Having brainstormed our ideas for our garden we now have a good idea about what our goals are and what it is we want our garden to be. Next step is to take stock of what we have already got to work with. An essential part of the design process is creating a base map. A base map is an essential tool for helping model and visualise ideas. It can be used as a means of familiarising yourself with the landscape.

The simple act of building the map forces you to take a step back and view what you are working with at a more holistic level. It affords you the opportunity to view the relationship of things from a third person perspective. I also found it to be a useful motivator for creating a site survey, as essentially I tended to only record those things that either I wanted to keep or those that I knew I would need to actively work on.

Google Maps

I used a Google Maps image of our property as a starting point. I simply looked up the address, took a screen shot of the property, enlarged it and printed it out on A4 paper. The print was a bit blurry so from there I used a dark marker to draw around the edges of the boundaries, buildings and major landmarks on the A4.

I needed to enlarge my A4 print to make it of a usable size. Our property is not quite rectangular, so using the square angles of the house I measured each side of the building on the A4 and scaled it up by a factor of 1.5 and started marking the building out on a larger blank sheet, keeping the corners square. I was then able to draw the outline of the house, one and a half times the size of the print.

From the A4 print, I then measured the distance from each corner of the house to the boundary and started scaling these measurements up on my larger map,to mark out the boundary in relation to the house. Following the same pattern, I could then mark out the other fixed features, such as concreted, grassed and decked areas, which essentially gave me a skeleton map of the property. For the scale of my map, accuracy is less important than the relative distances each element is placed from others, but it is still worth measuring distances from more than one point to keep things in scale.

Skeleton Map

Recognising the value of such a skeleton map, I opted to keep this simple as a record of the “hard features” of the property; those features that aren’t easily moved or changed.

Skeleton Base Map

Particularly because it is a suburban property, it is important to note drains and sewerage outlets, thoroughfares and any utilities that the council may need access to. As we recently purchased the property, we had access to the LIM report which includes these details. However, local councils should be able to provide this information for a small fee. You may need to design around these so better to know them up front.

The other key “hard features” to note on the map are the compass points. An arrow pointing North should always be marked on a map. This can help to determine sunny and shady spots and to map the arc of the sun throughout the year. I plan to note the mid-winter and mid-summer sunrise and sunset points as these represent the extreme positions of the sun through the year. I have also made a note of the prevailing NW wind. Although this mostly goes over the top of us, when it really blows we certainly know about it.

Key “Soft” Features

My skeleton map will be used as a carbon copy to trace additional maps. This will allow me to create copies that I can use to overlay prototype designs.

As can be seen in the main picture above, I have now mapped out the key trees and shrubs in the garden that I either expect to keep, or will need to decide how I will assimilate them into the design. There are large grassed areas to the front and rear and some garden beds around the peripheries that are mostly filled with perennial natives and dreaded agapanthus!

We have a number of mature native trees that provide food and shelter for numerous native birds including tui, piwakawaka, ruru and even kaka. I felt it was important to map these and at some point I will to try and identify them. Knowing more about these elements will help an understanding of how they might contribute to different systems in the garden.

In completing this exercise we have taken more time to observe and consider the impacts of an enormous (currently unidentified) native tree in our front yard. In retrospect I think I have under-represented its actual size on my map. It sits in the very north west corner of the garden and towers above the house, blocking the sun in the front garden for a great deal of the winter.

Base Map with Soft Features

Yet at the same time it provides  shelter for these birds and undoubtedly soaks up a large amount of the moisture that runs off the road, bank and path that sits above the property. There are electricity wires that slice between it’s branches, so there is also a risk to local power supplies should the branches ever be compromised. Whatever we decide to do with our design, we will need to consider both the positive and negative influences that this large specimen has on our environment.

Using the Map for Design

We still have some way to go with our observation, planning and design, but having a functioning base map lets us play with ideas as we build our ‘random assembly of lists’ (more about this later). I don’t want to give too much away just yet, but being able to do this has helped us to link up our ideas and will be hugely helpful in our next steps towards a design.

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