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What is a garden?

Photo by Tamell Simons ¬ Malcolm Griffiths gardening column .

Simply put, a garden is a planned space usually outdoors and set aside for the display, cultivation and enjoyment of plants and other forms of nature.

It can also incorporate both natural and man-made materials. In Bermuda it encompasses a wider spectrum as the garden in many properties is an extension of the house. It is not uncommon to see gazebos, pergolas, barbeque areas, additional patios, swimming pools and spas as part of the landscape as each element lends itself to the property taking into consideration the Bermuda climate.

The need therefore to co-ordinate the elements to be incorporated within the landscape is important for what is in reality a growing asset. A well designed aesthetically appealing garden could well be defined as a property’s greatest intangible asset.

Last year I spent part of my vacation in two rental apartments in England, in both cases they were on the same grounds which housed the owners’ property.

One property in particular consisted of several acres in a very secluded area in the country which was heavily treed with mature specimens of several species.

It was at first glance colourful but had restricted viewing as possible vistas were hidden or blocked by large trees or too many massed plantings which hid the beauty and interest of other areas within the garden. It was a garden where a “happy medium” of collective plantings had not been achieved. The second smaller property — still close to an acre — also contained a mix of mature conifers and deciduous trees with the conifers in particular far too close to each other which resulted in their maturity and what should have been “character” totally lost.

They were also creating problems to neighbouring plants with shade and general close proximity resulting in poor weak overcrowded growth.

In the case of the latter, the owner hired a gardener for four hours a week to “garden”, which in reality was mowing an uneven weed ridden lawn and hacking any branch that befell his want. The end product being the owner had paid a “gardener” for four to five hours a week for five years, and the garden had deteriorated physically and aesthetically in the process. And the owner did not notice until I asked her a few questions…!

The latter property was situated in an area of similar properties all being sizeable, yet in my opinion maybe three properties in an area containing perhaps 50 houses had a well maintained garden; nearly all the gardens had at some point been well planted, but not necessarily well designed and or perhaps not well maintained. To go to such lengths of creativity begs the question why would you not maintain what you have created often at great cost for the process of design, installation and ongoing maintenance.

Generally speaking both properties had limited the visual size of the property by having so many large plants overpowering the site-lines from the house, and compartmentalised the property with the height of surrounding hedges, which at their height was far too high to be productive but were certainly labour intensive in their mass.

By having a design for the garden makes financial sense as well offering a visual layout of the property, it is a drawing which becomes descriptive though not quite tangible. Reviewing the design stimulates the thought process of what the end product entails including cost factor and timeline.

The design should also assist in determining the extent of maintenance which is also a cost item and needs to be assessed if workable financially to cover the extent of work required to keep the garden at the level that the design concept entails.

Whether designing a house or furniture for a room or a garden layout information is important, however, the design of a garden in reality creates an immediate and constant need for regular attention, ratio wise more so than the house.

The landscape is not a static entity, as soon as you mow the grass it has started growing again, growth is constant, pest and diseases do not go on holiday. I recently visited a property in Bermuda which had a quaint feel about it, but had a sizeable percentage of land unusable as it was steep and overly planted with trees which made mowing and maintenance labour intensive. Where a property is on a bank or the plot is undulating take this into consideration when designing the house or if possible when purchasing a house with such features. Terracing creates space which is functional and makes a property more visually attractive in most cases; banks are difficult to mow and when planted can create more problems if plants get out of hand, If you have bought a property use it to its potential, it will add value whilst being easier to maintain.

Open areas of lawn are more easily mown than small areas with tight corners, therefore only plant the occasional statement tree in a lawn whilst creating plant beds for the plant collections including, shrubs, bulbs, cacti, succulents and herbaceous material. The use of ground cover plants once established will reduce weed growth which in itself frees up soil water for the gardens plants and the soil nutrients are used by the plants and not weeds.

By being selective in your planting and using fewer foundation plants installed to allow unrestricted growth from neighbouring material, you are starting to think in the long term and as the plants grow will require selective pruning to keep them in good shape, less plants means less labour and hopefully a more attractive garden. As an analogy, think of a room which is over furnished it looks cluttered and does not lend itself to perambulation when entertaining; a well-designed garden should offer views with interest and ease of movement without feeling restricted.