Now that you have your mood board (or not) you should have a good idea of what you
want your garden to look like. It’s not impossible to achieve if you plan, plan and then check your plan. Perhaps you have children and pets and you want to entertain in your garden as well as grow vegetables and herbs. You may require a clothes line and a garden shed in an area and you may require some screening from the neighbours. It may sound like a tall order but actually, it is all common sense once you know how to look at it. No matter what size your garden is you can fit it all in beautifully.
Firstly, look at your house plans. If you don’t have any, draw freehand what the borders of your house look like on your land. Perhaps it is a square plot with an oblong house, or vice versa. It really doesn’t matter. Using graph paper can help you come as close to a proportionate drawing as possible. Decide on the scale you wish to use. That is; one square on the graph paper equals one square meter, for instance. There are no rules and you want an idea that works for you. Mark off where north, south, east and west is. Knowing where the sun rises on your plot (east) will help you make decisions as to where you wish to plant what and where you wish to entertain for example. If you have a swimming pool, a slope or a terrace, make sure to include it in your drawing. How? Shade it or stripe it and to remind yourself begin your legend (or key) in one of the corners at the bottom.
Now, for a little background information;
Designing a garden is like decorating your home, as I have said before. The walls inside a house make it easier to decorate the various designated areas and allow for each room to have a certain amount of privacy, such as the bathroom. When we have a freely flowing home that is ‘open-plan’ we do tend to decorate the large spaces in such a way that one can see where the dining-room ends and the lounge begins. Now we are about to do the same with your garden. In décor we may mark the dining room with a large rug on which we place the table and chairs. This creates an ‘eating place’ and the edges of the rug tend to become the borders. We can do the same with gardens.
Look at your plan and remember that the vegetable and herb garden are best suited to a space outside or nearest to the kitchen. Vegetables and herbs require at least four hours of sunlight a day. Decide how large you wish that area to be. If your kitchen is south facing, it may receive sunlight in the mornings and afternoons and that would be a fine spot. Perhaps you wish to use that entire side for a kitchen garden and include some seating or a potting table in the plan. This was your kitchen garden and has now become a relaxing area where you may choose to serve lunch. It is now functional and it includes form. You have your first “room”. If you chose to utilise half of the south side of your house for the kitchen garden and the other half to house your wash-line and garden shed, how would you like to separate the two? You could build a wall (costly, hard looking and very permanent) or you could grow one. A hedge would look really nice, or perhaps a trellis with a grapevine or granadilla growing over it. You may even plant a row of firs or “lollipop” trimmed trees with a little gate in the middle. These are all easily removed or changed in a few years when your needs have changed. Today we find many screens made from bamboo, straight branches or decorative ones made from planed wood at nurseries and hardware stores and these offer many different décor options. Do remember that this area is your canvas. The room does not have to be square or oblong. It could be a triangle shape, oval or even round.
So now you have a great outline for your first garden room. Now we need to look at what style you wish to utilise in this room. Do you want a rustic look or would you prefer a more formal look to it? A rustic look could include pebbles on the walkways and railway sleepers for edging or you may want to build and plaster edges or beds. Perhaps you want to separate areas with small hedges to compartmentalise the plantings? The French country look is quite fashionable at the moment and it’s pretty, romantic and quite easy to accomplish. This look requires wrought iron, small pebbles or cobble-stone paving, at least one lemon tree and pottery.
Do you want to plant on the ground, or would it suit you to raise your beds? Raised beds assist you in keeping animals out of them and can be raised to whatever height you prefer. Great for the back, too! Because it is a kitchen garden does not mean that this room should not have a focal point, a bit of décor or some ornamentals in it. Ornamental lemon or orange trees are very pretty and a focal point in any room is pleasing to the eye. Your focal point could be a lemon tree (think of the sun requirement though as it may throw too much shade) or it could be a water feature in the middle of a round bed. What about the floor of the room? Would you want to use stepping stones in-between the beds or would you want to use gravel or perhaps a ground cover? In a room in your house, you would hang curtains to keep out the sun and the cold and to finish the room off. You would also hang a beautiful work of art or a television screen. So what about the walls of your vegetable garden? You could hang pots in wrought iron holders in which you plant your herbs, or you could hang a trellis to plant your tomatoes against. It is both functional and attractive and raises the eye. This is great design. Use all areas – a garden should not be one dimensional.
What if you don’t have space for an entire bed outside your kitchen? Use the garden wall and create a vertical garden! It could be a grouping of wall pots, or a ladder leaning up against the wall with pots standing on the steps which is very pretty. It could be a container garden; pots of various sizes and heights, old wooden boxes (coca cola boxes are being sold all over, currently) or even an old coal stove or a wheelbarrow painted up with drainage holes punched into it. This is such a lovely way of getting creative, recycling and having fun in the sun! We’re only limited by our own imaginations. I have seen a herb garden made out of twelve two litre cold-drink bottles that had the bottoms cut off and were nailed onto a piece of wood upside-down. The lids were kept on but a hole was drilled into them for drainage. Once the wood was hung on the wall the bottles were planted up and a sprinkler attached to the top. Very little water was wasted as it ran down out of one and into the next bottle. The plants were out of harm’s way and they grew well and covered the bottles. It eventually looked like a wall of herbs and smelled fantastic. Cost? Around R300.00. That’s creative!
Of course, vegetables and herbs require water and composting. Don’t pay for it – it comes free of charge! In summer rains, collect the water gushing off your roof or down the drainpipe and water early in the mornings. Depending on where you are located, a good watering every second day should suffice. Create a compost heap near your vegetable garden (perhaps in the room that now houses your wash-line, garden shed and dustbins?) Put all your garden refuse (except seeding weeds), vegetable peelings, shredded newspaper and egg cartons, broken teabags and the like into a hole dug in the ground, a bin or a drum (with holes in it for aeration) and mix it with some soil and water it. Don’t let it dry out. Put earthworms into it to help break it down or some compost accelerator that you buy from a nursery for next to nothing. Remember, as with anything in life; what you put into it, you will get out of it. That applies to your planning, too.
So between now and the next article which will cover choosing and planting herbs, start preparing your kitchen garden. Remember that it is a good idea to edge it and remember too that herbs can grow enormous when they are older, happy and healthy, so don’t be too shy on space if you have it.
While this may be interesting to you, it may not be the assistance you require because you do not have space for a garden. Perhaps you live in a townhouse or an apartment. Don’t despair; herbs thrive in pots on window-sills and little veranda’s too. Meanwhile, think about what herbs and vegetables you wish to grow and boy are we going to have fun planting them!
Till next time, happy gardening!