Garden design and plot shapes

Near-square and rectangular plots

These are the easiest plots to plan as the principles of garden design may be applied to them without having to introduce any special treatment. Some rectangular plots are wider than they are long. Such a shape is most often to be found in the gardens of newly built houses, where a double or single garage and a car-port are situated alongside the house. They make a moderately wide site necessary and with the need to use land economically, because of its high price, the length of the plot is reduced.

Plots of this shape can give a sense of being enclosed, a feeling is often intensified by the need to plant trees along the back boundary to provide a screen from neighbouring houses. The result can give the garden-owner an urgent desire to somehow ‘push’ the boundary fence further away, and there is a way of creating an illusion of greater length.

The longest distance in a rectangular plot is its diagonal. Therefore, if a device can be introduced into the garden design that compels the eye to look along a diagonal line from the house, the feeling of being shut in is appreciably lessened. The most effective way to do this is to position a striking focal point, such as a rock garden or bed of Roses, diagonally as far away as possible from the windows of the house. The line which joins this focal point with the vantage point should be taken as the central axis, round which the layout is designed.

Another type of rectangular garden is the very long and narrow one. It is a difficult shape for which to create a design, particularly for a beginner. The secret of success is to use a device by which the full length of the plot cannot be seen at a glance.

Designers have two ways of achieving this. The first is to divide the site crosswise into sections of approximately equal area, thereby forming a number of separate gardens. The entrances and exits to these are so situated that a person is compelled to move more or less diagonally across each garden in order to get into the next one. The diagonal walk back and forth gives a feeling of width and spaciousness and the great length of the garden becomes less noticeable.

The second way of getting the same result is to lay paths, which as they go towards the bottom of the garden, run at an angle to the side boundaries and never directly towards the far end.

Another crafty way of making a long, narrow garden with a large area of lawn appear in better proportion: mow the grass from corner to corner.

Triangular and oddly shaped plots

If a site is not one of the more or less rectangular shapes, more often than not it is triangular. Such a garden is frequently found on a corner of a row of houses on an estate, particularly if a side road at this point is set at an acute angle to the main thoroughfare. A plot with an additional piece of land jutting out to one side is also often triangular rather than rectangular.

When planning the layout for any odd-shaped garden, the first point to consider is whether there is a way of dividing the area so that the major part, at least, conforms to the near-rectangular outline again. This part can then be designed in one of the ways already discussed. The sections that fall outside the ‘new’ boundaries made by the division, however, must be designed to fit in with the rest of the garden.

A triangular-shaped garden can be divided by planting a Laurel hedge, across the garden at a point about two-thirds of the over-all length of the plot away from the house. A gap on the left side supplies an entrance. Laurel can be used for the hedge, because its foliage is relatively coarse (i.e., large-leafed) and shrubs of bold texture give an impression of ‘coming forward’. A hedge in this position consequently creates an optical illusion that the garden is shorter and wider than it really is, and so gives it a squarer appearance.

A major disadvantage of an irregularly shaped triangular plot is that one boundary is likely to cross the line of vision of some of the windows of the house, thereby foreshortening the outlook. There are two ways to minimize this problem. The first is to switch the eye from the intersecting boundary fence to a focal point. This can be done by placing an island bed in the left-hand corner inside the laurel hedge to attract the eye away from the nearer right-hand boundary fence. The bed can be planted out with Heaths and dwarf Conifers.

The second course of action is to take advantage of the fact that blue colours and plants with fine textured foliage tend to give the optical illusion that they are receding. A combination of blue-leaved and blue-flowered plants will have the effect of thrusting back the offending boundary.

A rectangular garden plot with an additional piece of land tacked on to the left-hand corner is an example of a ‘problem plot’. If the additional land is really quite distinct from the main area of the garden, it gives an excellent opportunity to make it a special feature to come upon unexpectedly and so creating much additional interest.

An extra plot of land like this provides all kinds of creative possibilities. It could be turned into a formal Rose garden, separated from the main area by a trellis screen and entered through an attractive archway. (Both the screen and the arch could be covered with climbing Roses.) Inside, formal beds planted with hybrid tea Roses could be arranged geometrically round a centre piece such as a statue or sundial, separated from one another by green paths. Another possibility for keen exhibitors of garden blooms or produce would be to use this garden as an area for growing show specimens. In this way, they are cut off from the ornamental garden, which can be enjoyed in leisure.

Another idea is for the area to be sown with a coarse, hard-wearing grass, to make an ideal place for teenagers to use as a cricket pitch or miniature football ground. Another use for the space would be as a home for an above-ground swimming pool (the relatively inexpensive type which can be packed away during the winter) or a badminton court.