Starting a garden design

Starting a design page

We make gardening easier

Our mission is to HELP YOU make YOUR garden BETTER.

Starting a garden design and creating a beautiful garden should not be the preserve of only the professionals. You can create one too. However, we don’t think that showing you pictures of expensive 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!

Design a garden it’s just a phrase, but what it really means is this.




You need to design YOUR garden…but design your garden in such a way that:


  1. You can enjoy relaxing and sitting in it.
  2. Can enjoy watching the plants grow the way you want them too.
  3. Have time to spend time enjoying the garden not ‘doing’ the garden.
  4. Don’t spend time on garden chores you hate when you’d rather be doing something else.
  5. And that the garden created behaves itself!

OK, so now maybe it seems a little more daunting, especially if you know very little about plants. How can you find out which plants would grow well and which ones wouldn’t! It should be easy to find out, there are literally thousands of websites on all aspects of garden design as well as thousands of books and magazines articles too, but there is a problem. Most of the images you see are of the most incredible, amazingly perfect and usually very expensive gardens – which bear to resemblance to your own.


So we have created a number of guides for you depending on the type of garden you have.

Now you might notice that I haven’t said anything about about Cottage gardens or Contemporary styled gardens yet, and that is because of one fundamental garden design rules.


The garden design must suit you and not the garden suit a particular style.

It basically means this, if you imagine your garden as a wardrobe full of clothes, the garden style is the underwear. Now like all good underwear, if it fits you well, whatever you choose to wear on top will always look better.

So before you even start thinking about any redesign, the first and most important part is understanding how you want to use the garden and how much time you want to spend gardening.

Follow the rules!

Starting a garden design :  Design Rules to Follow

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.

What do you mean by ‘regulatory line’ ?

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’.

garden symmetry

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.

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.


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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.

garden golden-ratio

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.

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

Buy our Book

Possibly the best garden design book you’ll ever buy is available on Amazon and other online book stores. This book is brilliant for anyone starting a garden design

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

Browse our beautiful border designs and plans