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September 2010
ing common mistakes


Today’s article is targeted towards home owners who are thinking of designing their gardens or plan to in the future. Actually, if you’ve been following my articles for the past few weeks, you’d have learned lots of useful things like how to budget wisely and how not to get cheated by contractors.

Yes, such topics usually get people’s attention. However, there’s more to garden design than just the question of how much you should spend. I won’t go into too much detail about the various designs or ideas for gardens because you could easily get that from magazines or the internet.

Timber lattices and big leafy plants provide lots of privacy and yet blend well into your garden setting. Add a water feature and deck chair and you have your own private garden. Who says you can’t go on vacation at home?

Instead, I’m more concerned that you get your basics right before you even look for a landscape designer.

If you’re reading this with interest, then you’re perhaps one out of every four Malaysians who value a garden. As discussed previously, your garden can be so much more than just a place where plants grow. It is a room by itself, a personal space to enrich your soul and to let your imagination soar. You can dine, play, read a book, take a nap or even cook in your garden.

So it’s especially crucial to design your garden with care right from the beginning if you want to reap the benefits of this outdoor room.

Now, most people would balk at the idea of napping in their garden, especially if they live in a link house. They can’t imagine indulging in such personal activities in the front lawn for the entire neighbourhood to see. Well, privacy is important, of course, and with the right design, it is easy to achieve.

Another concern (and this is quintessentially a Malaysian complaint) is the heat and the mosquitoes. Read a book under the sun? Play in the heat? Inconceivable, right? Wrong. When we talk about outdoor living, or enjoying your garden, common sense is implied. Nobody in their right mind is going to sit under the noon sun reading a book unless they are after an attractive tan. In our climate, gardens are best enjoyed in the morning, evening or for night parties.

These are some common concerns people have that may lead to mistakes when they plan their garden so today I will share my experience and point of view on these concerns.

The most common mistake
Urban Malaysians are so used to being protected from the weather – from their air-conditioned homes to their air-conditioned cars to their air-conditioned offices – even shopping malls are all artificially cooled.

In this digital age, it is important that kids learn to value nature and what comes for free – like sunlight, clean air, and water from the sky. A well-designed garden should be a part of every child’s upbringing.

It has reached a point when they forget how nature really feels like, except when they go on holiday to some beach resort. That’s where your garden is important – to allow you to reconnect with nature.

Yet the most common mistake people make when they plan their gardens is in trying to bring indoor comforts into the outdoors.

Most people can’t stand nature so they build pergolas with polycarbonate covers to block out the rain and sun. They don’t want grass because of weeds so they tile up the whole area. In fact, they are building an extension of their house. In shutting out the discomforts of nature, they are also shutting out the pleasure.  

The whole idea of a garden is to accept nature for what she is. That means it does rain in your garden. The sun does shine and you will feel the heat. There are insects like mosquitoes and ants. Plants grow, so does grass. If you have a pond, algae will form, you can’t stop nature, but why would you want to?

There are great ways to reduce certain discomforts, but if you make that your priority in designing your garden, I believe you are starting off on the wrong foot.

Plan like a professional
Another common misstep is the process of planning. Malaysians usually plan their garden backwards. How do I mean? Well, professional designers plan first, decide the style and material, and then go shopping for the right components.
What most people do, however, is go shopping first and buy what they like, and only then they plan how to make their garden accommodate their new furniture. And then they wonder why their garden can’t look like those professionally designed.

I’ve had many clients who’ve bought artefacts and decorative what-nots from Bali or Vietnam or Thailand and I’m supposed to incorporate these items into the plan. Well, it’s not impossible, but the end result usually looks a bit like rojak. This hit-and-miss approach contributes greatly to a lot of disappointment and wasted money.

Another typical scenario for new homeowners plays out like this: Before they move in, they’d drive around the neighbourhood looking for ideas. Oh, that’s a nice pergola. Or, Hey, that’s a beautiful waterfall in the garden.

The real appeal of any garden is that it can make you feel like a kid again, the sense of wonder and awe and playfulness that fades away when growing up.

It’s okay to look for ideas but don’t copy just because it looks nice in someone else’s garden. Don’t bring your contractor along and tell him “Yes, I want exactly like that”.

Always start with yourself. What are your needs? What is your lifestyle? You are not building a showroom. You’re going to see and use your garden so it should appeal to you, not impress others.

If you want a secluded and romantic area, then design a space with a small water feature and plenty of big plants or lattices to provide a sense of privacy. See how the sunlight falls in your garden and optimise the light and shadows. When is the best time for you to enjoy your garden and what are the conditions at that time?

I mentioned earlier that certain discomforts can be reduced but not eliminated. One is your surrounding view – do you face a picturesque hillside or a busy highway? Do you have nosy neighbors? Another factor is temperature – you can block off direct sunlight but you don’t want to create a heat trap either. There must be proper ventilation. Next factor is smell. You need to plan the location of fragrant plants around your garden.

Once you make your garden attractive, you want to enjoy it. You want to sit next to your pond and look at the fish. Or perhaps you want to lie down listening to the trickling water and gaze at the blue sky. So now is when you start planning seating areas.

As you can see, planning an outdoor living room is not just a matter of selecting a pond or garden chair. In upcoming articles, I will continue the theme and discuss easy ways to maintain your garden.


February 2012
Flow of the garden
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
April 2011
Febuary 2011
December 2010
October 2010
Outdoor Living in Malaysia
September 2010
Avoiding common mistakes
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