Garden design for overgrown gardens: 3 garden designer techniques to get an overgrown garden back in check
Isn’t nature wonderful? With very little care and attention the majority of garden plants will quickly adapt to their surroundings and flourish. But what happens when a garden is neglected? What happens when the strongest plants take over and all sense of structure and order are lost?
Like many professional garden designers, I am often contacted by people who are struggling to cope with an overgrown garden. Frequently this is through no fault of their own, but simply because they have recently moved into a property and have 'inherited' a garden that has lost its way. Another all too common situation is that illness or work commitments have dramatically reduced the amount of time that can be devoted to a garden, and things have quickly got out of hand as a result.
For anyone facing an overgrown or neglected it can be difficult to know where to start. Garden design can really help, however, so here are three simple strategies to take back control:
1. Consider starting again: is it time for a complete garden redesign?
OK, this might sound brave, but if a garden is really, really overgrown it might be worth clearing it completely and starting afresh with a ‘blank canvas’. This might seem drastic, but a garden has to work for us or we will never really be able to enjoy it properly.
This is particularly relevant for the ‘inherited’ garden scenario: it may have been the perfect garden for the previous people, but that doesn’t automatically mean that it will be even remotely suitable for the next person. Few of us would think twice about changing the paint colour in our new living room if we really didn't like it, so why do so many people 'put up' with a garden they don't like?
Taking a garden back to 'the bare bones' gives us the opportunity to understand the space so much better, and will enable us to see what we’ve got and plan the improvements we'd like to make. How much work this will entail will vary from garden to garden, but a good garden designer will be able to advise and talk through the next steps.
2. Can we 'restore and revamp' the existing garden?
Sometimes starting completely from scratch will be too radical, and the preferred option is to make the most of the existing garden. In these situations, a garden designer will always start by focusing on the most important parts of the garden.
Commonly, these areas would usually include the space closest to the house, a main seating and entertaining area, a patch of lawn, paths to provide easy access to the other important parts of the garden (e.g. sheds, greenhouse, children’s play space, vegetable patch), and any attractive views beyond the garden’s boundaries.
It is always important to keep in mind that there may be things that we would rather not look at (like a neighbour’s garage or a telegraph pole), so we need to think carefully before we get too enthusiastic with any clearing. Better to work slowly and methodically and avoid removing planting that was hiding something unpleasant.
We may, of course, discover features that we either didn’t realise were there or had long since forgotten about. Depending on the size of the garden these can be quite significant- I’ve heard of people finding sheds they didn’t know where there because they were hidden by overgrown planting! I've also been involved in projects where we've been able to open up glorious views simply by taking out a poorly placed tree or hedge.
After a bit of work, we may find that the underlying structure of the garden is sound, and by prioritising the key areas we can bring the space back to life.
3. Tackling overgrown plants: prioritising the things we like
Deciding which plants to keep is very subjective, so whenever a garden designer takes a look at planting the focus should always be on prioritising the plants the customer likes or, perhaps more importantly, the plants they don’t like.
This might sound simplistic, but for some reason people seem to put up with plants they dislike for years and years, sometimes just because they are established or have expensive price tags at the local garden centre. This makes no sense to me- it is our garden and the plants in it have to work for us.
The important thing to keep asking is: "do I really want this plant in this location?" If the answer to this is "no", either because we don't like it or because it is the wrong place, then we are better off taking it out and either moving it (if it is a suitable size and condition) or simply starting again.
Having removed or repositioned our unwanted plants we can then turn our attention to the plants that we do like. Some trees or shrubs may need cutting back to get them into shape or to a more appropriate size, but for most plants pruning really isn't very complicated and there's lot's of advice online and in good gardening books.
So, there we go. An overgrown garden need not be a disaster, and deploying these garden designer techniques should help to set us on the right path. Sometimes we will need to start again, but sometimes it is possible to take back control of a garden that has hidden potential. Ultimately, however, it is about creating a garden that we can enjoy more... and that's got to be a good thing.
Tythorne Garden Design provides professional fixed-fee garden design solutions for customers in Grantham, Stamford, Newark and surrounding areas. Let's see how we can help you to enjoy your garden more. Call us on 07900 224 239 or 01529 455 355.