Garden Construction

LONG before a spade is actually put into the soil, garden construction should begin with an appraisal of the site’s shape, size, soil and contours and a plan of how best to use them.

Every new garden can be treated in a variety of ways. The aim of any design and construction work should be to make the garden ‘live’: to make it blend with existing features and the house that it will frame, and to give it a personality in its own right—although always a relaxing one.

A mistake made in many gardens is overcrowding; too many effects and features are crammed into a confined space and so give an irritating and unsettling effect. To help avoid this error, it is worth while making a scale plan of the garden on graph paper before creating or redeveloping a site so that the juxtaposition of features can be worked out in advance.


It is impracticable to suggest designs for gardens in general since gardens vary enormously in shape and size, and design is so much a matter of taste. But there are certain basic rules which should be observed in planning the design of a new garden.

Trailing plants will enhance the appearance of walls. They are easy to establish If suitable holes or gaps are left In the stonework. Be sure that there is plenty of soil at the back of the wall into which the roots can penetrate. It is easier to leave these gaps in dry wall construction, and the plants can be inserted as each course is built up; pot-grown plants are the most suitable as they already have a good root ball


It is important that a garden should look attractive from the house and, as a general rule, the more formal features should be those that are close to it. Pleasant lawns and borders should not be hidden by a tall screen of peasticks in a vegetable plot close to the house. But there is usually an alternative to siting the vegetables at the far end of the garden behind a trellis or rustic screen that cuts the garden in two. Flower beds can be used to give partial screening, but there is no reason why a vegetable plot should not be attractive in its own right.


When choosing sites for vegetables and flowers, take account of the shade that will be caused by near-by trees, buildings and walls, and get to know the condition and types of soil the garden offers so that they can be used to the best advantage.


One of the first decisions to be made is whether the natural slope of the site is to be levelled or left alone—and perhaps even exaggerated. Sloping sites can be more interesting than flat ones, but are more difficult to plan and maintain. If the site slopes up away from the house, make any retaining walls or earth banks well back from the house, to avoid ‘shutting it in’.


When shaping the lawn avoid sharp angles and tiny peninsulas that will be difficult to mow; design abutting borders so that the mower can change direction in gentle curves rather than sharp bends. Allow for paths between hedges and the backs of borders so that hedge trimming and other maintenance is not too tedious.


It is unwise to make do with cheap materials in constructing permanent features; it is better to have temporary ash paths until the budget will stand the cost of crazy paving than to build all the paths of plain concrete which can look hard and cold in some situations.


It may take some years to get the whole of a new garden into good heart. If time and available labour are limited, allow part of a large site—particularly in a vegetable garden—to lie fallow until it can be brought into production without undue strain.

If a plan is decided upon before work commences, and then adhered to, progressive development of the site is possible, so that, for instance, hedges can be grown or fences built round an exposed site before the cultivation of plants that are known to require a sheltered situation is attempted.

Here are some ideas and constructional details for the features that may be introduced when a plot of land is turned into a garden. Most can be carried out by the average handyman, and all are capable of adaptation to suit varying needs and circumstances.


In deciding how much levelling a garden site needs, try to keep as many natural contours as possible, to save soil movement and to avoid an artificial look.

For a lawn, gently rolling contours or slopes can be attractive; but it is essential to keep some areas flat: the terrace or a place for sitting-out is one example; the site for a pool or a shed is another.

The equipment required for levelling is very simple: a collection of strong wooden pegs about 2 ft. long and at least l in. square, a length of level boarding 8 to 10 ft. long and stout enough not to sag in the middle, a spirit level and a mallet or hammer.

First decide on a spot in the garden at a mean level to which the remainder of the site can be levelled with the minimum of labour and expense. Once this has been selected drive a peg into the spot flush with the ground. The top of this peg will mark the height for the rest of the garden.

During any levelling operation it is important to see that no poorer subsoil is brought to the surface and allowed to remain there. Tackle one small area at a time: carefully remove as much of the top soil as possible, keeping it to one side until all the subsoil has been moved and then place the top-soil on top to bring the surface level.

On a very uneven site, boning rods will be required. These are strong stakes, 3 ft. or so in length, with a cross piece attached to the top to form the shape of a large letter T.

Select the mean level and drive a boning rod into the ground so that it is as near eye level as possible. A few feet away in the direction of the highest part of the garden, drive in a second boning rod. To check for level, place a straight piece of board on top of the rods, and adjust by using a spirit level.

Drive in a third post at the highest part of the site, in a direct line with the previous two. If a visual sighting is now taken from the first post, along the top of the second post, the third post can now be adjusted until it, also, is exactly level with the previous two.

It may well be necessary to check for level across the site, and more boning rods can be used in the same way, taking frequent level checks by eye from any two of the original boning rods.

Measure the distance from the cross-piece to ground level on the rod at the mean level and mark off the same distance on all the other rods. Then a general picture of the amount of levelling required will be seen.

16. February 2012 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Featured Articles, Garden Management, Gardening Calendar | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Garden Construction


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