Garden design tip 3: Surveying your plot

The Big Year (Image source Film Ireland)

Under our current spell of weather with its punishing, blustery winds and sharp rain, the least likely thing to be on your mind is the thought of carrying out a survey of your garden.  But if you are mulling over the idea of a garden redesign this summer, then it is something you are going to have to do.  I find having a plan of the existing garden is really the only way to visualise what sort of design changes are required.  And the survey plan is used as the basis over which new designs can be sketched.  Below is an outline of the kit that you can be getting ready in the interim and also some tips on what is required of this survey.

Firstly though, you need to put yourself back in school, perhaps, in maths or geography class to get in the frame of mind for this work. Or remember the fun science project when you got to go outdoors and find out about nature: maybe you surveyed the trees in the school grounds one year?

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Basic garden survey equipment

So, my essential kit for a garden survey is paper, pencil, and tape measure.  Other useful equipment that I have used for detailed surveys includes: a rule, string, spirit level, and long (flexible) tape measure.  For larger sites, consider using a measuring wheel, which is really handy way of taking quick measurements and is easily used on your own.  For greater detail on level changes consider the use of a laser level (these can be picked up at good value these days and the less expensive ones are perfectly adequate for most garden survey work).  A photographic record is also a must for reference, so bring a camera, too.

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My trusty measuring wheel

The main things that you need to survey (measure) are:

GARDEN DIMENSIONS: You will need to assess the main garden dimensions including length (depth), width and level changes across your site. If your boundaries are curved or of varying width, ensure that you plot these changes accurately on your survey plan.

GARDEN FEATURES: In addition to the size of the garden and its gradients, record the location and size of existing garden features, such as: the location of any garden buildings, pathways, steps, paved areas, planting beds, types and heights of fences and/or walls and the main trees and shrubs throughout the garden.

SERVICES: the location of any underground services, electricity and water pipes, as well as drainage points should be noted, as these will dictate whether, or not, parts of the garden can be dug at depth.

ORIENTATION: Don’t forget to assess the orientation of the site (i.e. find the north point) and record the sunny and shady spots.  Ascertain the direction of prevailing winds and also where wind is likely to be channelled by tall, solid objects, such as, evergreen trees, walls and even the house.

drawing a garden design plan

SITE SURVEY PLAN: Ensure that this information is recorded on a plan “in-the-field” and then transferred to a tidier survey plan completed at your desk (or kitchen table!).

Finally, my best advice is to have a second person with you to help you take the measurements and to assist in the recording of the information.  Carrying out the survey can actually be quite good fun; especially if undertaken with a friend – you can share the tape measure between you and it becomes a sort of bonding exercise (a bit like bird-watching 😉 )!


1 Comment
  • Cathy and Steve

    Great basic info for someone who is just starting out and who has never done this before.

    2nd May 2012at2:13 pm

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