What is Landscape Design?
A landscape consists of both living and non living things. These are the components of the landscape.
Examples of non living components might be rocks, gravel paths, timber, walls etc. These non living components can be looked on in two ways:
- As the materials which they are made up of; and
- As the structures or things which the materials are used to make.
The living components of the landscape are the plants (and perhaps the animals which inhabit it). A landscape is made good or bad by the way in which these components are both selected and are arranged together.
The landscape is constantly changing, and a good designer must foresee and account for changes which are likely to occur. Plants grow, flower and die. Wooden structures rot and metal ones rust. Earth can erode. The garden continually changes through the cycle of the season. A skilled landscape designer will not only be aware of, but will use these changes.
The basic principles of landscape design are those things which influence the way in which the components are used. For example, the over-riding principle in Chinese gardens is unity - between rocks, plants and water. For Le Notre, a famous 17th Century French designer, a very important principle was that of symmetry, while for Capability Brown, an influential 18th century English landscaper, the most important principle was for landscapes to be natural in appearance.
Ground form, structures and plants all need to be organised into a pleasing composition of spaces to satisfy the principles chosen by the designer with an emphasis to suit the client.
Start with the Soil
Good soil is the foundation of any garden; if you don't get the soil right plants don't grow well, and structures you build don't sit firmly in the ground.
There are two ways you can get good soil: one is to improve your existing soil (which can be a slow process), the other is to buy in good soil.
What is Soil?
Basically, besides gas pockets, soil has three ingredients:
- Small particles of rock (sand, clay, silt).
- Organic material (rotting leaves, pieces of bark, etc.).
- Micro-organisms (worms, fungi, small insects, etc.).
The ideal soil contains a mixture of rock particles, plenty of organic matter and a healthy population of micro-organisms. However, not all soils contain all these components. When this happens you need to add the missing ingredients.
When to buy in soil?
- Where rock is close to or coming through the surface.
- Where real estate developers have removed the natural topsoil leaving poor quality subsoil exposed.
- Where the soil is too sandy to hold water and nutrients.
- Where the soil is too rocky or clayey for water, nutrients, or even roots to penetrate.
- When you are laying a lawn.
- When you are building raised beds.
- When you are doing a cut and fill.
- If you need to establish a quality garden fast, buy in good quality soil rather than persevering with poor soil.
It can be expensive to buy in top quality soil. Another problem may be availability – the type of bulk soil available in a locality will be restricted by what exists naturally in the region. Sometimes the type of soil you want simply won’t be available in your area.
Don’t let this put you off buying soil. You may have to compromise and buy whatever is available and then improve it yourself. Adding organic matter will make a big difference to lesser quality soil – just make sure it’s well mixed in and that you add the right amount (too much and the soil will be ‘fluffy’ and won’t retain water; too little and you won’t be improving it). Also be aware that not all organic matter is suitable – mixing fresh sawdust into the soil, for example, will temporarily reduce the amount of nitrogen available to plants. Aged or composted sawdust will not cause this problem.
How Much Soil Do You Need?
The amount of soil you need depends on the area you are covering and the type of plants you want to grow. For a lawn, you need around 20 cm depth of top soil; shrubs and trees need more - around 60cm depth will work for most species.
If you have a garden that requires you to buy in soil, you can save money by choosing to use plants that have shallower root systems – such as palms (in the right climate).
What is Clay Soil?
Clay soil has very small particles. It contains some plant nutrients, but is both hard to get wet and does not dry out easily once it gets waterlogged. It can be difficult for some plants to get their roots into clay soil.
What is Sandy Soil?
Sandy soil has comparatively large particles. It drains easily, but contains few nutrients and is hard to keep wet.
What is Loamy Soil?
With a high level of organic matter, loam soil contains high levels of nutrients. It is ideal for growing most plants and provides plenty of food for micro-organisms.
What is Topsoil?
Soil is made up of layers – the upper layer is called topsoil; all layers below this are called the subsoil. The topsoil is the zone where plant roots grow; hence its properties are extremely important for plant growth.
For good plant health, the topsoil needs to have good structure and fertility. It should contain organic matter (humus), organisms (earthworms and micro-organisms), oxygen, water and minerals.
What Type of Soil do you Need?
You need to match your soil needs with the type of plants you are growing; and to some extent, the amount of care and attention you can give the garden.
Lawns undoubtedly grow best in a sandy topsoil, this type of soil dries out fast and loses nutrients by leaching. If you’re not going to attend to watering and fertilizing, you are better growing a second rate lawn on a soil containing more clay and organic matter. Perhaps buy an organic loam, and mix it with your natural soil below.
Vegetable and flower gardens are different. If your natural soil is clay: buy in enough sandy soil to cover 5 to 10 cm, and enough compost or organic soil to cover another 5-10cm. Mix this together and with the top few centimetres of the clay soil below.
If your natural soil is very sandy: buy enough organic soil or compost to cover 5-15 cm and mix with the top 5cm of the sandy loam.
Many garden centres make up their own soil mix for use in your garden. This means they can ensure the quality of the soil and add beneficial ingredients that do not occur naturally in the soil. Some garden centres even make more than one soil blend, e.g. a sandy loam for turf areas and a heavier soil for garden beds.
Soil blends will usually mix sand and composted wood chips with soil from the quarry. Additional ingredients will vary between different garden centres: gypsum to help break down clay, water crystals to improve the water holding capacity and animal manures for extra nutrients.
Ask your local garden supplier what they have included in their soil blend.
How Clean is the Soil?
Some soils carry weed seeds, or worse still: disease or pest organisms.
If you buy from a reputable company (e.g. A member of the Nursery Industry Association supplies soils that meet Standards Association standards), these problems are unlikely. If the mix is a potting mix that does not contain soil (e.g. a mix of composted bark and sand) it will be free of such problems. Cheap soils from soil yards that look dirty are always suspicious.
It’s always good to inspect what you buy before buying.
Pick up a handful of soil and look at it. Weed seeds can often be seen if they are a problem. If the soil is 'soggy' and has a stagnant smell, the likelihood of disease will be higher.
Look for Even Texture
Any good soil will have an even texture throughout (i.e. It does not contain lumps).
Smell Before Buying
Many soil mixes contain composted material, or manure. If these materials are too fresh (i.e. have not been fully composted), they will have a strong smell, and be more likely to burn the roots of tender plants.
How to Use Soil
Problem: When you lay good soil over the top of bad soil, you will have a zone between the two where conditions change dramatically. For example, water moves through the good soil fast, then slows or stops when it hits the underlying ground. It then builds up, and creates a waterlogged zone.
Solution: Lay 25% of the bought soil over the surface and dig it in. Then lay the remainder on top. This creates a transition zone.
Why does Soil Cost so Much?
A major part of the cost of the soil is the cost of moving it from the quarry or soil pit, to the garden centre or soil yard. Costs are usually based on the distance it is carried…so soil brought in from further away can cost a great deal more; even if it is not as good as soil brought in from nearby. The best soils are usually processed (e.g. screened, composted, mixed, etc). They may even have fertilizer or other things added to improve them. All of these things cost time and money
THE ACS TEAM APPROACH
ACS was founded by John Mason in 1979 as Australian Horticultural Correspondence School.
Right from these very early times, we've always believed that the best education only comes when the student is learning from the experience of a whole range of industry experts (rather than just a single teacher).
Every ACS course is a work in progress, continually evolving, with new information being added and old information being updated by our team of internationally renowned professional horticulturists.
Over the decades more than 100 horticulture experts from across the world have contributed to these courses, bringing their individual knowledge and experiences from as wide afield as England and Spain to Australia and America.
While may colleges and universities focus on providing courses that relate only to the country where they are based, ACS has always strived to make it's courses relevant to all parts of the world; any climate, economic or cultural situation. This has been achieved by involving a large number of professionals in the course development.
When it comes to tutoring, marking papers and mentoring students, the team approach is just as strong as with our writing. ACS students have the ability to obtain advice and support from staff across the world, with horticulture tutors located in the UK, Australia (both the north and south) and New Zealand.
The ACS team approach and global focus to both course content and student support, ensures our graduates have a unique and "real world" skills set. This unique approach is highly regarded by our colleagues in horticulture.
Contributors to ACS Courses over the years have included:
John Mason - is a founding board member of the Australian Garden Council, a former parks director (Melton, Essendon and Heidelberg), Landscape Designer (Playgrounds and recreation Association of Victoria), Nurseryman, President Australian Institute of Horticulture (Victoria), Committee International Year of the Child (Australia), Author over over 150 books, Editor Home Grown Magazine, Editor Garden Guide Magazine, Editor Your Backyard Magazine.
Maggi Brown - Education officer, Henry Doubleday Research Association (UK), gold medal winner Chelsea Flower Show, Garden consultant.
Adriana Fraser - Horticultural Consultant, TAFE Lecturer, Project Manager - Parks and Gardens, Horticultural writer.
Iain Harrison - Garden Manager Fibremakers, Garden Consultant, Lecturer Swinburn TAFE
Katie Freeth - Manager Commonwealth War Graves (France), Horticultural Consultant (France & UK), Board member Institute of Horticulture, and International Federation Parks & Recreation Administration
Tony Bundock - Horticulture Businessman, Consultant, Head of Horticulture Dept. TAFE
Jim Davis - Horticulture Businessman, Lecturer TAFE (NSW), Principal VCAH Burnley College
Dr Lyn Morgan - Author and internationally renowned hydroponics consultant (New Zealand)
Dr Valeria Astorga - Horticultural consultant, lecturer (Spain, Peru, Australia)
Alison Bundock - Editor (Kangaroo Press; Southern Cross University), Technical Writer (APM), Consultant
Rosemary Davies - Horticultural consultant, journalist, media personality (Victoria)