How to Design a Garden if….it’s all weeds

More from our Design a Garden series…

How to Design a Garden…but first the weeds!

Gardens are unfortunately a little like toddlers, under a watchful eye they behave and can be utterly delightful. Left to their own devices though, in no time at all chaos ensues! So, before you start to design a garden, you must remove any problems that are currently there to help prevent your garden having a tantrum.

Firstly, Don’t Despair:

The garden can be tamed, but it will take time and effort – there are no quick fixes. Firstly and most importantly, make sure things don’t get any worse.


Don’t let any unwanted plants set seed!

Cut down and dispose of any seedheads before they ripen. When strimming, trimming, cutting or mowing, don’t add the clippings to any compost heap, these will be full of seeds – raring to start growing. Dispose of all the garden waste at the local tip or if allowed, have a small bonfire.

Secondly, tackle any ‘triffids’; any overgrown straggly thickets of climbers or shrubs. If it’s really gone too far to be restored, get rid of it entirely. Cut the plant back to a manageable size; a really manageable size. There is no point in trying to admire the flowers of a shrub if they are 10 feet up, all you will see are the bare stems. Reduce the height of the plant to no more than 6 feet to start with.

Now many horticulturalists will throw their hands up in horror at this advice, but the task in hand is to identify those plants worth keeping and the ones that need getting rid of.

All the plants in a small garden have to look good from top to bottom, there is not enough space to hide ugly shrubs with an nicer looking plant. Being ruthless will allow you to decide which plants can stay and which must go.

startedweeds  digging  bad bugs

Create a Holding Plot:

Overgrown gardens can be quite daunting, so tackle them bit by bit. There will be plants worth keeping amongst all the weeds and triffids, so it is a good idea to create a place to put these whilst the rest of the garden can be sorted out.

Clear a space in the garden, dig it over and carefully remove any roots in the soil. Now, if there is any plant worth keeping, it can be dug up and temporarily put it there.

Do check the rootball for other roots and remove them or wash the soil off completely before replanting to minimise any weed regrowth.

Make one part ‘nice’:

Taming and replanting an overgrown garden is a long term project, it will not get done in the first year. So, create a small space temporarily where you would like to sit and make that a welcoming place.

It doesn’t matter how, you can use pots filled with saved plants dug from the garden. New plant purchases can be potted up and placed around the sitting area too, these can then be planted in the ground when all the clearing is done.

Use a windbreak screen or a trellis to ‘hide the worst bits’ but just create a small oasis for a cup of tea and a sit down…that you can enjoy until you get the rest done.

Don’t cheat when weeding!

Weeds grow in a variety of ways, but they all have one common characteristic and that is they all grow faster than anything else.

There are the Annual Weeds – these go from seed to fully fledged seed producing machine faster than Usain Bolt! To get rid of them, pull up the plant and cut off the seed heads before these ripen.

Then there are the Perennial Weeds – these regrow from the roots. Now some have roots that burrow to the centre of the earth. Some have roots like a plateful of spaghetti – unfortunately, both will regrow from the tiniest piece of root left in the soil.

So removing only the plant above ground is utterly pointless. The plant thinks ‘oops, lost my green top – better send up lots more!’

Using a Rotavator- will make this problem 1000 times worse as each tiny fragment of chopped up root will also think ‘hey – got no green top, better regrow one, fast’!

Lastly there are the weeds you never knew you had….these are the millions upon millions of seeds that are sitting on top of the ground waiting for you to dig over the ground and inadvertently plant them!

Be Patient and Thorough:

Clearing overgrown gardens is hard work but the more thoroughly it is cleared at the outset the easier the garden will be to maintain in the long term – it really is ‘a stitch in time saves nine!’

  • Dig the ground and remove any roots.
  • Dispose of the waste at the local tip, not in the compost bin.
  • Dig out bulbs and anything else that looks like it may grow, pop these in a pot if you are not sure if it’s friend or foe, let it grow and see if it’s worth keeping.
  • Do not plant anything in the cleared ground for several weeks to let the ‘new’ weeds sprout and get rid of these.
  • It is best to tackle the garden clearance in Spring or Autumn then the ground is not baked dry or utterly waterlogged.

Now it may be tempting to reach for the weedkiller to speed things up, however  all weedkillers are pretty noxious chemicals. They may be necessary for some difficult weeds, but try to use them sparingly and only if there is no real alternative.

Get back to the bare bones:

When redecorating a room, the old wallpaper is removed, curtains taken down etc to see more easily the dimensions of the room, the same rule applies to the garden.

Once the garden is cleared, it may be the framework of the garden is actually fine. All that is needed is to replant the goodies from the holding bed back into the garden.

However, any changes to the structure of the garden are much easier to see and change if required. Here, for example, the lawn just doesn’t look the right shape compared to the structure of the rest of the garden.


The garden has now changed shape by altering shape of the lawn and adding some low clipped hedges.


Once that is all done, you can begin to plant the garden how you want to. The new plants will gain a foothold and thrive without having to compete with the faster growing weeds.

So all you need to do is decide on the style of planting….

sunset-colours white-shade-small-garden-ch   pink-and-magenta-small-gard

Download “Chelsea Flower Show Inspired Borders” Chelsea-inspired-pdf-Sept-2017.pdf – Downloaded 376 times – 2 MB

These 3 designs are free to download – if you like them why not visit our shop – there are lots more to choose from.


See also:

Garden Design for Beginners

Creating a Low Maintenance Garden…

Part 1

Part 2





How to Design a Garden if:….

The garden is really narrow

It’s a city garden

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

I still have no idea where to begin

I would like the garden to be less boring!

How to Design a garden from scratch

back to home