How to Design a Garden if…you have no idea where to begin

Design a Garden – but where to begin?

At some point in our lives we will move homes and ‘inherit’ a new garden. It could be brand new it or you could have a garden that has been lovingly tended for years. You may also have to deal with a garden that  has not been lovingly tended for years! How can you design a garden that someone else has already ‘designed’ for you.


So what’s your next move….and how do you turn this into a garden that suits you?

Step 1 – Patience; do absolutely nothing:

You need to see how you are going to use your garden before you do anything to what may be there. So barring a clip and trim or mowing the grass, just start to use the garden before you begin think about changing it.


There will be a place you always put your chair to sit outside and it may not be where any existing patio is. Some plants will always look good and some will always be a pain in the proverbials for most of the year. As you spend time mowing the grass, you will quickly find out where the grass grows well, where it doesn’t and where the awkward bits are to mow.


Plants also have a habit of popping up at different times of the year, so come the autumn, that patch of dead ground may hide a lovely surprise. There may also be some unwanted surprises, flower combinations that are decidedly naff, weeds you never thought you had and so forth.

Once you have seen what happens over a few months, you can begin to decide how your garden should begin to take shape. Patience really is the starting point to getting the garden right for you.

Step 2 – Problem Solving:

Gardens like humans aren’t and can never be perfect and your new garden is going to be no different. You need to know what annoying habits the garden has and solve these first.

So what sorts of problems are we talking about, well there are those you can do something about and those you are stuck with – so you need to consider them in your design.


  • Solvable problems could include, drainage or waterlogging, weeds that keep reappearing, plants that require cutting back ALL the time, lack of light, thorny bushes right by the garden gate or nowhere to hide the bins and so on.
  • Issues you have to design around can include, shade from buildings or walls, lots of overlooking windows, ugly views, large shrubs or trees (yours and or the neighbours), your climate or your available garden budget!



Nothing to do with garden design – it’s just our favourite very non-PC plant description!


Step 3 – Match your Expectations with your Available Time:

Magazines are full of the most amazing looking gardens – and they are truly beautiful. There are also thousands of images of perfectly tended vegetable patches brimming with lush veg and not a marauding pigeon in sight.

However, these gardens have been cultivated and cosseted by a full time team of expert gardeners. They will have spent hundreds of hours ensuring the garden is preened to perfection for that one photograph….& unless you want to do the same, your garden is unlikely to ever look like one of these.


Do not overestimate the amount of time you actually have spare to ‘do the garden’. If you only have 1 hour a week to spare in the garden; the design and the plants you use must reflect this. Otherwise you will quickly end up with an weedy untidy mess.


not a low maintnenance border

Don’t Plant a Problem:

Creating a low maintenance garden is desirable for most of us, so that we can sit in the garden and enjoy it without finding lots more stuff that needs doing. Actually getting this right is much harder to achieve. You really need to think hard about how you use the garden, what you like to do in the garden and team that with how much time you have available to do some gardening!


You need to decide what low maintenance means for you – and then create your garden.


For example, you may thoroughly enjoy deadheading but hate tying climbers onto fencing. You may love raking shingle (can’t think why though) and you may despise trimming the edges. All of these factors need to be thought of or you will end up creating a garden with too many chores you wish you didn’t want to do.


As a result, you will have created a sort of wish list for the garden – but a wish list of things you like as well as things you want to avoid. This is your blueprint to designing the garden. The garden should tick all the ‘I like’ boxes & avoid as many of the elements you don’t want. As a result, the garden created should be low maintenance for you. It doesn’t matter if others don’t like the garden or would do something different – they don’t do the maintenance, you do.


Creating your garden will take time if you rush in too soon, you will create unexpected problems for yourself that will take a lot more time to rectify.

See also:

Garden Design for Beginners

How to Design a Garden if:….

You need to start from scratch

It’s all weeds

The garden is really narrow

Small! – you couldn’t even ‘swing a cat’

The garden is really boring – what can I do?

It’s a city garden

Creating a Low Maintenance Garden…

Part 1

Part 2





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