Design Class: Borrowed Landscapes

How your neighbour's trees can help you create a better garden.

One of the biggest challenges when designing your garden can be knowing where to start.

Do you kick off with some paths, or new garden beds? Should you concentrate on an outdoor dining area, or somewhere to grow herbs?  Or do you just start planting things in the hope that something will emerge from the chaos?

Sometimes we’re so busy concentrating on what needs doing within our own backyard that we don’t even notice the really obvious starting point that’s staring us right in the face.

I’m talking about what designers call the ‘borrowed landscape’: things that look great from your place, but are actually in you neighbours’ gardens.

A classic example of a borrowed landscape is an amazing neighbourhood tree. Remember last week’s story about the Brisbane Quaker Arboretum? All the neighbours living around its perimeter are able to ‘borrow’ views, shade, shelter and more from the Arboretum, making their gardens feel somehow connected to this bigger landscape.

If you think that sounds like a good idea, here are four tips for incorporating borrowed landscapes into your garden.

1. Look Beyond Your Fence

Seems obvious now that we’re talking about it, but sometimes the best part of your garden is in someone else’s back yard!

 Nope, nothing here...

Nope, nothing here...

 ...or is there?

...or is there?

If you can identify what’s around that makes an impact when seen from your garden, then you can make a plan that best incorporates it.

2. Don’t Crowd the Red Carpet

If you’ve identified something that can play a starring role in your garden, then let it be the star. If the most amazing tree you can see is in your neighbour’s garden, and it creates shade right where you need it, and has gorgeous flowers in spring and summer, then it’s OK for your garden to play a supporting role.

 Hmmm, where did that amazing tree go?

Hmmm, where did that amazing tree go?

More often than not, if you try and compete, you’ll lose the impact of the thing that was so amazing in the first place.

3. Ah, ah, ah, ah Stayin’ Alive

No point having an amazing borrowed landscape next door if you kill it, is there?

Remember that the things you do on your side of the fence can have an impact on the tree on the other side.

Depending on the species, that fabulous tree next door might have a root system that extends under your property. Be mindful of this if you’re planning work next to the boundary. Excavations for swimming pools or walls can cut into root zones and damage them.

If you’re planning something like this it can be worthwhile having an arborist provide advice on establishing a protection zone around the critical area.

4. Next Generation

Finally, if you really love your borrowed landscape, and it’s a critical part of the success of your garden, what do you do if the tree does become unhealthy and die, or a new owner decides he doesn’t love it quite so much and plans to chop it down?

This is always a risk with borrowed landscapes, but one way of future-proofing your garden is to consider succession planting. If you have the space, you could plant a young specimen of the beautiful tree on your side of the fence. Yours will be growing as the neighbouring one ages.

If the amazing tree is in a park or street verge, you could talk to your local council to see if they have considered a succession planting plan.

At the end of the day, good succession planting will be beneficial not just to you, but to local wildlife, and the rest of the neighbourhood.

Now it’s over to you.

Does ‘borrowed landscape’ play a part in your garden? Tell me one thing that contributes to your garden, but which is actually located on another property.

And in the spirit of borrowing, if you know someone who might find this story interesting, please feel free to share it.

Thanks for reading, and see you soon for more tips and stories.