RHS Level 3 Planning, Construction and Planting – UNDERSTANDING SURVEY TECHNIQUES AND GARDEN PRINCIPLES

  1. Understand the historical development of garden design styles.

    1.1 Describe representative characteristics of the following garden design styles: Moghul, Moorish, Medieval, Renaissance (Italian, French and Dutch), English Landscape, Victorian, Edwardian, Japanese, Modernist, Contemporary.

DATES

STYLE

EXAMPLES

MOGHUL

(Afghanistan, Pakistan, India)

 C 16-19th

Formal, symmetrical, water – channels and pools, terraces, avenues of Cyprus, scented flowers. 4 types: palace, tomb, waterfront and terrace.

Taj Mahal, Agra

MOORISH

(Spain, Portugal, S. Italy, France)

 C 8-15th

Water and shade used to cool gardens. Gardens divided into four. Fountains and ponds, ceramic tiles, carved stones, hedges, containers, fragrant flowers. Cyprus, Sycamore and Citrus.

Maria Luisa Park, Seville

 MEDIEVAL

 C 12-15th

 Food production – orchards, herbs, medicines and vegetables. Walls, fragrance, wells, turf seats, arbours, grassed dancing, mounts to view. Pleached limes.

Alfriston Clergy House

 ITALIAN RENAISSANCE

 C15-16th

Parterres. Dramatic views, spectacular fountains and cascades, woodland, orchards, herbs, levels. Inspired by Romans and ancient mythology.

Villa Lante

FRENCH RENAISSANCE

 C15-17th

Parterres. Acute angles, ornate statuary, fountains, rigid symmetry, canals, views, focal points and cascades at the end of every vista. Terraces and grottoes.

Luxembourg Gardens

DUTCH RENAISSANCE

 C15-17th

Parterres. Rectangular spaces divided to squares, leafy walks, arbours, fountains, mazes, bulbs. Buxus hedges. Helianthus, Papaver and Rosa.

ENGLISH LANDSCAPE

 1720-80

Idealised version of nature, inspired by paintings. Classical. Lakes, rolling lawn, grove of trees, temples, Gothic ruins.

William Kent, Lancelot Capability Brown

VICTORIAN

 1837-1901

Glasshouses and conservatories leading to overwintered tender plants. Carpet bedding, new plants from abroad – Dahlia, Aster, Impomea, Zinnia. rockeries, parterres, arboretum.

Sir Joseph Paxton, Cragside, Northumberland

EDWARDIAN

 1901-1910

Hedges, Terraces, sunken, pergolas, cottage garden styles

William Robinson, Lutyens +Gertrude Jekyll, Reginald Bloomfeld

JAPANESE

 600AD

Borrowed scenes, asymmetry, moss gardens, bonsai, miniature landscapes, fish, cloud pruning

Nanzen-ji

MODERNIST

 1800  popular 1930

Water, geometric, asymmetry, crisp + clean, planting in one part. large horizontal landscaping – stone, wood, concrete, cement, plastic.

CONTEMPORARY

Last ten years

Grasses, sunken LED lighting, simple, bold, architectural planting, repetition of plants, hard landscaping innovative and central to design, natural looking materials eg distressed metals, stone, sustainable materials.

Difference between Modernist and contemporary styles

Firstly, Modernism is a specific movement that started in the 1800s whereas contemporary is simply what is happening now. Modernism occurred at a time of the Industrial Revolution when form followed function – how well it worked mattered more than how it looked. As a result the garden style was simple with no fancy details. Contemporary tends to use a similar ethos (simplicity, functionality) but it also tends to reflect our recent interest in sustainability using recycled materials more. Plus it is influenced by our desire for more natural looking settings, so functional metal is a common material for both Modernist and contemporary, but distressed metal looks more natural and so features only in contemporary. Recent advances in LED lighting are also made use of in contemporary styles. Contemporary gardens often follow current fashions such as willow fencing, decking or insect habitat boxes.

  1.  Understand how to conduct a site appraisal and interpret the results

    2.1 State the main factors to be assessed for an overall site appraisal.

    2.2 Review the advantages and limitations which site factors may impose on garden planning and layout, to include accessibility for disabled users.

Information about the site to be collected at site appraisal and advantages and limitations:

Microclimate – caused by walls, buildings and plants altering the climate over a tiny area. Can provide planting opportunities (eg tender planting in sheltered corners) or planting restrictions (limited planting possible at the base of a Taxus hedge). Hard landscaping is also affected by microclimate (eg moss and algae forming on decking in shady areas).

Orientation – The direction the garden faces in affecting sun, shade and wind  (north=cold and shady, south=warm and sunny) in turn affecting the positioning of features (walls shouldn’t block sun, patios may need shade/sun) and plants (shade loving, tender plants needing specific aspect). Similar to microclimate.

Access – to garden from road, from house to garden and around garden. Relevant for both work in the garden and garden users. Disabled users – question whether existing hard landscaping is safe and convenient for use, whether ramps, handrails and so on are adequate. Children – are there safety risks, such as ponds? For gardeners and landscapers – will work be limited or more costly due to difficult access?

Climate – the long term weather patterns of an area,  includes prevailing wind (from somewhere warm or cold), temperature (varies according to urban/rural setting, closeness to sea and topography) and average rainfall. Both plants and features are affected by climate . Similar to orientation and microclimate, important to think about what plants will thrive best, what hard landscaping materials will need the least maintenance in that climate and about how the garden owners will want to enjoy the garden – eg a cold, wet climate is not ideal for an outdoor swimming pool.

Contours – the varying heights within a garden. Levelling may be necessary for patios or to get rid of frost pockets. Drainage and erosion may be a problem. Levels can add interest. (see next blog for information about how to ascertain levels). Disabled users may have particular problems with slopes or stairs. Steep slopes can limit building access and maintenance (eg lawnmowers struggle with slopes). Sunken areas and steps can create views and interest.

Existing features – their condition, what needs to be kept, existing colour scheme and style. See access. Particular features may be used to build a design style around – for example a beautiful Victorian wall can inspire a Victorian garden.

Services – drains, electricity, water pipes. Overhead and underground services to be recorded. Overhead power lines may restrict use of machinery, underground pipes may be a problem when laying drainage or building swimming pools.

Soil – pH, textures, structure, top soil depth, soil pans, drainage, nutrients, rubble and contamination content. Planting might be limited eg only calcifuges or bog plants. Topsoil may need to be imported.

Existing vegetation – their condition and interest, privacy and wildlife to be considered, Tree Preservation Orders. With TPOs it may not be possible to cut down a large, imposing tree, birds nesting may limit timing of hedge cutting/removal. For disabled users – consider whether soft landscaping is easy to care for, for children – whether existing plants are harmful – if ingested, toxic sap (eg Euphorbia)

Dimensions – size and shape of the garden affects types of features and plants used. Designing for awkward shapes can lead to innovative use of hard/soft landscaping. Size and shape of garden affect design (eg a narrow garden may use diagonal patterns, lawn size and hard landscaping to increase feeling of width, a small garden needs hard and soft landscaping in proportion to the garden size, a large garden can be divided into different ‘rooms’ and styles). Opportunity to use unusual shapes to create interest or use landscaping to make an uninteresting shape more unusual.

Legislation – TPOs, conservation areas, planning regulations, boundaries (height of walls etc), Hedgerow Regulations all can restrict what change are possible. See existing vegetation.

Exposure – how much a garden is open to the elements and affected by wind or salt in coastal gardens. Relevant to plant selection (certain plants survive better in exposed areas) and seating (people don’t usually want to sit in a high wind). Wind breaks (hedges or walls) can be put into design. In a sheltered garden tender plants may be grown and in an exposed garden hardy plants will be needed.

Altitude – affects the range of plants grown, higher altitude=low temperature and more exposed. See Exposure.

Views – what surrounds the garden. Borrowed views can be used to create a larger garden or it may be necessary to hide ugly views by screening.

External factors – includes views, causes of microclimate (eg large buildings = shade), wildlife. See views, climate, legislation and microclimate.

  1. Know how to develop a client brief

    3.1 Identify the information which needs to be gathered from the client, to include: likes and dislikes, aspirations, functional requirements (e.g. utility, play area for children, restricted mobility), ornamentation, relaxation, entertaining or food production, degree of maintenance and budget.

Questions that can be asked to clients (taken from a number of client questionnaires on the internet, garden design websites are good for this).

What are your personal preferences?

  • What do you like and dislike about your garden?
  • What colours do you like?
  • Any specific styles you like (eg Alpine or formal)?
  • Any specific plants you would like?

What mood would you like for your garden (mark all appropriate)?

  • Calming
  • Private
  • Fragrant
  • Colourful
  • Tropical
  • Practical
  • Wild

What do you use your garden for?

  • Do you like entertaining?
  • Have any sports hobbies (football, swimming)?
  • What time of the year will you most use your garden?
  • What time of day?

Which features would you like (mark all appropriate)?

  • Water feature
  • Vegetable patch
  • Fruit
  • Herbs
  • BBQ
  • Lighting
  • Children’s play area
  • Parking
  • Compost

Do you like gardening?

  • How much time will you be able to spend on the garden a week?
  • Will you be hiring a gardener?
  • Any specific jobs you hate (eg Mowing the lawn, raking leaves)?

Who is the garden for?

  • Do you have children or pets?
  • Anyone with any disabilities or special needs to use the garden?

Are there any specific problems you would like solved (mark all appropriate)?

  • Bad drainage
  • Lack of privacy
  • Noise
  • Unpleasant views
  • Pests (badgers, rats and rabbits)

What is your budget?

3.2 Describe how to record relevant data using a client questionnaire, audio and visual methods.

Collect information from client by:

  • Using a questionnaire (may be online or in person)
  • Email
  • Using a digital audio recorder
  • Taking photographs (if an iPad is used, redesigning can be put straight onto a photograph)
  • Sketches

This leads to a Concept Plan that shows problems and applies solutions. In addition to this the site appraisal provides information on the dimensions and details of the garden which is used to draw up the various design plans.

4. Know a range of basic survey techniques

4.1 Describe the linear surveying of a site using appropriate equipment to include tapes and automatic levels.

Definitions

  • Linear surveying – Measuring distances between points on parts of the earth’s surface. In a garden survey this would include measuring the size and shape of hard landscaping (eg walls and fences), boundaries and plants (eg trees) that are to be kept in the design.
  • Datum – line or level surface to which all heights are referred.
  • Reduced level – level above or below the datum point.
  • Line of collimation – line of sight horizontal to the ground.

Equipment

  • Tapes – measuring tapes. Lots of clear info here – Linear Measurement Taping.
  • Automatic levels – a device mounted on a tripod used to measure levels. Used with a staff.
  • Dumpy level – similar to automatic level, slightly different mechanism Wikipedia page.
  • Theodolite – a precision instrument for measuring angles in horizontal and vertical planes.
  • Electronic distance measurement device (EDM) – a hand tool that accurately measures distance by sending a pulse of light to a surface.

Methods

  • Triangulation – using two known points to determine the position of a third, unknown point by measuring the angles and distance.
  • Trilateration – using the geometry of circles, squares and triangles to determine, record and map the position of features.
  • Offsets – marking the position of a number of features, measured from a straight line (a measuring tape).
  • Clock method – mark central point and walk round in a circle recording features.
  • 3:4:5 Triangle – used to find a right angle, useful for measuring, especially offsets. Beautifully simple explanation here.

Excellent website for how to conduct a linear survey, how to set up levels and how to produce contours and longitudinal sections here – Linear survey.

 4.2 Describe the surveying of a site to record variation in levels using automatic level and staff.

Websites

4.3 Interpret survey measurements from standard documentation.

4.4 Produce scale drawings using survey data, including the correct use of graphic symbols, scale and nomenclature.

Types of Plan

Designer’s Plans

  • Location plan (marking where site is on a map)
  • Zone map (shows soil type, microclimate etc)
  • Site survey
  • Concept plan (shows problems and solutions)

Plans for Client

  • Sketch design
  • Final design
  • Sketches, elevations and perspective drawings

Plans for Construction

  • Construction details
  • Hard works layout plan (BSI graphics, structures and levels)
  • Services
  • Planting plan
  • Setting out plan (dimensions, measurements and offsets)

Equipment

  • Scale ruler
  • HB and 2H pencils
  • Eraser
  • French curves
  • Compass
  • Drafting pen

Websites

How to Draw a Garden Plan

Two websites from which you can download (for free) garden design symbols, or just see the symbols and get an idea of what there is:

5. Understand how site characteristics may influence garden design 

5.1 Explain the influence of the following on a choice of design : altitude, orientation, aspect, changes in level, pollution, soil type, soil depth, soil pH, soil water content, views, screening, degree of exposure or shade, microclimate.

5.2 Explain how a given design may be used to enhance the attributes and offset the limitations imposed by the site.

(note: these questions cross over with 2.1 and 2.2 covered in the previous blog, however, I’ve elaborated on them here.)

Altitude

Problems with high altitude:

  • Much shorter growing season.
  • May have midsummer hail and frost.
  • Intense sun, high winds and drought.
  • Rocky alkaline soils or forest-shaded acidic soils.
  • May be nutrient deficiency due to leaching.
  • Heat is slower to build and quicker to dissipate.

Solutions to problems:

  • Alpine plants
  • Terracing
  • Mulching with organic matter to improve soil

Orientation

Design adaptations for South facing gardens (sunny):

  • Sun loving plants – Mediterranean or succulent – styles led by planting
  • Pale hard landscaping
  • Providing shaded areas for seating
  • Irrigation for plants
  • Water features can provide sense of cool

Design adaptations for North facing gardens (shady):

  • Shade loving plants
  • Problems with growing grass – keep lawns small or use a moss lawn
  • Algae forms on decking in the shade, use brick or stone
  • Use mirrors and reflective surfaces to increase light
  • Use pale flowers and bright colours
  • Position seated areas to make the most of the sun
  • Avoid shading more areas with large trees or high walls

East facing gardens have early morning sun that can cause frost damage on some plants, to avoid this, position variegated or tender plants carefully to avoid early morning sun. Camellias are especially susceptible.

Aspect

Note: Orientation and aspect are often considered to be the same thing, but aspect can also include shade and shelter (eg a sheltered aspect). Sheltered gardens often suffer from shade, this is covered under North facing gardens above.

Changes in Level

Ways to use existing levels or create changes in level:

  • Steps
  • Sunken areas
  • Raised beds
  • Sunken paths surrounded by walled beds
  • Mediterranean style gardens with split level patios.
  • Tiered multilevel gardens
  • Rockeries
  • Waterfalls

Problems with slopes, solutions:

Pollution

Different types of pollution and solutions:

  • Rain – a rain garden – a planted depression that absorbs water and allows it to flow into the ground rather than storm drains.
  • Noise – walls and thick growing trees or shrubs block sound, running water features and wind chimes cover sound.

Soil Type

Factors to consider and solutions:

  • Soil texture – eg sandy or clay. Affects what plants can be grown and what kind of drainage can be used. Clay soils may benefit from raised beds, sandy from incorporated organic matter.
  • Soil structure – improved by adding organic matter, maybe add a compost bin to a garden with bad soil structure.
  • Topsoil depth – plant choice is limited by shallow soils. Raised beds can solve this.

Soil pH

Acid loving plants – Camellia, Calluna, Kalmia, Erica, Cornus, Acer, Abies

Alkaline loving plants – Geranium, Aucuba, Lavandula, Delphinium, Crataegus

Note: outcome 3 of unit 2 will cover plants for situations more fully

Soil water content

  • Make use of wet gardens with bog plants or ponds
  • Make use of dry gardens with succulents
  • Solve drainage problems with a swale, pipe drainage or a soakaway
  • Solve irrigation problems with a leaky hose

Views

Borrow views from neighbouring gardens and landscapes, creating a connection between plants inside and outside the garden. Hide ugly views with screening – fences, climbers, trees; or distractions – brightly coloured foliage or landscaping that draw the eye.

Screening and exposure

Types of screening:

  • Hedging – Taxus baccata, Ilex aquifolium, Ligustrum ovafolium
  • Evergreen climbers – Trachelospermum jasminoides and Clematis armandii
  • Walls – brick, cement blocks and dry stone walls
  • Fences – woven willow, featherboard and panel fencing
  • Trees – Arbutus unedo and Eucalyptus gunnii

Exposed gardens, problems and solutions:

  • Plants exposed to the elements (harsh winds, sea spray) – hardy plants, thick hedges, walls.
  • Soil erosion – see Changes in Level.

Microclimate

This is linked with aspect and orientation. A garden can contain many subtle (or not so subtle) differences in moisture, shade and shelter and so solutions to those types of climates can also apply on a small scale to the microclimates in a garden.

6. Understand the principles and elements of design

6.1 Explain the principles and elements of design: to include movement, rhythm, scale balance, form, texture, space, colour , proportion, harmony, unity, symmetry, and asymmetry, focal point, borrowed landscape.

6.2 Describe examples of the application of the elements in 6.1 to the design process.

Movement

How the eye moves around the garden, some shapes, patterns, paths and lines create movement. Also physical movement – water, plants.

  • Curves create gentle, restful movement
  • Angles give a sense of restlessness
  • An off-centre focal point can create a sense of movement and dynamism, and invites curiosity
  • See also Form
  • Water in water feature is constantly moving
  • Grasses move in the wind

An article about rhythm and movement

Example: A curving, winding path edged with long grasses (Miscanthus sinensis) would create a soothing, but constant sense of movement. See Piet Oudolf designs.

Rhythm

Using repetition to connect areas of the garden and create unity, also connected to movement, since rhythm is found in the pattern of visual movement.

  • Repeated features – flower colours, hard landscaping, clipped topiary
  • Repeated styles – sweeping lines, geometric patterns, interlocking features
  • Repeated colours – pastels, primary colours, contrasting colours, deep reds and grey foliage

Example: A set of three, large, terracotta pots on a wall filled with identical purple Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’ bushes, edged with black Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’. This purple and black colour combination can also be used elsewhere in the garden and the terracotta colour can be repeated in red brickwork.

Scale

Scale refers to the size of the garden in comparison to non–garden objects (as oppposed to Proportion which refers to the size of garden components in comparison with each other), for example:

  • Size of humans in relation to garden (eg paths)
  • Size of garden in relation to house
  • Size of surroundings (eg trees and buildings outside the garden) in relation to garden

Example: A garden surrounded by a wood with large trees needs at least one large tree inside the garden to give a sense of scale. For example an oak woodland would benefit from three Quercus robur inside the garden, spaced to connect the whole garden with the view.

Balance

Balance is an even distribution of visual weight – weight created by colour, colour brightness, landscaping or plant size. Balance is like a very loose symmetry, for symmetry if there is a statue on one side of the garden there should be a statue on the other, whereas a statue in one part of the garden can be balanced with a pergola in another part.

  • No single object should dominate excessively

Example: Three Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’s ( that turn bright red in the autumn) are spaced apart on one side of the garden, and can be balanced with a single, larger Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’, (that also turns red in the autumn) on the other side of the garden.

Form

Form is the habit and shape of plants, different plant shapes create interest, harmony and/or movement

  • Fastigiate form creates dynamic effect.
  • Combine shapes, eg transparent sprays in front of solid colour, weeping shapes with upright.
  • Forms – fastigiate, weeping, columnar, oval, round, spreading, pyramidal.

Example: Closely pruned Buxus domes contrast with upright Euphorbias and sprays of fine textured grasses (see below). There is enough enough interest to make this an enjoyable garden to look at, but enough repetition to unify the garden.

Telegraph Garden at Chelsea

Telegraph Garden at Chelsea

Texture

Texture is determined by leaf size, by light reflected from leaf surface or by comparative detail on hard landscaping. Combined with colour and form, plants can be put together in a way that is striking or subtle. Most designs will use a combination of striking accents in a subtle whole – all subtle can be dull, all striking is exhausting.

  • Light filtering translucence of thin leaves contrasts with reflected light of small leathery leaves.
  • Textures can be fine (small leaves eg Buxus sempervirens), medium or coarse (large leaves, eg Musa basjoo).
  • Mixing textures creates interest, however it’s not good to position fine with coarse, instead use fine with medium, medium with coarse.

Example: (see below) The large variegated leaves of Hosta with smaller, divided, purple leaves of Heuchera.

Chelsea Flow Show

Chelsea Flow Show

Example: Spiky Eryngium giganteum with soft Salvia argentea and fine Stipa (picture).

Space

Space can refer generally to the area to be designed or more specifically to how open an area is.

  • Balancing privacy and shelter with a more open sense of space.
  • Using partially visible areas to create interest– Hahas, large circular holes in walls, hedges, walls.
  • Restraint – reveal a little at a time – eg series of focal points gradually revealed.
  • Different heights can be blocked from view – using hedges or a canopy of trees.

Colour

  • Reds and orange brings warmth and vitality
  • Blues pinks and whites are subdued and cooling, add depth
  • Colours can be used to bring unity – repeating certain colours in hard landscaping and planting
  • Green is used as a foil in garden design, a neutral colour
  • Too much colour variety can be exhausting
  • Use different seasons to explore different colour palettes

ColoursExample: A herbaceous bed at Kew Gardens (see below) uses harmonious colours, reds to yellows.

Kew Gardens

Kew Gardens

Proportion

Proportion refers to the relative size of parts within a whole, how the size of garden components relate to one another.

  • The divine proportion (golden ratio) is 1:1.618, using this as width to length is satisfying to look at.
  • Have a third hard landscaping to two thirds of soft (some styles do not follow this).

Example: Every design on this siteshows very pleasing proportion; paths, pots, hedges and plants all fit together in a satisfying way where no part feels out of place or wrongly sized.

Harmony

This incorporates balance and unity throughout a design so that all parts of the landscape are adapted to one another, forming an agreeable whole.

  • May be colour harmony – using colours that work well together, either complimenting or contrasting.
  • Harmony does not need to be safe and conventional : unconventional, innovative designs can still be harmonious.

Example: Using a limited colour palette, such as burgundy and whites (see below), the fluid planting, and rock and cobble stone hard landscaping create a harmonious whole.

Vital Earth Nightsky at Chelsea

Vital Earth Nightsky at Chelsea

Unity

A thread or theme running through the garden that connects everything together. May be:

  • Colour (see colour, can be in both hard and soft landscaping)
  • Period of history (eg Victorian, Landscape)
  • Style (eg Mediterranean, Japanese)
  • Repeated hard or soft landscaping (eg Buxus hedging)

Symmetry and Asymmetry

The use of mirror image with identical hard/soft landscaping either side of an imaginary line (or not identical for asymmetry).

  • An asymmetrical design can use the golden ratio to establish balance.
  • Symmetrical designs use parterres (four way symmetry).
  • Bilateral symmetry – mirror image split down the middle, eg fastigiate Populus nigra and domed Buxus in a pattern of bilateral symmetry or a Buxus parterre.
  • Radial symmetry – like a wheel with spokes.
  • Approximate symmetry – similar objects and shapes either side of a line, not exact, varying in pattern etc.

Focal Point

An object of interest that draws the eye

  • Water features
  • Statues
  • An architectural plant
  • Hard landscaping
  • It’s important not to over use focal points so a garden becomes cluttered.
  • Remember balance when positioning them (or use symmetry).
  • Focal points work well when partially seen, at the end of a journey through the garden, or when partially obscured to create interest.
Water Feature Focal Point

Water Feature Focal Point

Statue Focal Points by David Meredith

Statue Focal Points by David Meredith

Some more examples of focal points here, here and here.

Borrowed Landscape

Using an attractive view or plant (usually a tree) outside the garden. This can be done by:

A couple of very good books that define and describe concepts such as unity and harmony, and talk about plant combinations, using texture, colour and form:

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