Creating a natural garden, Part 2: planning stage

As mentioned in Part 1, I will walk you through how I did this based on a number of questions. Although a large part of what is my garden today has been a natural process I did think about these questions.

Preparing before you start doing anything is the first step:

How did my family intended to use the garden?

When I started I was living together with my then girlfriend, had a baby on the way, an aging bulldog. All with specific needs and requests.This meant no pond at first and for me a garden with out water is no garden at all. But a baby and a pond was a risk we where not willing to take. So the pond needed to be planned in advance.

We also wanted an area where sunning was possible as well as enjoying meals outside. With a north-facing garden that meant it had to be in the back of the garden.

The Bulldog meant that I wanted to “protect” my plants a bit using raised borders. Making it harder for Diesel to lie and sit in them. For both the baby and the dog a lawn was required.

For me I had to have enough space to BBQ in as well as something happening all seasons.

What are you aiming for: lots of flowers, attract insects, birds and other animals?

This was when I started not a truly important question, but I wanted a natural balance in the garden and a good balance between evergreens, roses (I love them) and seasonal flowers. Over the years this developed into having as much endemic plants as possible. And I have been turning my garden into a small city sanctuary for small wildlife.

What are the seasons in your climate?

Living in Holland this means having 4 defined seasons: winter, spring, summer and autumn. Changes in the seasons are noticeable these days winters are warmer, springs and early summers wetter and cooler. Often short periods of much higher temperatures in summer and autumns. But wanting a garden that is interesting 12 months a year does mean you do need to look at evergreens in combination with seasonal growers. Wanting a garden that attracts local wildlife also means providing food and shelter for them. This is an ongoing process as I am now also focusing on endemic plants more and more.

Ratio between paved and unpaved areas should be at a minimum of 60% paved and 40% unpaved

In a natural garden you need to create space for things to grow and develop. Tiles simply don’t allow things to grow. They also interfere with ensuring natural water remains in the garden. What I do notice is that people often forget that a garden is a 3 dimensional space and you can use height as well! Not only by using trees but think of your fences. You can choose a wooden fence but also create a natural fence. Either with plants or with other materials what I did was making fences using concrete meshing filled with peat blocks. The smaller your garden the more you should think 3 dimensional in your planning.

The other areas you can utilize are flat roof tops. Using small gravel my shed roof actually doubles as a water collector/filter and rock garden.

Don’t shy away from using trees! But plan for them.

Sourcing tip: Trees can be very expensive in Garden centers. But if you buy them at the end of the growing season they tend to be much less expensive (in Holland autumn). Most commercial farms do sell directly to end-consumers and tend to have more endemic plants than garden centers do. One other way in getting cheap large trees is also going to commercial fruit plantations. As trees grow older they do get less productive and they often sell them cheaply as well. For private use the productivity is often more than enough btw.

Water & water retention and management

Depending on how you build them, borders and terraces can actually be used to ensure that natural water “stays” in the garden as much as possible. To be honest I did this so good that my garden is a bit too wet, especially in our climate. So irrigation is a challenge for me!

Do you see gardening as a hobby or something that needs to be done?

First of all a natural garden is a lazy persons garden as I mentioned before. If things are balanced well and you allow nature to take over you basically don’t have to do much. For me it is mowing a small lawn and pruning black berries and roses twice a year, as well as fertilizing borders. I do occasionally source for new local rare plants if I something doesn’t make it in the garden. But then again I have a “wild garden” more than a natural garden.

My rule of thumb is” if it dies in my garden” it shouldn’t be here in the first place!

If you do see gardening as a hobby ensuring that rare plants do survive growing a natural garden can be actually very rewarding. One of the things that took time to ensure in my garden was protecting roses naturally from lice. It took a long time to ensure the balance as well as to figure out how to attract enough ladybugs to feed on the lice! Helping that balance develop is can be challenging, especially if you want to focus on more rare and delicate plant species.

This is closely related to the last point:

Be Patient…some things take time to develop don’t interfere to quick!

Trust in nature to find solutions for you. Of course you can help out occasionally but do it small steps at a time and not too rigorously. Do you have a lice problem in your flowering plants? Hose them off with a garden hose and wait for the ladybugs or birds to start feeding on them in stead of using detergents. Next year the balance will be there, not only will your flowers be more vibrant, ladybugs and birds will find your garden sooner!

Successes and failures

I will elaborate on this in the last blog, but my proudest achievement is having a pond that acts as a Smooth Newt re-introduction facility. The last couple of years I was able to re-introduce small numbers of these in Holland endangered salamanders.

My biggest failure, has to be my lawn. The garden is to shaded, to wet and has to deal with too much walking


Feel free to share your thoughts and ideas in the comment section. As well as to share this blog with your network!

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