There are many long term benefits to be had, if you spend a little time on carefully designing a garden. Not only can you design to have an attractive garden, but also one that is low in maintenance, is as safe as possible, and can be used for a variety of different activities.
Developing a garden requires a different approach in warmer climates to that of cooler areas. Some things that need to be considered include:
More warm days, and milder nights, causing plants to grow faster.
Soils may dry out faster.
When it rains, the intensity can be greater...This may result in flooding, and drainage and erosion problems.
Cold temperatures may be required to stimulate some types of plants to flower or fruit.
Such conditions are unlikely to occur in tropical areas except at high altitudes.
Humidity will be higher in wet weather, or if areas are irrigated.
There are more total sunlight hours in tropical areas in comparison to cooler areas, and the light is generally of greater intensity, affecting both plant growth, and the susceptibility of humans to skin cancers.
The heat, humidity and UV radiation makes it more difficult to work, particularly during the hottest part of the day.
Weeds, pests & diseases tend to grow faster in tropical areas!
Considerations such as these mean that a garden in the tropics or subtropics, needs to be designed and managed differently to a garden in a cooler climate.
WHAT DO YOU REALLY WANT?
Gardens come in all shapes, sizes and types. The right one for you is determined by what you really want, the area you are working with (natural features), how you plan to use the garden, if at all, and the resources (e.g. money, tools, labour) you have to develop and maintain the garden.
Most people don't really plan their garden, and they often end up admiring other peoples places, never being quite satisfied with their own property. There are exceptions of course, but more people would have what really suits them if they took the time to do a little planning.
THINK ABOUT YOUR NEEDS
What are your priorities?
Look over the following list and rate each reason for having a garden in order of priority?
To just be in, and take in the tranquillity and peace
For children to play in (e.g. sand pit, cubby house)
Recreation for adults and older children (e.g. swimming, a basketball ring, somewhere to play cricket)
To grow food (fruit, herbs, vegies, poultry, etc)
To grow flowers or colourful foliage
To make the home (inside & out) cooler
To provide a buffer from the outside world (visual and sound)
To provide storage space
To increase property values
To house a collection of plants
Somewhere to work
To provide service areas (a washing line, to place garbage and compost bins)
To keep fit by gardening
To keep people or animals off your property (security)
To minimise pest problems such as snakes, rodents, ants or cockroaches
Any other reasons you may have
You might feel that all or most of the above reasons are important to some degree, but it is important to have some idea as to which are your most important priorities. It is also important to understand that designing your garden to fulfil your highest priorities might automatically, at the same time, fulfil some of your lesser priorities without even really trying to. For example, herbs grown to harvest for food, might also provide an attractive display of flowers and foliage, and at the same time deter certain pests. Or perhaps you might choose a fence design (and colour) that not only keeps people and animals out of your property (and your children and pets in), but provides an attractive back drop to garden beds, acts as a windbreak, and helps provide a buffer from the outside world, especially if climbing plants are grown over parts of the fence.
GETTING DOWN TO WORK
Once you know what your priorities are, you can then start to develop a garden which meets your requirements. Meeting all of your desired needs may not always be possible. However, with further consideration, most priorities can be fulfilled. Understanding the design concepts attached to your desired garden will influence the final design. These design concepts include:
As a Stress Release
You might develop a garden to just be in; and to take in the tranquillity and peace
This sort of feeling is created by curved lines, soft forms, weeping foliage and water; among other things. The atmosphere needs to be natural, so man made sights such as buildings, roads and power lines may be better screened by large plants. Views over the sea, farm or bushland however enhance the tranquillity of a garden, and should be left unobscured.
To Create a Mood
You can design your garden to enhance any mood you desire. The garden can completely change the mood of a house, making a house seem more or less formal, warmer or colder, even larger or smaller. A garden for example, might be made more welcoming, encouraging people to enter, or alternatively it may discourage visitors.
For Children to Play in
Young children (perhaps to the age of 5 years), need a wide range of sensory experiences, so the garden needs to have as many different types of surfaces and materials as possible (eg. hard, soft, rough, smooth, flat, sloping etc). For older children, play is a more social or interactive thing, so the garden needs to offer places for them to interact in different ways with friends, relatives and even pets. Gardens need to be secure (ie. fenced) for very young children. They should have places where kids can be creative, digging in soil or sand, making cubbies or building other things. Swings and other playground equipment are useful but there is a lot more to play than playground equipment. Open areas of lawn are particularly important, as are hard surfaces which balls can be bounced on.
Recreation for Adults and Older Children
Swimming pools and spas need to be located in clean and safe areas. Dust, soil, leaves or lawn clippings are not welcome in the water, whether carried in on feet or the wind. Rough or slippery surfaces around the water are undesirable. Swimming pools can have holes built into the surrounds to take beach or market umbrellas, large trees or palms can be planted thoughtfully (not to close so that they drop leaves, twigs, etc. into the water) to provide shade, and if desirable, shade-cloth or some other structure can be erected to provide protection from the sun (and perhaps help keep rubbish out of the water).
Adults may decide they want areas for other hobbies or sports. Some people use the garden for a hobby such as model railways, model planes or restoring old cars. Others put golf holes in the lawn to practice their putting, or a basketball hoop beside the driveway. A bare piece of lawn or paving could be the practice area for Tai Chi of other forms of relaxation and martial arts.
This is usually a back veranda, patio or poolside area with or without a bar-be-que and outdoor furniture. These areas are generally located near to the house with good access to the kitchen. They can be completely open, partially enclosed, or even completely roofed over.
To Grow Food (fruit, vegies, poultry etc)
Vegetables can be easily grown in raised soil beds, in pots, hydroponics or in no-dig beds (i.e.. layers of straw and compost). They can be small or large areas, but either way, they are best located where there is plenty of light, protection from winds, near a source of water (e.g. tap), can be readily accessed from the kitchen and also ideally the tool shed, and are protected from marauding children and animals.
Fruit trees can take up a little or a lot of space. If space is limited, you can grow fruit trees as espaliers on a wall or fence (ie. trained like a climber), use dwarf varieties or grow them in large pots to restrict their size.
To grow flowers or colourful foliage
Colourful gardens are bright, happy and lively places. They can provide a real uplift to your wellbeing when you feel down, and they can provide something you can cut and bring inside to brighten up the house. If you want flowers all year round, you need to choose the plants you grow carefully. Annual flowers, bulbs and perennials generally form the backbone of a flower garden, being chosen carefully to ensure the presence of some flowers every week of the year. Some shrubs and perennials flower for very long periods of time, in some climates. These can be a great way to keep colour in the garden. Some roses, for instance flower for months on end, but even these in ideal conditions will have periods without flowers and that is when to plan to have something else near to or amongst the roses in flower. Colourful foliage can likewise be very attractive, and can provide year found colour, whether they are in flower or not. You might decide to choose a particular colour theme, such as blue-grey foliage and white flowers, or you might decide to create a riot of colour.
To Make the Home (inside & out) Cooler
Shade trees, pergolas and anything else adjacent to your house which provides shade will help reduce heat indoors. Hot brick walls can be kept cool by growing a creeper (but inspect it annually to ensure it isn't damaging the building). Lawn or shrubs around the outside walls will also keep the building cooler. In some areas, cooling winds are common at certain times. Be sure not to block off such winds with plantings or garden structures (e.g. fences). Areas of water, particularly if it splashes (eg. a large fountain or waterfall), can have a significant cooling affect on a hot day.
Provide a Buffer from the Outside World (visual and sound)
Plantings or fences can be used to simply block unpleasant views. Noise is more difficult to block. Some types of fences can help, and building mounds can also reduce noise; however noise, unlike line of sight, moves round corners. A row of bushes often does little to reduce noise. If you want an effective noise barrier, it may be expensive, and you may need an engineer to advise you.
Provide Storage Space
People store all sorts of things in their gardens, from old vehicles, boats and trailers to firewood, building materials, scrap metal and piles of soil. Some people only need small areas for storage, but others may need to use half or more of their property. Place storage areas carefully to ensure that they are secure (from the weather, children, pests and thieves), easily accessed, and are not intrusive visually or physically (placed in an area where they will cause minimal interference with other activities). Safety is another important aspect. Firewood and other flammable materials should not be placed too near buildings (especially in bushfire prone areas), or BBQs, or incinerators, or work areas where activities such as welding may be carried out.
Increase Property Values
A well kept garden can both increase the saleability and the value of a property. Excessive spending on a garden however might not be recovered when the property sells. If your main concern is property values, then keep the garden design simple, easy to look after, and neat and attractive.
To house a collection of plants
For a plant enthusiast, the garden is a place to assemble and grow their prized collection of plants. For some people it may be orchids or ferns, and for others it might be gingers or cacti. The type of plants collected will determine the way the garden is developed, and what types of protective structures (e.g. greenhouses & shade houses) may be required.
Somewhere to Work
As with recreation and storage, some people require a work space within the garden. Ease of access to the area, access to tools and storage space, protection from the weather, creating a pleasant or private environment, and the work space's affect and influence on the rest of the property are all important considerations when planning for a useable work area.
To Provide Service Areas
For most people somewhere to hang your washing outside to dry and air is important. areas to place garbage bins and compost bins may also be required. Good access from the house is required for such areas. They should ideally be placed to be as hidden as much as possible from other parts of your property (not visually intrusive). A separate service area or areas can be created simply using fencing, or screening plants. Paving such areas is also common to provide easily cleaned, all weather access. Be sure though, for washing lines, to provide a site with plenty of sunlight, and sufficient air movement (e.g. light winds) to ensure your washed materials are adequately dried.
To keep Fit by Gardening
Some people enjoy gardening. It's their hobby, and it's what keeps them fit. They might be retired, or they might just work in a job where they don't get a lot of other exercise, or they might just enjoy creating things and growing plants themselves. Such people often want a garden which gives them a chance to sweat and get their hands dirty. Vegetable and flower gardens can be built which need regular weeding and replanting; plants which need routine pruning can be planted (eg. roses and fruit trees), and lots of pot plants and hanging baskets can be included in the garden. Large areas for mowing also provide a good opportunity for fitness, as long as a push mower is used. Be sure to provide sufficient opportunities for enjoyable labour, but not so much that it becomes onerous.
To keep People or Animals off your Property
This can be done with either fences, hedges, rows of prickly plants or even ponds or lakes. Some properties use a combination of these things.
To minimise Pest Problems such as Snakes, Rodents, Ants or Cockroaches
There is less likelihood of pest and disease problems if the property is kept clean and neat. Avoid leaving food scraps, empty drink or food containers, etc. lying around outside.
Keep rubbish bins sealed. Locate compost heaps away from the house or outdoor living areas. Wood shavings (not sawdust) can help discourage snakes, which can find the shavings rough to crawl over. Sweet things (eg. sugar cane mulch, sap sucking insects such as scale or aphis) attract ants, so avoid or control these things. Many pests are encouraged by certain plants and encouraged by others.
Cockroaches are less likely if you have self-cleaning palms (which drop old fronds).
Ants are more likely if you have Citrus, Hibiscus, Acalypha, Dodonaea. Rodents and ants are discouraged by planting mints, particularly pennyroyal and peppermint.
Gardens tend to reflect the personality of the people who create them. Informal people tend to create informal gardens, and formal people tend to create very ordered, neat gardens. This might give us some guide as to how to choose a landscaper to create a garden, or the most suitable approach to be considered when creating your own design.
To plan a good garden requires the right frame of mind. If you approach the garden as a chore, that will be reflected in the design. Gardens which impress are ones designed with a little flair, and perhaps the application of some lateral thinking. Don't be restricted to duplicating what everyone else has. Borrow ideas from other gardens that you really like, but ultimately, be sure your garden suits you. It is your chance to stamp your home environment with your own personal character.