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Garden Design from scratch for everyone


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Denise McDonough
10 April 2016

Garden Design from scratch for anyone!


I am the learner.


Describe the physical, social and intentional factors that define the design space, e.g. where and when did this occur? In what kind of space? Who were the key actors, and what were the relations between them? What were the beliefs and desires that shaped their interaction?

When I moved to England I got completely hooked on watching all the gardening shows on TV; Ground Force with Alan Titchmarch, Inside Outside with Dermit McGavin and L. L.-Bowen, and then Grand Designs came along. I desperately wanted a lush beautiful garden and to learn using my own space. They made me believe I could do it myself (with a little muscle help from my husband). Our front and back garden was a blank canvas apart from a large yellow forsythia, an old pink climbing rose and horrible old grass.


The TV presenters were instrumental in building confidence. It turned out a colleague of mine was a keen gardener and he was full of advice and ideas and a lasting friendship began. Most people in the gardening industry love what they do and the local family run one near me has knowledgable staff open to educating me.


What were you trying to achieve? What was your measure of success?

I read that you can increase your property value by £10,000 by creating a nice garden and I wanted a beautiful outside room to sit in when it was fine and a beautiful living sculpture to look at no matter what the weather.  I am not sure about the £10K, but it is a calming and serene place to entertain and look at rain or shine. 


List the actions you took in chronological order. Note their effects – both expected and unexpected. Highlight any obstacles = O,  and explain how you tried to overcome them.

O1 - what plants to buy? I did hours and hours of searching online and I ordered catalogues from plant nurseries.  O2 - everything full grown was very expensive. I would have to do it in stages. I was sure I wanted lavender so I decided on that first. 

I bought a few books, each with a particular focus. The first one was on small gardens, with photos and drawings including garden rooms, allotment-types, child friendly, and more. One could combine the ideas from the various plans.

The second, was a set of small books on bulbs, water features, patio gardens, containers, and paving. This was especially nice because during different times of the year I could focus on a single element of the design. I could carry one with me on the bus or in the sunshine weather permitting. The third, was on drought tolerant plants so I wouldn’t have to water.

The hard graft is to draw a plan and do the hard landscape first.  I measured it all out with a tape measure and a scale that suited my plan on the computer using 1 foot = 1 cm. I choose exactly what plants I wanted and would work in our garden aspect before I went to the garden centre!

< INSERT DRAWING OF GARDEN PLAN - no pic allowed - well that's very disappointing since this is about techology - completely disrupts the flow> 


List the expected and unexpected outcomes of your actions. To what degree did you meet your objectives? What additional outcomes did you engender? Provide evidence to back your claims.

I learned to start with the large structural plants and hard landscaping. The first setback was cash. Full grown plants, trellis and big pebbles were very expensive. I had to choose a few key items, learn how to take cuttings to get some things started cheap and wait years for a result.  Another setback was many of them died as I learned I had to cover the pots in horticultural gravel so they didn’t get wilt as they took root. 

I wandered around University Parks and identified trees I like and noted most o them were to large. Aspen poplars grow tall and narrow and were a reminder of home. Their leaves have a lovely sound as they rustle on a summer breeze and they were first. I came across smaller varieties of flowering trees, Magnolia Susan, which grows very slowly and a gorgeous burgundy bark cherry tree. I bought them on ebay for a fiver each and they came in the post as 5 foot sticks - then I prayed. They all grew.

I was learning Adobe Illustrator at the time and figured out how to use the Layers feature.  In the lowest layer I put in the house boundary, fence, paving, bbq, table and chairs, greenhouse, garage and other hard materials. Then I added a layer for the shrubs and flowering plants in a middle layer. In the final layer I added the bigger tree mop heads to see where the shade would be cast. 


This way I could plan how they might grow and take up space - which of course is limited by the size of our small patch. After 5 years I had to take one of the 4 Aspens out as I could see they were going to be to crowded. The black bamboo died one hard winter and I was gutted - very expensive mistake not protecting it with fleece. However the big bay tree came back like a phoenix from the ashes!


Reflect on your experience. What transferable insights did you gain?

Ten years later I can say it was one of the most satisfying and rewarding experiences I have had.  I have a beautiful front and back garden full of lilacs and roses in spring, fruit and veg in the summer and evergreens for winter colour and structural interest. It is a work in progress and gets better and better.

The continuing work with Adobe Illustrator was inspired after taking a training course. I didn’t want to forget what I learned; especially where the complicated tools are located and what combination to use them in. This embedded that knowledge as well as creating transferrable skills into my other software as well as my next garden! 

My Profile picture has my front garden - Will try to create slides images on slideshare for images







Extra content

Embedded Content

Sway slide show of planning the garden

Sway slide show of planning the garden

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added by Denise McDonough


Katherine Nicholson-Taylor
3:00pm 11 April 2016

This was a really interesting read, I was feeling lost with this task and you have helped me realsie I need to think outside of the box.

Denise McDonough
9:10pm 12 April 2016

Thanks Katherine, I was worried mine was not based on anything like a lesson plan which all the others. The actual activity said as a teacher OR learner so I went for something I love.

I am lost on the 2 Representations. The DPD database is like a rabbit hole of confusion.

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