“Oh no! The house has been built in the wrong place.”

More than once, I felt like turning the car around and returning home. It can be very frustrating to be involved in the design of rural gardens. Very often, key aspects of the garden would have been put in place already, such as the driveway, septic tank, gas or oil storage, garage or storage sheds. These structures can all have a major influence on the success of the garden or cause significant problems for its use and enjoyment later on.

Architects and builders often give little or no consideration to the actual site, where the house will be built or its garden. The design could be plonked down on any site and the evidence is to be seen on every road in the country. The role of planners in local authorities is chiefly to ensure that zoning, traffic, water and sewers are placed correctly. But they have an increasingly important role as they comment on landscape issues as part of most permissions.

1 Placing a house

Very often, the house is built at the end of a long driveway on a huge site. But from the point of view of actually enjoying the garden, the space behind is limited. It is not unusual to see houses planted close to the back ditch with all the ground in front. This is such a waste.

2 Inadequate terrace excavation

Many houses built on a sloping site have inadequate excavations done and this can leave the house very cramped against slopes. Very often the extent of excavation is not stipulated in the design or contract and the builder will usually do the minimum. The terracing and slopes of a site will affect the use later.

3 Driveway behind the house

It is rarely – very rarely – necessary to have a driveway go right around a house. At first glance, it might seem like a great idea to be able to drive around to the back door as well as the front, but this destroys the value of the most important garden space immediately behind the house where the most lived-in rooms are generally located.

4 Badly located parking space & garage

Many houses and gardens are spoiled by the location of where cars are parked. In particular, many rural houses are spoiled when cars are parked too close to the front of the house. Why build a fine expensive house and then park cars in front of it? There are exceptions where this is necessary, of course, but ideally the main area for parking should be towards the side of the house.

5 S-bends on the driveway

A driveway is often laid out on a drawing but the drawing is largely ignored or inadequate. Gentle bends help to control speed and less damage will ensue. A turning circle is almost always a bad idea. And a driveway should follow the most natural route.

6 Severe soil damage

The soil of the site will be needed to grow plants but machinery can cause severe compaction that leads to waterlogging and poor drainage. Top-soil can be stripped off, leaving poor soil that takes years to improve. Spread topsoil only in good condition.

7 House spoils the view

On a raised site with a view, the house should see the view but ideally the view should not see the house. A house does not need to be right at the top of a slope to get the view, usually the view at the top is too wide. The best views are usually part-way up the hill.

8 Services that take over

Utilities such as electricity, gas, oil, sewerage and telephone are just services, not ends in themselves. Wires, tanks and pipes should make the least possible impact on a site. Septic tanks or electricity poles do not need to be placed in the middle of a front or back lawn.

9 Look-at-me house

Owners of “trophy” houses in a rural setting may not realise that a glimpse of a house is more impressive than a full-frontal view. Seen from the road, a house should be visible for just part of its front boundary perhaps a gap at the entrance, or further along.

10 Large lawn

A large lawn is time-consuming to mow and boring to look at. A rural site should be planted with well-chosen trees to make garden woodland over a minimum 20% of the area and, on a large site, perhaps as much as 75%. Trees need little care and they provide a perfect setting for a rural house as well as shelter, privacy and a haven for wildlife.

If you can avoid all 10 of these common mishaps you are well on the way to having a fine garden – one that will be admired for generations. Most of these points have to do with layout, not with plants, but the foundation layout of a garden is vital and the best of planting won’t compensate for a bad layout.