Starting the Design

Garden Design for Beginners – starting the design

Starting garden design.

At PlantPlots we have always tried to show you how to garden using everyday gardens and ordinary budgets. Creating a beautiful garden should not be the preserve of only the professionals, you can create one too. There are a few fundamental rules you need to know that help start the process. If you are still a bit stuck having read this article though, contact rachel@plantplots.com. A little advice to help you on your way will always be free!

However, PlantPlots is unlike other garden design companies. We don’t think that showing you pictures of expensive or fabulous gardens really helps you sort out your back garden.

For example, you often hear the phrase ‘you can take inspiration from this show garden’…

OK, here’s a show garden;

Now take inspiration from that and apply it to your garden…

It’s not quite so easy then is it.


Hence why we do things a little differently, we try to show you how to garden – in your garden.

So by reading this further you aren’t going to get lovely pictures to look at (mainly as my artistic skills are a little lacking), but you are going to be able to go out into your back garden and make it work how you want it to!


We can also help you design your garden and we don’t even need to visit you, all we need is a photo!

Anyway, here’s how to design your garden….

Fundamental Design Rules to Follow:

But by far the most important one for you to remember, is that the garden has to meet your needs. 

However there are some basic architecture rules that if you apply the will help the garden look more balanced and ‘designed’

  • Follow the Regulatory line – it connects the house to the garden better.
  • Vertical height should be 1/3 the length of the horizontal space.
  • Closer to the house, there should be more symmetry.
  • Design from the house outward into the garden.
  • Paths need to be at least 2ft 6″ wide for a person to comfortably walk down – without getting entangled by the plants.
  • Steps: The mathematical formula for getting a ‘comfy’ step is 2xheight + width = 26inches.
  • There is a golden ratio which is 1.6 : 1; it makes the any  rectangle shape look ‘right’ and not too fat or too skinny.

So what does this all mean?

What do you mean by ‘regulatory line’ ?

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Houses aren’t separate from the landscape, they are part of it, whether it is urban or in the countryside. Look at the back of your house, what you see. If it is tall and narrow, your garden needs to be more vertical and use taller planting to fill the space from the top to the bottom.

If however, you have a broad wide view, like a bungalow for example, then the design needs to have wider borders to avoid looking ‘bitty’.


The 1/3’s Rule

The simplest way to explain this is with a picture. Basically, you need a bit of height in a border, but too much and it starts to close in, too little and and the border has little impact, and you end up staring at fences!

So as long as the height of the plants is roughly 1/3 the length of the garden, the whole garden seems to be a bit more balanced and joined together.

Start with Symmetry from the House Outwards:

You can’t fit a square peg into a round hole, it just doesn’t work, well the same applies to garden design…..we know Mother Nature does not ‘do’ straight geometric design in the world around us, but we are not in the wider landscape, by trying to apply natural lines in a small urban garden you are in essence trying to fit the ‘square peg’.

Your garden landscape is dominated by straight lines and strong geometric shapes, especially near the house – it just looks all wrong if you try to force a natural looking shape right next to the walls.

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Secondly, as you always walk into a garden usually from the back door, start designing from the house outwards.

Ask yourself some questions,

  • Where would I normally walk to, a seat, the washing line, the bins?
  • How do I get to my most used spots – do I need a pathway?
  • Where is the best place in the garden to sit for a morning coffee or to catch the evening sun. Can you actually sit there too?
  • Is there anything that stops me from using the garden how I would like to.
  • If so, can you actually alter it or do you need to design around it?

These basic questions provide you with a framework to start your design. For example, if the best place to sit is at the end of the garden facing the house, then you may need a path to get there that you can use all year round. Once you are at that spot, you will want to look at something nice, so this helps you locate the spot for your main border.

The ‘Golden Ratio’

Most new gardeners create borders that are too narrow and long. Now whilst, you may think a border all along the fence will hide the fence and so is the better option – this is the wrong approach.

You need to think not about hiding the fence.  Instead think about creating something interesting to look at that draws your attention away from the fence. 

The idea is that it is visually better to look at a block of planting, rather than a line of planting, and the best shape for the block is on a 1 : 1.6 ratio.

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Possibly the best garden design book you’ll ever buy is available on Amazon and other online book stores. Get your copy today. Learn how to design your garden, starting garden design, and avoid common design mistakes.

Read this amazing review – from award winning blogger – MandyCanUDigIt.com

Visit our shop for loads of great ideas for your garden borders. We really do make gardening easier! 🙂