 10 steps, consider landings after every fourth or fifth step to ease progress. Landings should be at least as deep as the stairs are wide. A generous landing is an absolute necessity wherever a stairway changes direction.
3. PLENTY OF ELBOW ROOM
Patios and decks are perfect spaces for outdoor entertaining. Plan for enough room to accommodate dining and mingling. Consider how many guests you’re likely to host regularly and then plan on at least 4 square feet of space per person. Outdoor dining means outdoor furniture, so try to leave a 3-foot-wide perimeter of open space around any furniture grouping to allow for comfortable circulation.
4. STEADY ON YOUR FEET
5. HEADS UP
Leave plenty of headroom under archways, arbors, and pergolas. I consider 7 feet to be the minimum, and I usually add at least another 18 inches if I know there will be plants growing over the structure. This may sound high, but outdoor structures tend to look smaller than they would if they were indoors. Plus it’s better to be safe than sorry and to avoid butting heads with a climbing rose or wisteria. Posts for arches and pergolas should be set at least a few inches outside the pathways that run through them to allow adequate elbow room.
6. PLAN FOR GROWTH
7. KEEP YOUR DISTANCE
8. TURF HAS ITS PLACE
9. LOOK BEYOND THE BLOOM
10. CREATE A COMFORT ZONE
11. KEEP AN EYE TO THE FUTURE
12. LOOK BOTH WAYS BEFORE CROSSING
13. BE NEIGHBORLY
14. ELECTRIC, WATER, AND GAS – OH, MY
Few things in gardening are as annoying or inconvenient as driving a pick or trenching spade into a buried pipe or cable. Locate all pipes and underground utilities if you plan to change grades or to dig trenches more than 18 inches deep in your garden. Most municipalities or local utilities offer services for finding and marking underground lines, usually for no more than a nominal fee.