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Why is it important to analyse the physical context of your garden?


Reva Saksena, Srishti Mehta, Shruti Bhagwat, Architects, Architecting, Architecture, Architectural, Landscape, Garden, Design, Planning, Sustainable, Green, Landscaping, Sustainability, Greenery, Gardening, Landscaped, Gardened, Zeyka, Zeyka India

It takes little to understand that the most important (and endearing) aspect of the private garden is its seclusion. Seclusion; from the physical world, by means of distance and enclosure and from the social world, by separation and exclusion. It does not matter how small your space is, it is still a sanctuary.


“Every time I imagine a garden in an architectural setting, it turns into a magical place. I think of gardens I have seen, that I believe I have seen, that I long to see, surrounded by simple walls, columns, arcades or the facades of buildings – sheltered places of great intimacy where I want to stay for a long time.”

Peter Zumthor


A study of your surroundings is one of the important points to consider while designing a garden.

Whether it is your tiny courtyard, a sprawling backyard or a decent front porch that needs to be developed, a survey of your neighbourhood will suggest landscape possibilities. A physical analysis is necessary to understand your sanctuary in a larger context. This can help you decide to what extent you want to practice seclusion or open up your garden space.


It will also help you avoid developing a design that is out of place. While flamboyant designs or styles of gardens have their own allure, it is a good idea to keep in mind the overall visual language of the neighbourhood. Do not be limited by neighbourhood examples, but if you do decide to use a very different kind of design, do it unobtrusively- you may want to restrict its full impact to the backyard, for example. You may also want to share your plans with neighbours to gain their understanding and get their suggestions. Long-time residents tend to have a better idea of the availability and utility of services, water supply and maintenance and may be able to help you make informed decisions about your garden.


Keen observation is the key to good design solutions. Take a walk around your neighbourhood and make a list of what features you like, dislike or would want to adapt to your lot. Observe the individual lots first. What building materials, colours, landscape elements and types of screening have others used? What kinds of plants and trees grow well in the neighbourhood? What extent of enclosure do they seem to provide in the garden? Which home landscape in the neighbourhood do you like or dislike? Why?

Reva Saksena, Srishti Mehta, Shruti Bhagwat, Architects, Architecting, Architecture, Architectural, Landscape, Garden, Design, Planning, Sustainable, Green, Landscaping, Sustainability, Greenery, Gardening, Landscaped, Gardened, Zeyka, Zeyka India

Next, observe your neighbourhood. What is the general visual language of the neighbourhood? Often, earth tones (think browns, beige, rustic reds and ochre), home colours, dark roofing materials, organic mulches and uniformly green foliage usually create a visually pleasing neighbourhood. Some communities have zoning, building setback and fencing and planting restrictions you should know about before making landscaping plans. Check your city’s building by-laws. Also, check plot subdivision restrictions for other possible landscaping constraints.


Finally, start thinking about your own lot. During your analysis, take into account manufactured structures and natural landforms seen from your house and lot.

Is there an attractive view to retain and possibly accentuate? Is there an unattractive view to hide? Undesirable views such as those towards highways, power lines, industrial centres and junkyards should be screened by trees, thickets or partitions. You may also want to block out annoying noise from automobiles, trains and traffic.

Think also of the plants. Are there any existing ones you want to retain? What plants would you like to remove? What species thrive in your region? Which ones would require more maintenance?

Reva Saksena, Srishti Mehta, Shruti Bhagwat, Architects, Architecting, Architecture, Architectural, Landscape, Garden, Design, Planning, Sustainable, Green, Landscaping, Sustainability, Greenery, Gardening, Landscaped, Gardened, Zeyka, Zeyka India

While carrying out a physical analysis, it helps to take pictures of your lot. Often, we see only what the mind 'wants' to see, rather than what really exists. Photographs make you see the site as a visitor would. Photos should include views of the house from all sides. Capturing potential views from both inside and outside the house will help you identify those that could be accentuated and those that should be screened for beauty or privacy. Through the progressive design stages, photographs serve as crucial reminders of the original state and conditions on-site. This can be essential to track mistakes early and redesign smaller areas keeping the larger context in mind.


It is good practice to record the features on-site by sketching them on tracing paper placed over your base map. On the tracing paper, indicate with arrows or other symbols:


  1. Major differences in land surface elevation. Include hills, depressions and rock outcroppings

  2. Topography and drainage patterns

  3. Prevailing summer and winter winds

  4. Desirable views to be retained or accentuated

  5. Undesirable views and noise to be screened

  6. Other relevant features

Once you have a fair idea of the physical context around your lot, it will be easier to plan the garden layout and, as we will soon discuss, assess your requirements from garden design. You will be able to design that outdoor reading nook you always wanted. Lost in tall, luscious plants, a wooden bench with a view towards the blooming sunflowers- hidden, but there. Away from the envious gaze of the neighbours, this would be your sanctuary.



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About the Writer

Reva Saksena is an undergraduate architecture student at the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), Bhopal. She has experience working at SiteLens Cultural Research Division of India Lost and Found (ILF) by Amit Pasricha. She is the winner of the "2021 Berkeley Prize Essay Competition.”


About the Editor

Srishti Mehta is the author of "From the Land of Mist and Snow: Haikus from Antarctica". She is a creative writer, editor and publisher. She is the Editor-in-Chief at Zeyka. She is a graduate of the St. Xavier College, Ahmedabad, and the H.R. College of Commerce and Economics, University of Mumbai (MU). She has been the India Ambassador of the International Antarctica Expedition (2018) with 2041 Foundation. She has diverse volunteer experience in natural field studies, explorations, and journalism with numerous organisations including the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), Mumbai.


About the Illustrator

Shruti Bhagwat is an undergraduate architecture student at the Sir J.J. School of Architecture. Shruti has a keen eye for art, design and detail and a passion for books and movies. As the head of public relations for her college, she has organised and hosted multiple events for the institute’s talk series- ‘Manan.’ She was a finalist of Spacematrix’s Designathon 2020.

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