Residential Gardens

Features Issue 66 Jul, 2010
Text by Shrijan Joshi

Creating a garden is not just about a layout and planting trees and flowers, for gardens are a living, dynamic system. Garden or landscape designing involves the spatial organization of outdoor areas to meet the human needs and desires keeping in mind the climate, soil, and the air.

If there is anything you ought not to be, then it is the half-hearted gardener. Truly, to have green fingers is a gift of nature and a result of a sturdy back. To the obsessive gardener the impulse to pull out that weed, or to the novice the heart break of the death of that bloom; what is it, that so involves us all about a beautiful garden? Is it our primitive relation with the lost paradise and seeing the garden as a window to it! It is that perfect bloom that inspires us which is so moving and enjoyable, and makes the owner proud.

Creating a garden is not just about a layout and planting trees and flowers, for gardens are a living, dynamic system. Garden or landscape designing involves the spatial organization of outdoor areas to meet the human needs and desires keeping in mind the climate, soil, and the air. From the residential gardens to parks, and urban landscapes, all try to integrate the cultural, social, political and environmental needs of humans. Be it the terraced rice fields with its shades of green and gold, or the seasonal yellow bloom of the mustard flower our regional landscape is a representation of who we are.  From the microcosmic nature of the residential garden where your petunia competes with the daffodils, to the much larger scale of your regional botanical garden and urban and national parks, landscapes influencing forms potentially contributing to the success of your home to cities and towns as livable places.

In making a residential garden, one plans the flowers with the seasons. Early spring is the time for flowers like Primula, Cyneria, Petunia, Verbenas, Daffodils, Crocus, Tulip, Hyacinths, Tulips, and my favourite Strelitcia Regina or the Bird of Paradise. Summer could be for Dahlia, Osteospermums, Gladioli, Pelargonium, Oranunculus, Impatiens, Fucshia, Zinnia, Sylvia, and an array of roses. The autumn after the heat is a time for Zinnia or Aster, which continues from the summer, and Chrysanthemums. Our pleasant winter allows us to have a range of flowers some of which are Calendula, Pansies, Dantes, Sweet Peas, Salvia, and Snap Dragons.

There are many a variety of flowers with many variations in color, scale and foliage, and it is ones own individual taste that rules supreme. Along with the flowering plants can come ornamental cabbage or Kale, Coleus and Chameleon, which are for colorful foliage, and variety of palms, creepers and trees. One plans the zones for flowers according to your area and whether the spot is shady or has a lot of sun. If you have a rocky area, then one can explore the variety of cactus, and damp areas could be wonderful for orchids. Then there are the variety of bamboos, water plants, and indoor plants. Along with the flowers, another component is the type of grass and bushes, which sculpture the garden. For the average gardener, it is the mix and match and arrangement and groupings that give the overall form to your garden, and give it a colorful effect. As E. Murray so eloquently put it, ‘gardening is the art that uses flowers and plants as paint, and the soil and sky as canvas.’ So with your plot as your backdrop, your creativity has no end, for you to enjoy and others to appreciate.

With urban centric lifestyle and smaller living quarters, small gardens are also very popular. With a little bit of innovative landscape designing, small terraces or backyards, and balconies can easily be converted to lovely areas to be enjoyed for a cup of morning tea or for mere visual pleasure. Then there are the formal large gardens in hotels and along monuments which have to accommodate large number of mobile visitors.  

From the small to the large, as one proceeds outside one’s doorsteps, the role of the landscape can engulf our urban environment, which is something we could do more with, in our towns. From natural regeneration along river corridors to tree lined streets, community parks, school gardens, historic parks, large wooded parks and playing fields, our cities can be transformed from hot concrete furnaces to shaded cool enjoyable places devoid of litter and dust.  Many a city designs were based on the concept of the garden city, with parks and green corridors, but the necessity for all public spaces is the requirement for them to be robust, meaningful spaces giving a diverse use and experience and inclusiveness for a wide range of people and activities.

Is there a theory or a science to designing gardens? More than a rigid dogma, there are qualities one would like to have. Issues like legibility, mystery, complexity, and coherence are qualities to be achieved in one’s landscape design, for the space to be used and liked.  The microcosmic stone zen - garden with raked gravel which represents unity, and juxtaposition of rock forms showing diversity is an example of visual character as well as a principle in designing. Limited repetition of geometry is a way to achieve unity but various forms, elements and detail provide for diversity as regards to a monotonous layout. The lack of unity could in turn present a chaotic feel. Only a balance of both will give a pleasant feel.

In a garden, a place of refuge can create interest, in the form of a gazebo, pergola or an enclosure which frames your garden, and a focus or a desirable quality of your creation can be viewed. Integration of elements is an overriding principle of a successful design. When creating, someone has to bear in mind how to bring together the various types of vegetation, the land form, various elements, the way water is set, paths are laid, edges are formed, thresholds are located and focuses are placed. The sum of the all these parts creates a whole. It is the permutation of these ideas in relation to scale that creates a holistic idea of a well-landscaped garden.

Whether it is you who make it or your designer or gardener, finally a good garden is a treat to all, and a pleasure to behold. In conclusion, a quote by James Russell Lowell, “A weed is no more than a flower in disguise.” And yes, “please don’t forget to water your plants.”