Saturday, October 6, 2007

Designing out the workload

Most gardens are never designed at all. Instead, they evolve over many years, as their owners add new ideas - or find room for impulse buys of anything from plants and planters to ponds and gazebos. Many people buying a house 'inherit' someone else's garden which, though ideal for the previous owners, is not right for their lifestyle. Whether you want to create a totally new garden, or simply to adapt your existing one, good design can appreciably lighten the workload.

Your 'garden diary' will probably highlight several areas where a minor design 'tweak' could save hours in the long run. For instance, if you have an average-sized lawn which takes more than an hour to mow and trim round the edges, something as simple as smoothing out sharply curved borders could knock 15 minutes or more off your weekly schedule straight away. Over an entire gardening season this is the equivalent of reducing the workload by a whole day.

It can take a lot of time to make design changes. To decide if a change is worth making, you will need to balance the time spent on setting up the design change against the time saved by implementing it. Work that can be done in winter, when mainstream gardening jobs dry up in most climatic zones, is particularly worthwhile. For instance, if each autumn you have to reseed bare patches in the lawn where people wear a path to get to the shed or back gate, a few hours spent in winter sinking stepping stones a stride apart into the grass will mean that you never need to reseed the patches again.

Not all time-saving design tips are cheap. For instance, converting a small, fiddly front lawn to ground-cover plants grown through mulch matting under gravel will be an expensive, though attractive, way to eliminate the need to mow. But if the alternative is to pay someone to keep the garden tidy or to spend large amounts of time and money on controlling weeds, the initial outlay may look like better value.

The biggest time saving, however, comes from careful planning when adding a new feature. For instance, when building a pond, you can save hours of clearing out fallen leaves in future years by positioning it away from deciduous trees. Also, the correct choice of plants for your climate will mean they grow better and are easier to look after. For additional ideas, visit libraries, watch TV programs, read books and look through magazines. By planning carefully from the start you will be able to avoid problems later on.

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