The design brief is the most important step in creating a new garden. Like a map, the brief clearly describes the proposed outcomes of the design, keeping both client and designer from straying too far off the agreed path. Going off track (a little!) is ok, and often creates exciting outcomes, however both client and designer need to be going in the same direction.
Creating a design brief is not something people do everyday. To convey what they want, most clients use buzz words like, “low maintenance”, “traditional”, “modern” or “family garden”. Without context, these phrases are meaningless to the designer. To make things really confusing, they are often said in the one sentence, where clients ask for “A traditional, modern, family garden that is low maintenance”. All designers are highly skilled at nodding politely then moving on to what really matters - formulating the actual design brief.
As a designer, it is important that my clients develop a long lasting and loving relationship with their new garden. Formulating a brief is a lot like filling out a questionnaire on a dating website - ok this may sound a bit strange but stick with me on this one! Just like a new partner, you want your garden to be welcoming to family and friends, and also share your taste and some of your interests. The garden needs to respond to your personality and not annoy you. The garden needs to be good to your neighbours, and connect with your community. If you have kids, you want your new garden to keep them safe, entertained and help to educate them about life. Garden design is about building both physical and emotional relationships; a physical connection between garden spaces, inside to out, as well as the connection between the home and its surroundings, as well as an emotional connection between family, friends and your community.
Words like modern or traditional speak to style, but not connection. Style will evolve naturally once you get the connections right. Family garden could really mean anything, depending on context. One person’s idea of a family garden could be an adventure playground just for the kids, whilst other clients long for a space to engage with multiple generations over tomato sauce recipes and lemon preserves. Asking for a low maintenance garden is like asking for a partner who sits on the couch all day watching Netflix; most gardens that proclaim to be low maintenance are actually low value gardens, contributing very little to the home or life of their owners. A well-designed garden will always be as low maintenance as possible, whilst still following the brief. Designers are trained to solve problems and avoid creating new ones. It is very unlikely a designer would set you up with a needy, self-obsessed garden always wanting attention.
When you are formulating the design brief, describe how you want the garden to greet you when you arrive home. How do you want it to relate to your family and friends? What are the activities you want to share with your garden (family BBQs, relax, entertain, raise kids)? Regarding personal taste, what are the things that the garden really needs to reflect? This not only includes likes and dislikes, but also colour, texture and sculptural elements. What other things do you want your garden to do for you? Maybe help with the groceries (vegetable/herb gardens), adjust the temperature (shade of well-placed trees), stop peeping toms (hedges and screen plantings)?!
We maintain what we value - if we value our husband, wife or partner, we maintain the relationship. If we value our garden we will maintain that too. Just like our human relationships, gardens take work and are sometimes not easy, but they are always worth it.