Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Go forth and measure

It's a lovely, milder day today with temperatures just above zero. I have promised my chiropractor that I would not over-exert my shoulder so I am temporarily sidelined from working on the front porch. What a perfect opportunity to prepare a lesson plan for my students, which I am happy to share with all of you.

This is really all about the initial planning. When we're designing gardens and outdoor spaces there is a long list of questions that we need to ask in order to get things right. You'll need a measuring tape, a level, a notebook, and a camera for taking pictures. Before and after photos are not only a fun keepsake to leave for the grandchildren, but they are incredibly handy when you are working inside away from the project.

Here is a list of features that you should take note of...

The practical:
  • Size of your property - enlist the help of a husband, friend or small child to help you hold the tape measure

  • Property lines -VERY IMPORTANT...always plan on staying inside your property line by at least 4-6". If you have a fence or hedge directly on the line your neighbour now shares ownership and could tell you to take it all down. Very sad, but it has happened.
  • Designer Susan Welti, Foras Studio

  • Style of your house

  • Sun/shade exposure

  • Exposure to winds

  • Water restrictions: well or city water, rain and weather patterns

  • Drainage...are you flooded every spring, does water run toward the house

  • Depth and quality of existing soil

  • Grade: are you level, sloped, bumpy (sudden grade changes)

  • Existing features that cannot be changed: trees to keep, utility poles, fire hydrants etc.

  • Borrowed views - a beautiful forest, rolling hills, a water view, or perhaps a tree in your neighbour's yard

  • Views to be hidden - this is usually the next door neighbour

  • Utilities ( below ground or above): hydro, gas, phone, water, septic, well...these need to clearly marked, always call before you dig so you don't accidentally blow up your neighbourhood

  • Accessibility - wider pathways and raised beds can be incorporated for anyone in a wheelchair or with mobility issues

  • Dogs - do you own very big dogs that like to dig, or tiny dogs that could get caught up in the barberry

  • Allergies to pollen or bees (this will affect plant choices)

  • And perhaps one of the hardest questions of all - how much is your budget

The Emotional:
  • Use of space...an area to entertain, a play area for children, a dog run, a secret garden, a vegetable garden, a cutting garden, a pond, a pool, a fire pit, a clothesline, an area for storage, garbage bins, recycling bins, the composter...you may need just one or all of those things

  • Desired building materials: natural stone, gravel, cedar... 

  • Favourite plant materials

  • Do you want it all done now, or can you work with a five year plan

  • How much time do you want to spend in the garden - do you look forward to planting, pruning and weeding a la Martha Stewart or do you dream of low maintenance 

  • Is this your dream home or are you planning to move in a few years

I know it all seems a little dry, but answering the above is so incredibly important to creating a successful final product and a very happy you that is thrilled to wander around outside, glass of wine in hand, patting yourself on the back for a job well done!

By the way - always check into your local building codes which can dictate how high a fence can be for example, or regulate the construction techniques for retaining walls.

I hope the sun is shining where you are...have a beautiful day!


  1. Brenda,
    Great blog you have! I love your header.

    Looking forward to reading more of your gardening adventures this year.

  2. Thanks Julie - I am so happy you found your way here : )