The process of landscape design, like architectural design or urban planning, generally works by getting the big picture things worked out first (like overall spatial composition) and then focussing on the small stuff.
You might decide, however, to throw caution to the wind and ask your landscape architect to design your garden the other way – by framing the space around a particular piece or pieces of garden furniture or garden art. These might by objects that have jumped out at you whilst window shopping, existing elements in your garden that you’ve always loved or something with sentimental value.
Going hunting for interesting, unique or just affordable furniture or other feature elements for the grounds of your property can be a very useful way to begin a design project. It can be very informative for your designer, as you will be providing an insight into your taste and your ideas for your garden.
It will then be your landscape architect’s job to work out how best to make these components fit into your new or modified garden.
One of the best aspects of the selection of structural garden features before finalising or even drafting the layout and specifics of a garden is that you get to design ‘outwards’ from those objects. Careful attention can be paid to the scale and composition of zones adjoining the feature elements, making sure that the spaces and components around them are tailored to suit the objects – rather than ‘retrofitting’ an object into a generic paved, pebbled or lawned area.
In architectural terms, it’s the equivalent of a client falling in love with a particular oven and asking their architect to design their kitchen around that. It may seem sort of back to front, but it does make sense – for landscape as much as for architecture and interior design.
I recently worked on a small back courtyard project for a property in Canberra. The subject area faced south and received very little sun during winter. The owner was keen to redo this courtyard – to improve the aesthetics of the town house’s surrounds and to provide a new passive recreation space for the warmer months.
By chance, the owner happened upon a neat little bench seat which they liked and which they thought would be suitable visually and for utilitarian reasons in the courtyard. We decided to use that piece of furniture as one of the key determinants in the garden’s layout, taking into account its shape, size, colour and aesthetics.
So, a series of concept sketches were prepared for the courtyard, with the subject bench seat in different spots and orientations. In each option scheme, the surrounds of the bench, whether a paved area, a pebbled zone or planted areas were specifically set to suit the dimensions of the object.
The final scheme extended a single pebble surface virtually from end to end of the courtyard, including around the base of an existing Ornamental Pear. Shade-tolerant Nandina shrubs skirted the boundary chainmesh fencing, to eventually camouflage it and a mixture of shade-loving strappy leafed plants were used as ground covers around the pebble area. The main intent of the final scheme, however, was to make the surface finish below the feature seat match the width of the seat – so that the main surface and main element were proportionally sympathetic.
Lots of garden furniture and garden art selection websites provide recommendations for picking built garden objects for reasons such as easy care, dual purpose and colour and size of furniture or objects. All good ideas. This particular bench came from IKEA and was priced at around $100 and made from materials suitable for outdoor areas.
What is important too is making those pieces of furniture or other garden elements look like they are meant to be there. Many gardens have multi-purpose paved zones with a table setting plonked in the middle of them. Why not get your landscape architect to set your outdoor furniture into specially designed surrounds. Your outdoor fittings and fixtures will then not look like an afterthought and your garden will look more deliberate and inviting.