In the olden days, so my grandmother tells me, there was no such thing as landscaping. There was only gardening and groundskeeping, and she should know as her father - and thus my great-grandfather - was head gardener at a country house in the UK. However, since then, a whole industry has grown out of sculpting nature rather than just planting a few roses here and there and erecting a plastic bird bath.
The trouble with all this is that it sounds great in theory, but if you pop down to your local bookstore and browse the shelves for books that cater to those of us without a horticultural doctorate, you'll no doubt be amazed at the variety and cost of such tomes. The same thing applies when you visit your local garden centre where you can easily spend a day meandering among the bewildering array of flora.
It's easy to give up at this point and just give the whole thing over to lawn or concrete. Please don't, as a well-crafted garden is as much as reflection of your own personality as it is a complement to your home's overall look and feel.
Get your pencil out
If you are reading this, let's first assume that you do have some sort of garden. It will probably be in one of three phases: bare because you've just bought a new home; already landscaped by a previous owner; or left to run riot for a few years. In all cases, before you get your shovel or your shears, sit down and plan - and not just for a weekend.
Leave your garden alone for a few months, just keeping it in check if needs be, while you decide what to do. You will be surprised at how changes in seasonal weather will change your perception of your garden - and this will also give you time to make careful notes of shade/sun spots, windy areas that need shelter, privacy concerns, drainage, soil types, and so on.
If your garden came 'ready made', you can also make notes and even take photographs of how existing plant cover varies over the course of the next few months. During this time, literally draw some plans and ideas of how you want your garden to look. Don't worry about complex watercolours - a simple flatplan will suffice.
Think about what you want and need. So the next-door neighbours have a pool, but you can't swim and have no children. So do you want a pool or a pond or even a water feature at all? If you do have kids, are they too young to risk having a pool or pond and might they be better served (and your money saved) by a simple sandbox or play area? If you have elderly relatives who visit
regularly, what sort of access should you provide?
Decide what you want
Unless you live somewhere isolated and barren like the Falkland Islands, you are bound to have friends, neighbours and relatives with gardens. Do some mental shopping around for ideas, looking at how others have adapted the individual topographical features of their gardens to their own tastes and incorporated hard features like benches and gates into the natural
Think how you could incorporate similar ideas into your own garden. You don't have to copy or even plagiarize - just adapt an idea to fit your own situation. This is a good time to start consulting books and magazines to research the feasibility of such incorporations, both physically and financially. Modify or even completely restart your original plan, only this time, flesh it out with actual notes.
Now that you have ideas on the features you want as well as seasonal changes, shade/hot spots, exposed areas, areas prone to flooding, etc., now is the time to start considering the floral content of your garden. Armed with the above knowledge, you should visit a plant or garden centre and consult with one of the specialists there along with your plan, and decide on what you want and where you want it.
However, don't make any purchases just yet. With the specialist, make notes on flower colour, speed of growth, and whether the plant is perennial, annual or biannual, then return to your plan. Now you can start to see the whole garden taking shape as well as see what's going to be in season, when, for how long, and how big it's going to get. Nobody wants a bloom of colour for one month of the year followed by 11 months of brown, dead foliage. At the same time, consider whether or not these plants will complement your desired hard features.
Do I need a professional?
As with any large undertaking, the temptation to get someone else to do all the work for you is very high with landscaping - assuming you've got the money, of course. Before you do this, it's worth considering that if you do decide to do it yourself, you will first be saving money, and second, you will be giving yourself at least a year's good, honest, outdoor work. Any garden is an ongoing hobby, and a far more rewarding one than sitting in front of the TV.
However, if you do decide to get a landscape professional to help you, you should be aware of the different types available. First, landscape architects are the draughtsmen of gardening - you probably won't find them mulching rose beds as they are normally involved in civic and commercial work. To this end, they are usually the most expensive. Landscape designers do similar work but are more like the interior decorators of gardening and can help more with plant placement.
Of course, before employing any professional, you should get some word of mouth advice and recommendations as well as checking out the local Yellow Pages or equivalent. All will have examples of their work from which you should be able to judge whether or not they are suitable for your property.
About the editor: Matt Leppard is Editor and a content producer for Global Estate, the first portal site designed to cater exclusively to real estate. The site includes property listings, news, and advice articles on everything from buying a home to eliminating household pests to using the Internet to find a home.