Mapping the garden

Sunday, 09 July 2017

Part of the map of my garden in Sydney

Apart from a builder's diagram drawn to guide the men who constructed our front garden walls, steps and terraces in 1994, I have never had a landscaping design drawn up for my garden. The men were quite keen to draw up a planting plan for me as well, with specimens of their own choice, but the idea filled me with horror. I wanted the garden to be my very own creation, and so it has been. The rest of the garden I have made myself, digging each border by hand with a mattock, until physically incapable of doing so, at which time a small rotary hoe was hired and used to do the job. I've selected and put in all the plants.

Garden plan by Edna Walling

The garden has thus just grown, in a fairly random way, over the past 23 years. If a complete master plan had been drawn up at the start, it would have ended up being crossed out and recrossed out over the years, as so much has changed over time -- plants moved around, new shrubs and trees put in, new borders dug where lawn used to be ... I love the look of those beautiful Edna Walling-esque professional plans, with their softly tinted representations of plants, but it would never have worked for me, as I wanted my garden to evolve with me on my gardening journey.

A view of my Cubby Garden

However, I do have a map that I have made of my garden, a roughly sketched, basic thing, not to any sort of proper scale, showing, in an aerial view, the layout of the whole: where the major trees, borders, lawns, paths and steps are. To make it big enough to write and draw on, there are three A4 pages: each one representing one of the three major parts of the garden, and showing the subsections within them. I have made multiple photocopies of the original map (which itself is occasionally updated to reflect permanent changes) and find them incredibly useful. Each individual section of the garden has been given a name on the map, so that when I am writing notes in my garden diary about random ideas of things to do in the garden, I can refer to the particular area. 'Golden Garden', 'Cubby Garden', 'Chook Area' and 'Brian's Path Garden' may mean nothing to anyone else but to me they indicate instantly what I mean! Often I write notes on the actual map copy itself. When planning a whole new border, I draw labelled bubbles on the map to show where each chosen plant will be sited.

Bags of cane mulch and cow manure from last spring

I use a copy of the map as a way of recording my progress round the garden at different times of year. Having the garden divided into discrete, named areas allows me to focus JUST on that part for a gardening session: I know I don't have to feel frantic about trying to do the rest of my plot that day. In late winter, for example, I get out a new copy of the map and mark off each section as that bit is pruned, fertilised and mulched. This is the busiest time of the gardening year for me and can seem very daunting. Being able to tick off each task on the map as a section is 'done' is incredibly heartening; I can keep track of my progress and feel chuffed each time as I gradually get the whole job done. Last year I also wrote on the map how many bags of cow manure and cane mulch I used on each section, as a guide for how much to buy this year. I also keep previous years' maps showing that I did actually do the same tasks, to prove to myself that, however daunting it may all seem, 'it can be done'. Breaking a big job down into small, achievable parts is a time-honoured method of tackling seemingly overwhelming tasks.

Plotting sun and shade in your garden can show the best place for a sun-loving lemon tree

A map of a garden can also be helpful in identifying areas of sun and shade within it. I am notoriously hopeless at knowing north, south, east and west, but if these directions are marked on your garden map, along with the position of your house, major trees and walls that cast shade, it can be useful to show where you may wish to place more trees or shrubs for shade (deciduous ones if you want winter sun), or alternatively, where to site plants that need lots of sun. There are websites you can consult to get an indication of how to do this, even using online tools that show how the transit of the sun through the year impacts on your actual property! This online article give some great tips for doing all this sort of mapping.

Your map can be valuable for drawing ideas for new garden areas or features. I'm no garden designer, but I've discovered that is better to doodle on my map first than to launch impetuously into my vaguely formed plans with a mattock. It is a way to see how the lines of a proposed border or path will look and whether they are too 'fussy', how the new feature fits into the existing garden, and whether the overall plan is aesthetically pleasing. So I pencil in my ideas onto one of my spare photocopies of my garden plan and it seems a great way to explore my ideas. Another very practical use of a garden map is to show the position of various underground drainage pipes. I am well known for damaging these in my enthusiasm for digging a new border, so if they are marked in on a map, it does sort of help to preclude such potentially expensive accidents!

I can recommend mapping your garden - there are lots of uses for such an apparently simple diagram. If you keep all your copies of your map, you also have a lovely record of how your garden has developed over the years!