How to design a garden
If you google how to design a garden there are 1.8 billion search results! It’s all out there and readily available, so why do many garden owners find designing a garden so tricky. Almost everyone has cracked the interior decorating part, most of us live in nicely decorated homes. Homeowners are brilliant at matching cushions and curtains, sofas and coordinated light fittings, we understand how to ‘put a room together’.
So why most gardens play safe with the standard centrifuge garden design model. A centrifuge garden is one where the lawn sits in the middle and there are thin borders running round the edge. Sound familiar? It is a safe bet, it works, it’s easy to look after and so millions for gardens look just like that. A safe bet.
If the pandemic lockdowns taught us one thing, it was that the garden needs to be so much more than a lawn surrounded by shrubs.
The reason many garden owners play safe is because many of the 1.8 billion search results all in essence showcase the same format. Most showcase the most amazing designs, beautiful huge gardens, professionally designed and expensively maintained. It does not however relate to the small modern back garden the person has.
Most garden owners cannot ‘get inspiration’ from a show garden.
The best gardening website ever – possibly!
Fortunately you have come to the right place. The design and planting advice here is based on reality.You won’t find images of amazing looking gardens, instead you fill find advice on how you can make your own garden better, more interesting and more user friendly. Learn how to design a garden if you don’t know much about plants. There is advice on designing a garden from scratch or sorting out design mistakes.
How to design a garden
Garden planning is not the same as designing a garden, planning a garden involves understanding your needs and aspirations, designing a garden requires converting those aspirations and dreams into practical workable solutions. Good garden design in not about lots of hard landscaping changes or spending lots of money. It is about ensuring the layout of the garden works for you but also works within the environment your location throws at you.
Work with your environment
Gardens come in all shapes and sizes as well as with different garden environments. Each requires a different design solution. Modern gardens now tend to be small, and are often awkward shapes, making designing them difficult. Maximising space in a small garden requires thinking much more in 3 dimensions, to make the most for the space you have.
The garden weather also makes a difference, plants will and do grow anywhere, but placing plants in areas they would not normally grow only means these need more care and attention from the owner to thrive. Designing a garden so the maintenance requirements fit with your available time is crucial. The worst designs impose a style on the garden that is just not suited to the environment, increasing the workload and effort required to keep the garden looking like it should.
A low maintenance garden design involves understanding how the environment and weather will impact the garden, and ensuring the materials, surfaces and plants used do not add to the workload. Incidentally, don’t get lulled into thinking the images of cool chic looking contemporary, modern or minimalist gardens are low maintenance, often it’s quite the reverse!
How to choose the right design style for the garden
You may have heard the phrase right plant right place, which ensures the plants you choose will grow well, behave and thrive in the garden. Designing gardens for different climates, and garden shapes is also crucial to ensuring the design works well but that the design itself doesn’t not add to the garden maintenance.
It may sound lovely to have a contemporary garden, but is it right for where you live? Mediterranean gardens sound perfect, crisp white walls with drought tolerant plants, but how will the garden look in winter?
The key to good garden design
is working out how you need and want to use the garden first. Then the elements must be considered; how will the weather affect the hard landscaping choices. White walls will go green with algae over time, shingle will become full of weeds. Every garden needs to plan for debris, to ensure the chores you have to do are not made more difficult by the hard landscaping choices made.
I will rue the day I decided decorative pebbles would look lovely… which they did, but not under the pine trees and full of dropped needles!
Rule 1 you can’t rake larger stones, debris needs hand picking out!
All the design advice provided assumes 2 things, you are not an expert gardener and that you will be doing the work yourself with limited budgets.
It’s just simple practical design advice for every shape and size of garden. But as most gardens are suburban, on an estate or a small city garden, that is this design advice focusses on.
Advice for different types of garden
Making the most of the space depends on limiting the amount of dead space a garden creates, if you understand the basic design principles, designing any shape of garden is easier.
Solving Garden Problems
Gardening can never be ‘no maintenance’, there will always be jobs to do as plants don’t know when to stop growing. Garden planning involves identifying potential problems and finding solutions. These problems can be design related like hiding an ugly shed or designing a sloping garden, or they can be planting related. Front gardens for example have a different set of planning issues to back gardens (they aren’t simply smaller sized back gardens). The garden can have issues with weeds or wet ground, gardens can lack privacy or have really ugly views.
It may be you have very little space for a garden at all, instead you have just an outside space, or odd shaped courtyard, that is in need of planting -so there is advice on designing a tiny garden too
How to be a better gardener
All gardens are part of a wider ecosystem, even if the environment is a city garden or in the middle of a housing estate. Nature and wildlife connect gardens to each other via pollinators flying about, hedgehogs foraging from one garden to another, or seeds being transported over the fences by bird poop or the wind. Consequently, what you do in your garden affects your neighbours and the interconnecting network of gardens has a large collective impact on the environment surrounding everyone.
(as I sit here watching the Wren hopping up my roses eating all the aphids!)
Gardens should not just look good, gardens need to do good too, but many garden practices cause harm.
Nature is perfectly able to look after itself, the natural balances between prey and predator are all to easily disturbed by gardening more than you need to.
Being a better gardener is a vital part of the garden planning process, because if changes are made that ensure you do less garden maintenance because the natural world is doing it for you; it’s a win:win situation.
How to garden better means the plants and the garden look after themselves, leaving you more time to enjoy using it.