Back to basics

Just like a good building, a garden needs solid structure, too

Winter bares all outdoors, leaving only the “bones” of your garden to see, so it’s a great time to critique your garden to see if it measures up.

Structure comprises the “hard landscaping” or man-made elements of a garden, such as walls, floors and ceilings. Hedges, specimen trees and feature (or accent) plantings may also be considered structural. Together, these elements define spaces and direct and focus views. They are closely interrelated, each having an effect on the appearance and function of the others. Well thought-out, practical and aesthetically pleasing structural elements are the basis of a good garden and well worth investing in.


**In most gardens, walls or fences are essential. They define our boundaries, give us a sense of security and provide shelter and privacy. A height restriction of 1.8-2m is the norm (check with your local council first, as there are exceptions). It’s important to take any desirable views into account. Use windows in the wall to frame attractive vistas, or you can use height changes along the length of a wall to expose a good view.

Solid walls, on the other hand, are an ideal solution for blocking out an undesirable view. Internal walls partition off different areas to create garden rooms. Generally lower in height and often permeable, they impart a sense of intimacy by creating smaller spaces within the greater garden area.

Raised garden beds can also be used as walls, or they can run alongside walls to strengthen structure visually and enhance the wall. Hedges are the natural counterpart of walls, which are often used with raised garden beds. Hedging is “softer” in appearance and cheaper to implement but the downside is higher maintenance.


**Paths, steps, decks and patios form the structural ground plane. How and where these elements are placed hinges largely on indoor-outdoor flow, sun, shelter, the size of the garden and shape of the dwelling.

Whether curved or straight, paths must have a purpose – they must lead somewhere. Paved or decked areas can mirror the shape of a building, while contrasting shape or the use of contrasting materials can turn the area into a feature.

Creating changes in level introduces greater interest. When considering changes of level, make use of existing contours to minimise cost and disturbance of the natural landform.


**outdoors, the sky is the ceiling. Lowering the ceiling with a structural element such as a pergola, arbour or gazebo completely alters the concept of a space. It transforms an unremarkable area into a space with purpose and intimacy. These structures are often used as a focal point and double as a great place to relax in the shade.

A pergola is usually attached to a building, while gazebos and arbours are generally free-standing. Placement and sizing are critical. They must fit naturally into their surrounds, melded into the overall design with accompanying plantings and paved areas, and should conform to the garden’s scale. Climbing plants are usually added to soften these structures.


**once positioning of the main structural elements of walls, floors and ceilings is determined, placement of features can be decided on. These may include a garden sculpture, water feature, garden seat, large urn, accent planting or boldly coloured pergola or wall. Interesting features are key ingredients of a garden. They should be used strategically as either focal points to terminate a vista, or as elements of surprise to be viewed unexpectedly as one turns a corner.

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