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A Growth Plan It’s Essential

Gardening Editor Carolyn Ernst sensibly suggests thorough planning of your future garden when setting out to build your dream home. Getting it right saves money and ensures enjoyment.

June 24, 2018
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Pacific Island Living

Pacific Island Living

June 24, 2018

The horse or the cart, which comes first or in this case the house or the garden?  Lets go right back to the beginning. A new house and garden comes first as a dream and then slowly over a period, a reality. There is the purchase of the land, the preparation of the plan, trying to get all those thoughts and aspirations into one house that will become a harmonious blending of the whole. I knew someone that over the years had kept a scrapbook of pictures cut from magazines, but when the time came to build her own home, she realised they were a real hodgepodge of different styles and eras. She had to go back and review them and work out exactly what it was in each picture, she liked. Was it the style or the colour or just the type of door or cupboard that was featured?  Once she had done this, it was easier for her to show the architect exactly her requirements and needs and for him to take myriad ideas and create the final design for her new home.

Once the land and final design is done, the next big question is the builder?  If you look on the internet, there are many sites about choosing a good builder, unless you have a real connection to a builder. This major step completed then there are two ways to go forward and they depend on how confident you are in your own skills to be able to complete this step yourself. You also need a garden plan, at this stage you do not have to get down to plant choices but you do need to decide where all the major bits are placed. If your land is flat then you probably don’t have to make too many major decisions yet, but if your land is contoured or has any major slopes then this is the time to decide what you want. There are issues with water flow and soil erosion that need to be thought through and there may need to be excavation of the house site, so decisions need to be made on what to do with the soil removed. Do you want to fill in some areas to make flat entertaining areas? In which case retaining walls will need to be built or is decking your better option?

Driveways are also another consideration. All these things need to be thought through first so all things can occur in the right order. If you do not believe you have the skills for this job then there are many professionals you can call on. Again the same steps you took in choosing your builder will work for choosing your garden planner. The services offered are many and varied so find the one that suits your needs. The service can be as simple as just preparing the initial garden plan or it might go as far as liaising with your builder or other contractors about the hard-scaping of the garden, this is the retaining walls, drainage and garden edges and pathways. Some of these providers will also be able to do the final plant purchasing and planting to complete the job.

Remember for many builders their focus is just the construction of your house, so you need to be able to work through the timing issues and the requirements of your final garden needs. These considerations are many and if not considered can cause extra work at the end. If any top soil is removed, always make sure it is saved in such a way as it can be reused. It also needs to be put somewhere accessible to the end use. I once did a major landscape job and the house was completed before anyone thought that the whole front area of the house, which was basically just rubble fill, needed a covering of topsoil for the lawn to grow. We had to use wheel barrows to move all the soil, as nobody had considered this in the plan and there was now no access for any machinery to make the job easier.

These access issues may also need to be thought through if large trees or palms are to be used, and they may need to be moved before construction starts. This also applies to materials for retaining walls and other hard-scaping structures.

One thing to request from your builder is a good electrical and piping plan and to ensure all of these services are dug well under the ground surface.  Each country will have its own regulation but they need to be at least 600mm under the surface, this will make them safe from most garden planting but if you are going to be planting any large trees or palms it is important to be able to refer to a wiring and pipe plan and this can save some expensive repairs and dramas in the future.

Points to consider are; the type of retaining walls, natural stone, wood or block that could be then plastered and painted to match the house colour, remembering to consider the maintenance needs of each choice. Steps versus ramps and you will also need to think through privacy and street noise issues. Subdivision rules must also be read and clearly understood so the restrictions and rules can be considered in the important decisions being made. My sister lives in a subdivision where no front fences are allowed forward of the front wall of the house. It is an expensive operation to have to demolish something, just because these regulations have not been adhered to.

I guess the most important process is the difference between “I want” and “I need” which have to be balanced with the “I can afford” question.  Also remember unless this house is for you only, there are other family members to consider and not just their present needs but also their needs for the future.

There is also the family’s social and entertainment needs.  No use creating a huge outdoor entertainment area if nobody likes entertaining or prefers going elsewhere for their social meetings.  The same goes for the garden, while all houses need at least a little window dressing (there is nothing quite so forlorn as a house sitting in the middle of a bare empty yard) the complexity and overall design needs to take in the family’s gardening skills and the time they have to care for it.  All gardens require a little bit of maintenance but with the right planning the garden should never become a burden.

Once the construction is well under way there is often an urgency to get the garden started. Now this is possible in some areas as long as you consider the building process. Peripheral areas can be started but remember there is only one person more destructive than a builder and that is the painter so any gardens next to areas that need painting cannot be started until they are totally finished. Also consider if a new garden is planted next to a newly painted wall, you might need some form of mulch or covering to protect the walls from rain and dirt splatter while your new plants are growing.

Lawns are an important consideration, to have a great looking lawn may require a lot of work, depending on your climate and soil types. Lawns in dry times need to be watered and should also be regularly fertilised and cut. If your family is busy then this can become an onerous task for someone or there is the option of using lawn care businesses, where someone will come and do it for you.  If neither of these options really suit you then make sure you limit the amount of lawn you have, most garden beds correctly planted are much less work and might be better suited to your family. How you start your lawn will also vary. A great idea, if this option is available, is to purchase turf. Again take the time to get the right turf for you and your soils and then make sure you look after your turf for the first few weeks or until it becomes established. If turf is not your answer, then you can choose seeds, runners or plugs. Here in Vanuatu buffalo is the favoured grass option and I like to use runners. If placed close enough together and watered well, a good lawn is possible in six weeks.

One last consideration, unless you are like me and have no close neighbours, is please, in your planning, consider the people around you, your neighbours. Although there is very little you can do about the annoyances and disruptions that come from living next door to a building site, there is much angst caused from loss of views and construction of unsightly or unwanted fences and walls.  Also consider the neighbours when planting trees and palms and make sure you have considered their final size and shape. In 10 years that little tree is sure to be a very different plant so make sure you have put it in the right place. There are many neighbourly disputes caused by thoughtless planting.  Remember good neighbours are something to treasure so try not to spoil this relationship. Happy gardening! •

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