How to take over an established garden

Over grown garden near Scotch Corner

Over grown garden near Scotch Corner

Most people when they buy a new house find they are taking over an existing garden and this will present certain challenges; you have, after all, bought their house not their tastes. It is therefore inevitable not everything in the garden you are going to like and/or want. It is reasonable to assume on first moving in that the garden will not be your most pressing concern, so we need to start by prioritising. The first thing to consider is what is the time of year, mid-winter little is happening in the garden but in the height of summer any lawn will be growing fast so you are going to need to cut it once a week and if there is a pond it needs to be kept topped up and any filter maintained. The rest of the garden should survive all right with the exception of any plants in a greenhouse. If its summer and you’re pushed for time the easiest thing to do is to take them out of the greenhouse, up them with any other plants in pots and keep them watered.

The next stage is to have a really good look around your new garden; you should have plenty of opportunities to do this while escaping the paint fumes. What do you like, dislike or simply don’t understand. Look where gets the sun and when, are you over looked and to what extent; most gardens will be overlooked by some bedroom windows but in practice people spend little time looking out of their bedroom windows – so they are not as much of a problem as a kitchen or sitting room window. While you’re at it consider which plants you like and how much space large plants are occupying, but don’t be too quick to condemn; that large bush could be there to hide an eyesore.

One of the problems with plants is that you are not really aware of them growing; they kind of do it sneakily behind you back, so you just don’t notice how big they are getting. This is where the new home owner’s fresh pair of eyes comes as a big advantage. Have a good dig, metaphorically speaking, in the back of borders; you could be surprised what you find. If nothing else, you may well find a lot of underused space. While you’re at it take a good look at the trees in the garden because if these need attention now is the time to do it.

Are the trees appropriate for the garden? Are they going to, or have they got, too big for the garden? If you have large mature trees in the garden do they need a professional to look them over to check they are safe? If the trees need any major work it will both create a lot of upheaval and dramatically change the garden so it’s best to get it done as soon as is practical. Beware there are many very good professional arboriculturist (tree surgeons) but sadly there are also a lot of butchers out there. So check they have a proper formal training, carry appropriate insurance, get more than one written quotation and remember if a price sounds too cheap, and tree work isn’t, be suspicious! One common tree problem is people buy Christmas trees with the roots on and then come the New Year can’t bring them to throw away a living tree they’ve spent the holidays keeping alive. Then comes the problem of what to do with it, so it gets planted in a corner of the garden. This all sounds nice and remarkably quite a few of these Christmas leftovers survive, looking quite nice tucked in the border. The problem is the type of trees sold as Christmas trees are the type that grow quickly into big trees, which makes sense if you’re trying to produce trees that are sellable at the best price. You can probably see where this is going, they sit quietly at the back of the border growing! These are not a good choice for a domestic garden. People get attached to trees. So you soon end up with what is in effect a large and growing arboreal pet in the garden. I’m afraid the only realistic solution is to remove it before it gets any more of a problem, or more expensive to remove.

Having got a rough idea of what you’ve inherited sit down with a pencil and plenty of paper, draw on the boundaries and the house, and anything you want to keep. Don’t worry about being too accurate, just get your thoughts down on and try different ideas out. There may well be a number of things you decide you would like to keep, some of them it may turn out are not practical to keep, and others you just don’t like. Don’t be afraid to change your mind; paper’s cheap, so try out different ideas.

While trying out ideas a few things to consider are:

  • Do you need space for parking?
  • What storage are you going to need?
  • Do you want to grow fruit or vegetables?
    • They need space and a sunny position.
    • They take time.
  • Are you going to sit out?
    • Ideally a patio should be a minimum of 5 metres by 4 metres if you are going to put a table and chairs on it.
    • It needs a sunny position.
    • If not near the house it needs good access between the two.
  • People rarely allow sufficient depth for borders – if space is limited wall shrubs and climbers may be a better option.
  • Many large shrubs will come away if cut hard back.
  • Have you the space and time for lawn?
  • Do you want a greenhouse?

 

Start with the things you feel are most important and place them, letting the other things fall in around them. You will undoubtedly have to compromise so it’s better to do so about the less important things.

Don’ be afraid to play about with ideas and take your time to decide what you want to keep, what has to go and what just need cutting back. Once you feel happy with your ideas be bold and start taking out what you don’t want. Once you start you will most likely make new discoveries and your plans will have to be adapted, but you will end up with YOUR garden.

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How to design a drive

With drives, probably more than any other thing in gardens, the most important thing is it actually functions as it is intended. No matter how nice it may look, if it does work as a drive it is a waste of money. As ever there has to be some compromises, for example: you may what a turning circle in your drive but they need an awful lot of space. To start with you need to decide how many vehicles you are going to what to park on the drive and do you need to be able to pull onto the drive, turn around and then drive back out. You also need to consider how often individual vehicles will be needed, ideally you are not going to want to be constantly moving vehicles around just to get one particular one out. Last but not least you need to consider access to garages and house doors and how much of your garden you want to make into the drive.

Now look at what space you’ve got. An average car needs a space of 2.4 metres by 4.8 metres to park on and this doesn’t include space for manoeuvring it. Make a sketch and some vehicle sized pieces of card and try moving them about on the sketch, allowing for how they are going to swing out when turning. At this point you are going to have to make some compromises so consider what is important. Once you feel comfortable with the layout of your drive mark it out in the garden as you plan to have it and actually try it out. It is far easier to change now than later. To help I’ve includes some dimensions that may be helpful at the end.

You are almost ready to construct your drive but before you start checking the cost of materials it is important to consider if planning permission is needed. The pressure for off road parking has led to more and more gardens being paved over and while this does get cars off the sides of roads it means the rain that would soak into the front gardens now runs off them. The amount of rainwater running off a car parking space in a front garden may not seem much but once this is multiplied up for a town, never mind a city, it amounts to a lot of additional water going into drains and ditches. In response to this the government decided to bring in planning controls to cover non-porous paving in front gardens. What this boils down to is that any water that falls onto you drive you need to get rid of on your property and not down the drains. In many cases this can be as simple as providing adequate areas of borders for the water to soak into naturally, but where this is not an option either a permeable surface has to be used or the water has to be collected into drains and lead to a soak away where it can then seep away into the soil. Further details can be found on the government’s planning portal here. Planning rules are complex and special rules can apply in many situations so a 5 minute phone call to your local planning office at this point can save a great deal of trouble later. Whatever you do don’t try to emulate the Ostrich!

Drive surfaces

No drive surface is perfect and they all have their strengths and weaknesses so you have to decide which compromise is going to work for you.

Block paving

Block Paving

Block paving laid in a pattern using different colours

Pros:

  • Easily forms curved shapes
  • Adapts well to changing slopes
  • Sections can be taken up and re-laid to gain access to buried services
  • Vast range of finishes
  • Some designs are now permeable.

Cons:

  • Not suitable for poorly drained ground. The sand bedding course must be well drained and at least 600 mm above the water table.
  • The edges must be well retrained
  • Prone to sink where car wheels continually run
  • The more ornate finishes can be expensive.

Flags

Pros:

  • Can be very cost effective

Cons:

  • Only the 50mm thick flags are suitable

Grass concrete composite

(Concrete blocks with grass growing through gaps mounded in them)

Pro:

  • Simplify the job of getting rid of surface water

Cons:

  • The grass will not withstand heavy use
  • The grass will not survive under vehicles park continuously over it
  • Take time to establish
  • If the grass cover breaks down it will quickly become muddy.

Gravel

Pros:

  • Adapts to any shape
  • Cheap
  • Self-draining

Cons:

  • Only suitable for relatively level areas
  • Weeds quickly establish in the areas that aren’t been driven over
  • Moves about
  • Cannot be laid onto a hard surface such as existing concrete

Hardcore

Pros:

  • Cheap

Cons:

  • Easily eroded by water running down it
  • Not all hardcore is suitable

 

Pattern Impressed concrete

Pros:

  • Weed free
  • Large range of finishes available

Cons:

  • Must be laid by a good specialist contractor
  • With use the parts receiving concentrated wheel traffic start to fade
  • Very difficult to repair successfully

 Plain concrete

Pros:

  • Weed free
  • Relatively cheap

Cons:

  • Unattractive appearance
  • Needs to be well constructed if it is to last
  • Difficult to repair

Pointed setts

Granite setts

Pointed granite setts

Pros:

  • Combination of small paving units set in pointing makes an attractive finish
  • Adapts to complex shapes
  • Suitable for slopes

Cons:

  • Very expensive
  • Requires a lot of skill to lay

Resin bonded aggregates

Pro:

  • Less prone to move about than gravel
  • Available in a range of attractive finishes

Cons:

  • Not suitable where it is likely to become contaminated with mud
  • More expensive than plain gravel

Tarmac

Pro:

  • Adapts to complex shapes and slopes
  • A good compromise between cost and length of service
  • Well suited to large drives and heavily used ones
  • Available in a range of colours

Cons:

  • Has to be laid by a good specialist contractor
  • Colours only available subject to suitable plant near by

 

Drive dimensions.

These are for guidance only and should be checked before being used.

  • Local regulations and restrictions may apply and you should check before starting any work.
  • The drive entrance should only be at the verge crossing.
    • The verge crossing will have lowered curbs for the vehicles to get onto the road.
    • New or changed verge crossings will normally require permission from the council highways and planning departments.
    • Verge crossings must be constructed to special specifications.
    • Verge crossings must be constructed by approved contractors.
  • Ideally a drive should be 3.2 metres wide (or 2.6 metres if there is a separate footpath).
  • If you are putting gates on a drive opening onto a busy drive you may have to set them back 5 metres from the edge of the highway to allow a vehicle to pull safely off the road before needing the gates opening.
  • Check you can see clearly from the car driving seat when you pull out of the driveway.
  • Any water on the drive must not drain onto the highway, but must be disposed of on site.
  • Long drives need special considerations.
    • Bends need to be wider to allow vehicles to turn.
    • Oil delivery vehicles may only have 30 metre long delivery hoses.
    • Oil delivery vehicles are typically 7.2 metres long by 2.6 metres wide and weigh 18 tonnes.
    • LPG delivery vehicles need to get to within 25 metres of the fill valve.
    • The fire brigade need to get their vehicles to within 45 metres of the house.
Model Drive

Model Drive

Model drive turning circle

Model drive turning circle

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Drive design

With drives, probably more than any other thing in gardens, the most important thing is it actually functions as the drive. No mater how nice it may look if it does work as a drive it is a waste of money. As ever there has to be some compromises, you may what a turning circle in your drive but they need an awful lot of space. First you need to decide how many vehicles you are going to what to park on the drive and do you need to be able to pull onto the drive, turn around and then drive back out. You also need to consider the order the vehicles will be needed, ideally you are not going to want to be constantly moving vehicles around just to get one particular one out. Last but not least you need to consider access to garages and house doors and how much of your garden you what to make into the drive.

Sandstone block paving at Winchester

Sandstone block paving at Winchester

Now look at what space you’ve got. An average car needs a space of 2.4 metres by 4.8 metres to park on and this doesn’t include space for manoeuvring it. Make a sketch and some vehicle sized pieces of card and try moving them about on the sketch, allowing for how they are going to swing out when turning. At this point you are going to have to make some compromises so consider what is important. Once you feel comfortable with the layout of your drive mark it out in the garden as you plant to have it and actually try it out. It is far easier to change now than later.

Cobble drive

Cobble drive

You are almost ready to construct your drive but before you start checking the cost of materials it is important to consider if planning permission is needed. The pressure for off road parking has lead to more and more gardens being paved over and while this does get cars off the sides of roads it means the rain that would soak into the front gardens now runs off. In response to this the government decided to bring in planning controls to cover non-porous paving in front gardens. Further details can be found on the government’s planning portal here. Planning rules are complex and special rules can apply in many situations so a 5 minute phone call to you local planning office at this point can save a great deal of trouble later. What ever you do don’t try to emulate the Ostrich!

. Planning rules are complex and special rules can apply in many situations so a 5 minute phone call to you local planning office at this point can save a great deal of trouble later. What ever you do don’t try to emulate the Ostrich!

Choosing paving materials

Path through a garden

Path through a garden

With the vast range of possible paving materials it can feel a bit daunting when you first starting looking at paving materials. To try to reduce the selection down to a more manageable size, it is well to consider the practicalities imposed on you by what you are planning to use the paving for. You can then check how much of each type you are hoping to use, compare the costs of using different materials and if need adjust your plans.

Though there is considerable over lap; the uses for paving in a garden can be divided into four main categories: drives, patios, paths and utility areas.

Drives

When choosing a material for a drive the first consideration must be what will
happily withstand having a car regularly driven over it and parked on it. The second consideration, is that for many people it will be the first thing visitors see of there home. On the other hand though; it also spends a lot of time hidden under a car. Once you have eliminated the impractical options the chose comes down to cost and personal preference. Please note if you paving an area of you front garden planning permission may be needed.

Patios

Where as a drive is something you park a car on, a patio can be a major feature of a garden and so your budget should try to reflect that. The important thing  is that it forms an attractive feature and not a slab of paving.

Paths

The idea of a garden path is as old as the garden itself, but a path has to have a purpose.

And that will influence the materials used. If the path for instance is going to be in a vegetable, where you are stepping on and off the path onto the bare soil you are going to have problems if you use gravel . Every time to step from one to the other soil and gravel will be transferred from one to the other; ending up with a muddy path you can’t clean. On the other hand an informal border winding along the edge a border is going to be difficult to achieve with square and rectangular flags and runs the risk of looking messy if its full of cut flags.

Gravel and plants

Gravel and plants

Utility areas

Most gardens have some area dedicated to the necessary but unattractive bits of a garden where things such as the shed live. Here the importance has to be the functionality of the material. Something that is cheap, durable and easy to clean.

Paving materials

 

The trick when designing your patio is to make it blend into the surrounds while adding to them. To do this you are free to use every trick in the book. You can use materials which contrast with their surrounding or complement them but care should be taken when trying to match materials as a bad match can be the worst scenario. Nor should you restrict yourself to just one material as mixing in an additional material is a very good way to break up areas of paving and differentiation between different areas. Just don’t over do it!

Below I’ve put together a table of most of the paving/drive materials currently available, the list though is not exhaustive. The cost column is really only to give a very broad indication of the relative expense involved in using different ones The exact cost would depend on many factors including site conditions and how much if any of the work was undertaken on a DIY basis.

Paving Materials 

Material Cost Advantages Disadvantages
Bark Low
  • Low cost
  • Flexible
  • Soft
  • Water permeable
  • Tends to spread about
  • Needs edging
Gravel Low
  • Low cost
  • Flexible
  • Comes in a very wide variety of colours and shapes
  • Water permeable
  • Tends to move about
  • Needs edging
  • If to soft it will quickly disintegrate
  • Only suitable for level areas
Plain concrete flags Low to medium
  • Low cost
  • Readily available
  • Provides a smooth surface
  • Does not need pointing
  • Good under sheds and for utility areas
  • Visually unattractive
  • Very heavy
Coloured concrete flags Low to medium
  • Low Cost
  • Readily available
  • Provides a smooth surface
  • Do not need pointing
  • Visually unattractive
  • Very heavy
  • Colours fade – particularly reds
Buget riven flags Low to medium
  • Low cost
  • More attractive than plain flags
  • Do not need pointing
  • Not as attractive as the more expense flags
  • Limited range of colours and sizes
  • Poor finish
  • Limited range of patterns
Premium riven flags Medium
  • Very wide range to choose from
  • Large range of flags shapes and sizes
  • Can be as expensive as imported flags
  • Care needed to ensure they are laid with the correct fall
  • Limited life
Imported stone flags Medium
  • Almost limitless life
  • Very hard wearing
  • Cost is equivalent to/or less than premium manmade flags
  • Needs a diamond blade to cut them
  • Brittle so hard to work
Block paving Medium to high
  • Very wide range of colours and patterns
  • Very hard wearing
  • Small size makes them very flexible
  • Must be securely edged
  • Red ones fade
  • Large areas can look like parking even if its not
  • Cannot be cleaned by pressure washing
  • The surface must be 600mm above the watertable
Stone setts High
  • Hard to very hard wearing
  • Small size makes them very flexible
  • Difficult to lay
  • Need a very solid base
  • Expensive
  • Need to be pointed
New sandstone flags High
  • Almost limitless life
  • Natural product
  • Very attractive
  • Heavy
  • Expensive
  • Requires skill to be laid well
Reclaimed sandstone flags Very high
  • Almost limitless life
  • Laid well are very attractive
  • Particularly prone to becoming slippery
  • Very heavy
  • Very expensive
  • Require skill to lay them well
Mosaics High to very high
  • Can look very attractive
  • Unusual
  • Requires a lot of skill
Sandstone crazy paving Medium
  • Flexible
  • A cost effective alternative to sandstone flags
  • Needs skill to lay it well
  • Can be hard to source
Tarmac High
  • Makes an excellent hardwearing surface
  • Smooth
  • Flexible
  • Comes in a range of colours
  • Requires specialist skills to lay
  • Only practical if sufficiently large area
  • Must have a secure edging
  • Limited range of colours
  • Not very attractive
Cobble paving High
  • Can look very good in the correct setting
  • Hard to source good warn cobbles
  • Very uneven surface
  • Prone to being slippery
  • Requires a lot of skill to lay it well
Decking Medium
  • Can be laid in a range of patterns
  • Comes in a range of finishes
  • Very good for levelling sloping sites
  • Flexible
  • Prone to being slippery
  • Limited life
  • Requires more maintenance
  • Needs to be lifted off the ground
  • Any decking surface over 300mm above the ground level requires permission from your local authority
Concrete slab Medium
  • Smooth
  • Can be textured
  • Laid well it is very durable
  • Capable of supporting heavy loads
  • Very good for utility areas
  • Requires skill to lay
  • Large areas require good access
  • Difficult to make good if it is damaged
Pattern impressed concrete Medium
  • Visually much better than plain concrete
  • Is only a surface treatment so prone to surface damage
  • Very difficult to make good if damaged
  • The colour will wear away where car wheels repeatedly run over it
Brick High
  • Small units allow flexible designs
  • Small thier small sizes makes trhem good for small areas
  • Bricks must be carefully chosen because of the risk of frost damage
  • Skill required to lay
Reinforced grass Medium
  • Provides a visually “soft” appearance
  • Water permeable
  • Only really suitable for car parking or intensely used footpaths