Many good architects or designers will discuss aspects of landscaping and garden design at a very early concept stage, but this isn't always the case. For some people it’s not until they move in and find their dream home surrounded by a sea of mud and builder's rubble, that their thoughts turn to landscaping.
At this point you may want to call in the services of a professional landscaper. The process of briefing a landscaper is much the same as briefing an architect. They need to know what you like and how you live. Do you want lots of lawn for the kids to play on? A low-maintenance garden? Is privacy an issue? Do you want a structured formal look, a rambling garden, or something tropical?
Again the best thing you can do is gather as many ideas and photos of the features and plants you like and have some idea of what you want before you brief your landscaper.
One big difference between the landscaping and building process, is that many keen New Zealand gardeners not only have lots of their own ideas, but they also like to get their hands dirty and be very involved in the physical work of building the garden themselves.
That's great, but it also pays to call in the experts when it comes to paving, and concreting or plastering unless you are absolutely sure of what you're doing. But there will be lots of tasks that you can undertake with the right advice – for example, sowing the lawn, painting fences, building up garden beds and planting.
If you choose not to use a landscaper, you should still approach the project in the same way. Ask yourself the questions you would expect a landscaper to ask. Be clear about what overall effect you want to achieve. Even if the landscape is simply a backyard lawn, with a rotary clothesline – have a plan! If you’re trying to achieve something more exotic or exciting than that, here are a few thought starters:
1. Paving and pathways: Which areas will be paved? What surfaces do you prefer? Tiles, concrete pavers, wooden decking, stones, pebbles, or shells?
2. Feature walls and screens: Garden walls are used to create privacy, but they can also be used for decorative effect and to break up large spaces into more intimate areas. Consider what materials and colours are used on external walls of the house. Slatted wooden screens, solid plastered walls, stone, even steel and corrugated iron all create very different ambiances.
3. Lighting: Outdoor lighting is something that many people deal with as an afterthought. If planned at an early stage, lighting can be used to great theatrical effect – turning your outdoors into a stage, spotlighting plants or features and throwing other areas into total darkness.
4. Colour: Consider using colour not only in your planting scheme, but also on feature walls, or in outdoor furniture. Give thought to what colours will be planted in front of walls. Are you going for dramatic contrasts, or a more subtle palette? Think carefully about the effect that strong sunlight or shadow will have on the colour at different times of the day.
5. Water and sculptural features: If you want to go all out and create your own Eden, pay a visit early on to a garden centre specialising in water features – you don't want to have to dig up lawns or courtyards later to accommodate plumbing!
6. Compost bins and other practicalities: Give thought to the practicalities as well as the aesthetics – compost bins, clotheslines, tool sheds, even rubbish bins all need to be accommodated. Think about where they will be least obtrusive.