An ergonomist designs a garden
Gardens are a common leisure space, but one where I have not seen much involvement of ergonomics. There is work on the psychology of gardens, and various garden tools advertise themselves as ergonomic, but what about the design and layout of gardens themselves?
Our family has recently moved house, and our new garden is a blank canvas. By a blank canvas I mean there is a patio, various concrete paths in places I don’t know if I would want them, a shed, and a few random building materials.
Now I love my gardening, and the sight of this empty garden has me excited about all the things I could do with it.
As an ergonomist - I also can’t help but see it as a design project.
So how does an ergonomist start to design a garden?
Well, in my work the starting point is almost always with an understanding of the user and their task. So - how does this work for a garden?
Our garden has three primary users - my husband, my little boy, and I. It also has many occasional users - family, friends, wildlife, and perhaps in future a dog.
Having identified the users, the next question is what do we each want to use our garden for. Between us, we came up with the following list.
On this list, there are three big ones - Playing, Relaxing, and Cooking and Eating. These are definitely what we see as the main functions of our garden. So I focused on these three requirements and expanded more on what they meant.
As my little boy grows up, there will be different things he wants to do for play. Right now, his big interests are pouring water and moving mud and stones around the garden. I am guessing in the future these may change, but what to? Therefore, the key requirements for the garden are to provide a play space, and for that space to be flexible to different ways of playing.
Relaxing is probably the most ambiguous requirement. Part of it is enabling relaxing activities - having a quiet coffee, reading a book, somewhere to enjoy a glass of wine in the evening. Part of it is also setting an appropriate atmosphere - somewhere calm and peaceful, pleasant lighting, maybe the sound of running water. For me, temperature is a big influence on my mood - if I am too cold or too hot, I will not relax. Therefore, there is a need to provide sunny spaces, shady spaces, and a means of generating warmth in the evening.
Cooking and eating
By cooking and eating - I mean space for a good sized barbecue and an outdoor dining space. While I might dream of including an outside kitchen, and my husband definitely dreams of a smoker, the core requirements are pretty straight forward. The dining area needs to accommodate our family and guests - which will usually mean another family - so space for at least 8 people to sit out. One of my great joys in life is also an outdoor breakfast, so I would love to include a spot to sit which gets the morning sun.
The process of sitting down and thinking through what we want from the garden has been a really enjoyable one, and enabled me to put together a list of requirements for the garden. At the moment the requirements are quite general, but feels like a good starting point. The next step will be to start thinking about the constraints of the garden and generating initial ideas about how to implement the requirements within the space. Through this process I will continue to think about how I can bring in tools from ergonomics, to make a garden which is usable and enjoyable.
Enough space to play
Play space that can change and adapt over time
Somewhere to enjoy a coffee in the morning and afternoon
Somewhere to enjoy a glass of wine in the evening
Somewhere to read a book
Planting which generates a calm and peaceful atmosphere
Lighting which generates a calm and peaceful atmosphere
A water feature, which includes the sound of running water
An area to sit which captures the sun throughout the day
An area to sit which can be made shady
A means of providing warmth in the evening
A dining area that can fit 8 people
Somewhere to eat breakfast in the sunshine
If possible, an outside kitchen
If possible, space for a smoker
Storage for garden tools
A herb garden
Provide visual screening of the railway line
Provide auditory screening of the railway noise
Planting that includes greenery, flowers and trees
Encourage nature into the garden - especially bees