William Dangar: Design Principles

Here are a few pointers that I use to endeavour to get a sustainable practical landscape that remains visually striking over many decades. Realising a landscape project can take many different paths with varying degrees of success.  Over time my sense of style has been cemented largely through being super critical of my own work and having constant feedback from my talented team of horticulturalists that maintain my projects. Some are now 20 years old and it is only now that I am realising that there needs to be compromise when conceiving small scale residential landscape projects (land size generally under 2000 square metres). Most of my clients want a certain degree of instant gratification and this needs to be balanced with the correct combinations of structural and soft landscape elements to offset the ever-increasing desire for more house. I am constantly amazed by how big some of these dwellings are for so few occupants!!!


966afcb598df85fdae552d855d3440e2The single most important factor to consider in any concept design is scale. This would probably be the thing I see done poorly the most by home owners. A pot that may seem large in a nursery or garden store often is tiny when delivered to site and placed next to a two or three-story house. Bigger and less is better in my view.

795ce2ec43a10a4484a9c3234ad64880Scale is also important when considering the plant choices. There needs to be layers starting from dominant trees through large and small shrubs down to the ground covers. I am a massive fan of less is more and love mass plantings which also makes for an easier garden to maintain.

c7f0ac622c332a5d0e312d7f4542d8d6It is important when selecting and specifying outdoor ornamentation and furniture. A good way to work this out is to set it out on site first with marking tape before committing. It’s a terrible feeling when your load of expensive furniture arrives and you can’t walk between the backs of the chairs and the pool fence!!


604964063b3e1f0aba34c0de9c868397When selecting the material choices for my projects, I tend to use classical materials that will outlast any design fads. In Sydney, I use predominantly sandstone as my paving surfaces as well as walls, and I also have a love of second-hand bricks and hardwood. I used to think I needed to be more exploratory in my material choices, however over time I have realised my approach makes sense. It also often is a sensible way to manage the budget constraints if you can source products locally rather than have to import. Don’t get me wrong I still love new things and often such items are applied to my smaller projects.

79ce1d1b7983b13609739037d9c8a532As gardens age and evolve, site conditions will change. Areas that were in full sun are now in full shade as the canopy trees have matured. We discuss with our clients the need over time to replant certain areas at around the 5 year mark of a project. I consider these elements when designing and often we will potentially plant trees with the intention to remove as the garden develops. I am also patient and try to limit over planting where possible.

da7eee249c9cef40783242aac26884ccOther important considerations when designing are not to “over design”. I am a fan of garden shows as they increase interest in the industry, however I do believe they are to blame for emerging designers (as well as some established ones) to create spaces with far too much going on with very little emphasis on planting design.

The final element we consider on almost every job is trying a few new plants.  I call these plants “speculators” and alert our clients they may be a spectacular failure. As we are a design and construct firm we replace any that don’t work at our cost however this practice keeps our product fresh and is also fun.

Until next time,