fbpx

Landscape Design Ideas

landscape design advice

Landscape Design Ideas – for beginners

Over the years I have created hundreds of garden designs but there are common design elements in every garden. There are only so many different shapes a garden can be for example. So I have put together a design portfolio of landscape design ideas and advice to help you think about your own garden landscaping. Also advice on large garden design tips.

If you know the questions asked of these gardens, you can ask the same questions about your own garden – to help find better design solutions. We can design your garden without even visiting you, with our simple and affordable online service

 

How can we help? Type your design question into the search box

How to design an odd-shaped garden

What is the main design problem to overcome?

Take a look at all these gardens, all are irregular shapes, but what is the issue common to all of them?

The fences and boundary lines ARE what dictates the shape of the garden. If the lawn follows to the shape of the boundary – it just highlights the oddness of the shape!

irregular-shaped-gardens

TOP TIP: MAKE YOUR OWN SHAPES DOMINATE

The basic theory is this; you will always look at the largest most dominating feature, it demands your attention. If that feature is lovely (like a view over the countryside) then great, if it isn’t, you need to make your own ‘view’ – and you do that with a new shape.

What to do in your own garden

Take a picture from an upstairs window, and if possible use some photo editing software to delete the existing clutter. Then you can begin to play around with the big shape of the lawn. Try to use whole shapes as much as possible, as you need a dominant feature to compete with the boundary shape.

Offset the angle of the lawn too, this can help make a garden feel wider or longer. Lastly don’t worry about the funny-shaped ‘offcuts’ in the garden, these will become the new borders. Plants are very good at hiding ‘wonky’ things!

Once you have a shape you like you need to add plants. The most important design trick here however is:

Make sure some of the plants grow taller than the fence lines

Choosing plants can be a bit tricky – luckily for you, we have sorted that problem.

landscaping layout for odd shaped garden
landscaping design layout for odd shaped garden showing central oval lawn
landscaping design for a wedge shaped garden

Long Narrow Garden Design

Narrow Shaped Spaces

Gardens come in all shapes and sizes, but more common now are gardens that aren’t regular shapes. This creates narrow spaces which might be side-alleys or gardens that taper into a point, and these are always a little tricky to design. The problem these odd spaces create is how to maintain usability without the shape dictating the options.

Narrow gardens create three main problems;

  •  The boundaries are close together creating a tunnel effect.
  • Space is too limited to grow anything big enough to hide the boundaries
  • Light and Rainfall are in short supply at ground level

These boundaries dominate the visual space – you can’t help but notice them. But the second problem is less obvious, but it severely limits your planting and design options. Light and rainfall don’t reach the ground, there are dry shade rain shadows and wet shaded areas that never see any sunlight – so how can plants grow

Lastly, how can the ugly boundaries be hidden when there isn’t enough space for much of anything?

 Stopping the Tunnel Effect

The key point you need to remember is how our eyes see the world and we prioritise lines and movement. In the above image, your attention will be held by the straight lines. The lines highlight how narrow the space is, so how do you counter this?

Step 1 is to break up the lines – we need to punctuate the long horizontal line with vertical elements. Here in this sketch, the mirrors are strong vertical shapes plus these will reflect light into the space.

Step 2 Add movement, use plants that will dance and move with the slightest of breezes BUT only use really tough plants. This area will suffer from low light levels due to the high buildings but also is likely to be in a rain shadow. Plants that thrive in dry shade, with poor soil are ideal; so grasses and plants like Vinca are ideal.

However, because the space is narrow, raise these planters off the ground, the increased light levels above ground will help the plants thrive.

 

Top Tips for narrow spaces: Plant up high and use mirrors to create light and depth

long narrow garden with centre path and garden room at end
new garden design for long narrow garden with pergola and soft low growingplants
long narrow low maintenance garden layout idea

How to design a long narrow garden

Long narrow gardens can be tricky, but not if you follow these 3 simple steps:

  •  Create interest on both sides
  • Control the lines your eyes ‘see’
  • Repeat the planting

The human eye is very good at following lines, in any narrow garden these long lines dominate, the garden appears even thinner and less inviting.

The key to designing this type of garden then is to stop your ‘eye’ following the dominant lines of the garden and to make it linger on other things.

1 – Create interest on both the left and right:long narrow garden landcaping idea

This garden is long and narrow but has a lovely garden room at the end, however, the path down the centre although extremely practical does make the garden feel even narrower.

At present, there is nothing to hold your view anywhere, so it wanders straight to the bottom of the garden. The fencing on either side merely adds to this funnelling effect – so that needs addressing too.

 

The new layout now moves the design from left to right. A pergola stops you from looking straight down to the end and the same planting repeats down the paths.

 

2 – Create a New Line for the eye to follow:

Initially, both sides of the garden channelled your view, now the focal point is the tall pergola. It demands your attention and stops you from seeing all the garden at once – because it is tall.

3. Repeat the Planting:

Gardens don’t need lots of plants to be interesting, here just a few are used, but because the same plants repeat down the garden with little ‘pops’ of colour – you look for them. Which slows down your vision and moves your eye from left to right… which makes a long narrow garden FEEL wider.

Garden design is all about making the garden work for your purposes as well as making it look better.

 

Narrow gardens need taller planting to hide the long straight lines, this helps break the view into areas of interest closer in. By offsetting features and using similar colours, you can give the impression the garden is wider than it really is.

City Garden Ideas

Suburban Gardens; make yours stand out from the crowd

image: constructionphotography.com

Gardens come in all shapes and sizes, but one of the most common forms is the suburban garden. Streets and road lines with similar-looking houses with a front garden and a rectangular garden at the back.

The world of suburbia can be lovely, but it can also be uniform, regimented devoid of personality and a bit dull!

The suburban garden is the one area its owner can stamp their own personality.

The hard part is creating a garden that is different enough from the neighbours without making the garden impractical to use.

What is wrong with a suburban garden?

 

Well hopefully the answer to that question is – not much, but as I am a cup-half-full kind of person, my question would be what is right with the garden! And that can open a whole can of worms!

Take this garden for example;

What is right with this suburban garden?

On the plus side, it has a wonderfully open sunny aspect and lots of sky giving the feeling of space. The neighbour’s trees are attractive and not too tall to take all the light from the garden. And lastly, it has potential!

suburban garden with shed with red lines showing what the layout highlights

On the downside, the layout of this garden only emphasised the narrow shape and highlighted the shed; which was why this client wanted a new design for the garden!

In the podcast associated with this post, I explain that the client used the shed as a bike store so easy access was vital as they all cycled to work every day.

Hiding this shed or creating a path to it that would be awkward to wheel a bike down would be impractical. The shed and path are the most used parts of this garden. The challenge was to ensure the garden became a beautiful place to be in as well!

Small Gardens have to be practical!

All gardens have well-used routes, the path you naturally take to get from one part of the garden to another, so the new layout has to fit with this natural route or it will annoy the user! You would not want to ‘meander slowly on a journey through a garden’ to get the bike to the shed. No, you just want to be able to get the bike and put it away again without any hassle. So in this garden, the path has to lead to the shed – without any fuss!

But that does not mean the design has to be boring.

Another important question to be discussed is whether to have a lawn or not. Suburban gardens by their very nature are generally smaller, so the space for grass is reduced. Add to that the shade cast by buildings and fences, and the available but usable space for growing a lush green lawn is almost non-existent. You need to reassess how much time you would spend sitting and using the lawn. In fact, the most time spent on many suburban lawns is the time spent mowing them!

Styling the Planting

Once the bones of the garden have been laid out, the choice of planting comes next. Which is always the nicest and most exciting part. In this particular suburban garden, the planting needs to contrast with the surroundings, not in terms of colour but in terms of what it does. Creating a contrast makes you notice things more. In this instance the contrast is movement.

This is useful for two reasons, the shed will always be a dominant feature in this garden, as will the path to it. However, we can’t hide them away. Access is needed, so, using a contrast will help these features become less noticeable because something else is more noticeable. Consequently, we used taller vertical plants that dance in the breeze to capture your attention. The shed is painted in a complimentary colour, but then we use contrasting flower colours to again draw your attention to the plants and away from the shed.

Front Garden Ideas

The front garden is not a small version of a back garden.

To make the most of the space in front of your house, you need to design the garden differently. What are the design issues in a front garden?

Access:

Front gardens have one main purpose only which is to transition between the world outside and the home. Consequently, the garden must provide easy access from the gate or from the driveway to the front door. As well as is easy for everyone to exit the car without having to contort around a bush or avoid a trip hazard.

Privacy:

All front gardens have a dilemma, the more open and accessible the front door is, the less private it becomes. Passers may be able to see into the windows and it makes us feel a bit exposed. Homeowners counter this problem by planting hedges or fences or adding net curtains; all to prevent the outside from looking in. The trouble is that it also prevents us from looking out too. Growing barriers for privacy simply limits any ‘view’ outside to your side of the hedge. So we have to find a way to maintain some privacy, without it cutting out sunlight, and without planting a big green wall that shuts us in. (Don’t worry there is a solution but a bit further down in this article!)

Use:

This is often an unasked question – how is the front garden going to be used? You may not think you use the front garden, but you do – and it’s usually every day. However only part of the garden is ever really used, the drive and the path to the front door. When was the last time you walked around your front garden? It’s just not something people tend to do, nor do people tend to sit out there either. The point though is this; if you don’t sit or walk around the garden, why create a design that assumes you do? Take this image for example.front garden parterre formal planting central circular border circle in a square garden.

A parterre a garden to walk around, and admire, but is anyone really likely to wander around here?

Plus parterres only look good if they are immaculate, neat and properly clipped. Left to their own devices it quickly looks like a mess – but a mess in full view of the neighbours!

This design creates a disproportionate workload for a garden that will only ever have visitors walk past it.

Take this garden:

If we take this slightly unloved garden, what needs to change and what are the design problems that need solving?

  • Firstly size, any car parked here will take up a lot of room in the garden.
  • Exiting the car on one side means battling a privet hedge, whilst the other side steps onto plants.
  • The front door is to the side of the house, but again the privet hedge narrows this route to the door.

Before any consideration of the planting style, the shape of the drive and path to the door needs to be sorted. In order to give everyone an easy exit from the car, the best option is to offset the drive. In this drawing, the green areas represent the route people will take to the house. More space is needed for this than most designs usually allow. This is what this garden is being mainly used for; so plan the garden around the car.

The problem this now creates for the owner is that the space is all paving with not much space for planting.

So, how do you create impact in a small space?

Front gardens are by definition urban. The space is surrounded by straight lines, walls, pavements, paving and fences, and all are solid and immovable objects.

And it’s this you can use to your advantage. Whatever is planted in the border needs to say ‘look at me instead!’

To do this you need something that opposes immobility – so choose plants that move in the breeze, wobbly grasses, tall stately flowers and soft textures all will be noticeable. Then add colour, but add colour as a really big block. 

front garden overgrown and poorly paved

 

Choosing materials for the driveway:

Twenty years ago, most of us would not have given a second thought to the materials used; but today we must. All hard landscaping, paving, tarmac, and resin-bonded stone is impermeable, the rain runs off the surface. Climate change has forced us to consider where it runs too. Flash flooding is an issue in urban areas, rainfall is becoming heavier and more intense. The choice of materials used is important. When considering the drive, remember it’s only the wheels of the car that needs a solid surface, so you could be a little more creative.

 

How to stop passers-by looking in the windows:

We all do this don’t we, wander along the street and stare into people’s windows (some to admire their own reflections though), but on the whole humans are a nosey bunch! To thwart the ‘sneaky-peekers’ there are two simple weapons in your armoury, the first is to create the ‘look at me’ instead border. The second key weapon when designing front gardens is strategic planting.

In both these images, the owners have tried to make their garden more private; the problem is that all the owner sees is a big green wall. In addition, the hedge itself prevents much from being able actually to grow in the garden either as it sucks up nutrients, absorbs the light and creates a rain shadow. It makes the garden feel smaller too.

Earlier on in the article, I spoke about the front garden not being a miniature version of the back garden, planting a hedge on the boundaries is an example of when this happens. Because the space is not a garden that is going to be sat in or walked around, it doesn’t need an open centre. This then liberates the whole space and allows for the strategic placement of a really lovely plant that will stop passers-by from looking in because they are looking at something lovely instead.

front garden with wisteria and acer

Natural Looking Gardens

Natural-looking garden design

The fundamental design principle everyone should follow before thinking about any changes to a garden is to understand what you want the garden to deliver to you.

How should your garden make you feel when you use it?

These natural and informal gardens are very different in feel from the more structured garden, so it has to feel right for you.

The underlying role of these types of gardens is one of escapism; the parts of the garden you use the most, the seating areas etc should almost feel as though these have been carved out of the plants to make a space to sit. These gardens are supposed to be immersive, you are walking through a little natural environment and rather than the plants being fitted into the spaces created for them, it seems the other way around. The plants are the important bit.

Now the nice thing about informality, is that there are very few design rules, any shape goes. Colours can be mixed together and plants are dotted about in a seemingly happy jumble – that looks ‘just right’. But is it as easy as just choosing your favourite plants and creating a border and popping everything in – well; I said few rules but not no rules!

Why create a natural looking garden anyway?not-natural

The fundamental design principle everyone should follow before you think about any changes to a garden is to understand what you want the garden to deliver to you. How should your garden make you feel when you use it? These natural and informal gardens are very different in feel to the more structured garden, so it has to feel right for you.

The underlying role of these types of garden is one of escapism; the parts of the garden you use the most, the seating areas etc should almost feel as though these have been carved out of the plants to make a space to sit. These gardens are supposed to be immersive, you are walking through a little natural environment and rather than the plants being fitted into the spaces created for them, it seems the other way round. The plants are the important bit.

Now the nice thing about informality, is that there are very few design rules, any shape goes. Colours can be mixed together and plants are dotted about in a seemingly happy jumble – that looks ‘just right’. But is it as easy as just choosing your favourite plants and creating a border and popping everything in – well; I said few rules but not no rules!

The 3 important Rules to Remember!simple-curved-garden-edging

Humans are terrible ‘tinkerers’; we always look to tweak things to suit us or our notion of what natural is. Gardens are the prime example of this, we have to create a garden in an image/style that brings flora into the garden – but on our terms. This is what the above gardener has done – interpreted nature in their own way. Now that fine, if this garden floats their boat, but it doesn’t look particularly natural.

Why well 3 reasons, firstly don’t create borders, then you need to ask the question ‘what would nature do‘ and then you need to think like a river!

Don’t make a border – make a shape.

However big or small your garden is, certain areas are going to visually dominate the garden, simply as these are the largest shapes. The lawn, the patio, and paths are going to be the most noticeable shapes, so create these first. The borders become the leftover spaces, but plants are brilliant at concealing awkward angles and weird left-over shapes. Lawns are not.

How would Nature ‘do’ the plantingNatural-planting-layour-diagram

The layout on the left is more natural, the right hand is more planned – the difference is subtle but noticeable.

In any informal garden style, the whole idea is to create a tapestry of plants that appear to have grown there all by themselves. So how would that have happened – well, seeds would have been blown, deposited or carried by animals from one place to another. This is how you need to think. How would the plants spread naturally if left to their own devices, you need to replicate this? Take this diagram, the image on the left shows broadly how plants would group together if left to their own devices, the one on the right has had a human intervention. Neither is wrong, but if you want a natural-looking garden; you are going to have to resist the temptation to tweak it!

How would the wind disperse the plants in your garden, there would be a main ‘clump’ but then the plant would appear in other parts too, but in smaller groups. The main rule to take from this is never to buy just one plant… or the planting will always look odd as it will create that ‘how did that get there question’ which is what you are trying to avoid.

Think like a river!river

This relates entirely to your journey through the garden and you need to think like a river. The areas in the garden that are used by you are surrounded by plants, so you have a journey to get there, this is where the river comes in. How would a river get to the lawn or little patio at the bottom of the garden? Would it flow straight or would it have to go around an obstacle (the border for example) if so, what route would it take?

garden looking unnaturalBut it would never meander like this!

It may sound like too large a scale to talk about rivers flowing in a small back garden, but the point I am trying to make is that you have to use natural laws to make the garden shape work.

The lawn can be any shape you like, but if it looks like a human twist on a natural flow, you run the risk of it looking unnatural.

 

 

 

Make the journey interesting

This river then provides the route for the journey through the garden and this is the last and final piece of the design puzzle. Natural-looking gardens are all about the plants, bees, birds and insects, you sit in their home. Your journey to a part of the garden where you can sit and enjoy the show the garden puts on – so make the journey interesting. The route to your favoured spot has to immerse you in the garden. It should make you stop and look, touch and feel the plants. It is all part of the process of escaping the human world and entering Mother Nature’s.

  • Have objects that make you smile on the way
  • Flowers at head height or with interesting shapes
  • Fish don’t need to be in a pond
  • Have a go at garden art or just have interesting bark
  • Make your own sculptures and don’t forget the scent
  • Anything works as long as it’s interesting

Modern Gardens - Formal or Contemporary?

As a designer, I get asked all too frequently about either designing a low maintenance and or modern/contemporary/formal garden – but what really are these?

What is a contemporary garden anyway and what is the client actually asking for? This got me thinking; because it is actually quite hard to define a style in definitive terms.

Designing a garden is actually all about the emotional responses a client feels. It is not about filling a garden with design features to create a ‘look’

Different Garden Styles

The world of horticulture is full of the same language to describe gardens; romantic, cottage, Mediterranean, contemporary, tropical etc, but all these styles fall into 3 broad categories: Structured, Informal and Themed.

Structured Gardens:

The key component here is that all these gardens have more artificial landscaping imposed on them. The aim is to create zones for different parts of the garden, there will be well-defined seating areas, planting areas, places for design features, the addition of raised borders, paths to define and compartmentalise an area etc. Modern, Geometric, Minimalist, Contemporary and Courtyard gardens all fit into this category.

Informal Gardens:

These gardens feel as though they have evolved over time and are not just created. Often there is little in the way of a formal shape, the lawns look more like areas that have been cut out of the borders to create places to sit. Romantic, Natural, Wildlife and Cottage gardens fit this format see Natural Gardens.

Themed Gardens:

Themed gardens require dedicated (more expert) owners. The planting and style the garden takes are usually inspired by a certain part of the world. The owner reproduces that in the garden. As such, these gardens require a lot of input as often the plants used are not native, which means they need more help to thrive in a foreign climate.

 

what-is-a-contemporary-garden-problems
what-is-a-contemporary-garden-problems-2
what-is-a-contemporary-garden-problems
what-is-a-contemporary-garden-problems

What to think about

The building blocks of this type of garden are the zones and structures used. Each part of the garden has a specific purpose and a route to get there.

Plants highlight and emphasise these zones, but they aren’t the main feature. It is an ‘artificial’ garden in the sense that nature is told where and how to grow. More importantly, the natural cycle of the seasons should not detract from the overall look of the design.

This means the planning needs to work backwards in order to make the right design choices.

Ask this; what will the garden and the environment of the garden throw at it? How will this impact my space?

You cannot stop weeds from appearing, leaves from falling or plants from growing, so consider the impact and choose a suitable material to use that makes clearing this up easier

The idea is to first create a design shape that works. (see garden design for beginners)

Then the materials chosen reflect the garden environment as much as the design.

The garden will not look less contemporary because you use dark paving or sleepers instead of clean white gravel and white painted walls, but because the dark colours won’t show green algae growth, the garden will look better and feel more contemporary, clean and ordered.

In fact, because the darker materials used will be easier to look after; the garden will appear better maintained and neater.

Then once the bones and structure choices are made, plants are used to create the feel and mood in the garden. Be it, monochrome or simple shades of white or perhaps you choose plants in contrasting colours or textures.

Wide or Shallow Gardens

Gardens come in all shapes and sizes, and wide but shallow garden can be particularly difficult to design.

This client had recently moved into a new house, and the developers had very kindly ‘landscaped’ it: well, they had installed a patio running the width of the house, popped in two fences and planted a hedge and four trees. The rest of the garden was simply grassed over.

shallow-sloping-gardens-bp

So what are the problems with this garden?

The shallow depth and sharp slope!

This garden backed onto the countryside with the outlying view being dominated by a rolling hill. Unfortunately, all the developers had done was emphasise the shallowness of the garden by planting a hedge along the back AND adding fences marching up the sides of the garden.

Once the hedge matured, the garden would just become a wonky patch of green unusable space surrounded by walls! And the best features the garden has would disappear – namely the view and the lovely dry stone wall running the length of the garden.

So how to remedy this?

To put something right you need to understand what’s wrong – and it’s all to do with vision. The fences left and right funnel your eye to the end wall. Because the slope rises up from the house, that end wall is made to appear closer than it is. Planting a hedge along the end will only move that boundary inwards. Making a shallow sloping garden into a smaller shallow sloping garden!

This garden needs 3 things;

  • Somewhere useful to sit
  • A means to get to the seating area
  • Some way of linking the hill beyond to the garden, so it all feels connected

So how is that done?

Part of the garden needs levelling so there is a place to sit. Then; to help disguise the slope of the ground, build raised borders that lift out of the ground.

The hedge at the end needs removing to open up the view up the hill coupled with making the fences appear less obvious.

Finally, the planting needs to be animated. This garden is surrounded by solid immobile objects, houses, fences, patios and hills. By adding dancing swaying plants as a contrast to the solid surroundings, the plants can take centre stage and lead your view up and out to the countryside beyond.

 

Planting-plan

Should you copy a Show Garden?

The trouble with copying any show garden design is that these are not real gardens.

This doesn’t mean we can’t admire them and enjoy them, just don’t try to reproduce one in your own back garden. However, show gardens do have a place, notwithstanding they are rather lovely.

See also: Tatton Park, Hampton Court 2022, Hampton Court 2021, Chelsea and why garden shows are important