The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, which was a series of landscaped terraces built in the desert around 600 BCE, were considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The Chinese still maintain the magnificent Imperial Gardens of the old dynastic rulers in the Forbidden City, which cover 12,000 square metres and contain trees that have been cultivated for hundreds of years, and Japan opens similar gardens in Tokyo and Kyoto to the public regularly.
Today's casual gardener has access to the collective gardening wisdom of the ages in creating decorative effects, and the elements most often chosen for use in pleasure gardens have remained the same: seating carefully arranged to catch the best views, plants chosen to present attractive displays all the year through, water features, pieces of sculpture, and accessories chosen to delight the eye.
Most popular garden additions
A little labour and ingenuity, plus an eye for beauty, are all that's required to bring the following elements into your garden successfully. The simplest way to add dramatic focus to your garden is a water feature. Installing a water feature can be done very quickly and cheaply, as the basic components are few. You'll need a reservoir to hold the water, a submersible pump to cycle the water from reservoir to fountainhead and back, and the fountain spigot itself, which is optional. The pump can run on electrical current from inside your house, and you'll want to incorporate a suitable circuit breaker as a safety measure.
Patio. While usually more costly than a water feature, a patio gives you a space in which to host gatherings. The materials needed for a patio are rather more expensive than those for a water feature, as to do the best job you'll need a foundation layer (usually of sand or crushed concrete) plus mortar and paving stones. Depending on the type of paving you select, you can keep your costs low (a single sheet of concrete is cheapest, followed by concrete paving blocks) or spend more on pre-cut stone blocks like slate, shale, granite, or limestone.
Planters. Almost anything, from wine casks to breeze blocks, can be converted to a planter. The chief requirements are the capacity to hold garden soil and an outlet for drainage, to permit water to percolate through the soil, and any container that serves those purposes will do. You can cast a planter in regular concrete, or mix up some cement-based hypertufa to mold a planter that resembles a stone watering trough. The easiest planters to build are made of scrap lumber like wooden pallets, because you can knock together a box of any size, dump in a few bags of soil, and start transplanting.
Grill for outdoor cooking. You can spend several hundred pounds on a gas-powered barbecue with a posh rain cover (do check that you are getting the best rates available if seeking additional funds for this venture) or you can dig a shallow firepit, bank it with cobbles or leftover concrete, and place a wire grill over it on which your food can cook. It's even possible to take the wire rack from your toaster oven and set it on little stacks of bricks, for that matter, because it's really that easy to construct an outdoor grill. You can construct quite a large grill by adapting an old metal mesh-top table. Separate the existing leg assembly from the top, which will form the grill, and substitute some shorter supports around the sides. The smaller table tops work best for this application, but if all you can find is a larger size you can use only that part of the top that actually fits over your firepit.