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how to plan and create your perfect garden

by rbroch

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  • Re-designing your garden is an exciting prospect. Do you wish you had somewhere to sit, relax, entertain or let the children play? Maybe you are just a little bored and want a garden design that is more colourful, varied or maintenance friendly. Garden landscaping is the ideal way to craft an attractive space to grow plants that give you a beautiful environment and design a practical layout that allows you to use your garden how you want.

    But where do you start? Take a look at our answers to common garden landscaping questions; whether its planning and budgeting, resourcing and building or aesthetic planting, our guide holds the key to the garden landscaping design of your dreams.

    How do I start my garden design?

    garden landscaping

    Landscaping ideas start with good research. Take inspiration by visiting garden centres, public gardens, annual garden shows, even other people’s houses to get a feel of what is to your taste. Take into account your garden size and think about what you need your garden to do for you. Then, take to the drawing board to sketch your ideas and make mood boards from magazines and Pinterest of your dream garden landscape.

    See all of our garden ideas for an inspirational starting point

    Elements to consider when first planning garden landscaping ideas

    Walls and boundaries
    Hedges and fences
    Paths and patios
    Water features
    Zoning areas (dining, playing, shading)
    Planting: trees, shrubs, pots
    Lighting Out-buildings

    Next consider your plot. Look at the size and shape and take into consideration the direction if faces, the style of your house it will be framing and the surrounding area. Achieving balance is a strong aspect of good garden design; pay equal attention to all areas and remember that plants and shrubs will change size and shape throughout the seasons.

    Do you prefer formal or informal gardens? Formal gardens tend to be tidy and geometric with lots of straight lines and clipped hedges, whereas informal gardens are made up of organic curves and planting is much more relaxed.

    Garden landscaping ideas

    1. Go large to make a statement

    Landscape garden ideas

    Image credit: Butter Wakefield Garden Design/ The Society of Garden Designers

    Take inspiration from Butter Wakefield’s winning garden to play with scales. In this small garden she uses oversize copper containers filled with a glorious mix of trees, shrubs and perennials to create an urban oasis. The planting is chosen specifically to attract wildlife in the space.

    ‘Plants include multi-stem birch trees underplanted with evergreen Ferns and spring flowering Crocus; beech balls with Erigeron daisies and Muehlenbeckia and shrubs and perennials including Syringa microphyllia ‘Red Pixie’, Euphorbia schillingii, Geranium pyrcenaicum ‘Bill Wallis’ & Cirsium rivulare ‘Blue Wonder’.’

    For all your budgeting questions answered read: Garden landscaping costs – how much to pay for garden landscaping

    2. Soften a sloping garden with grass steps

    grass steps landscaped garden idea

    Image credit: Helen Elks-Smith MSGD/ The Society of Garden Designers

    If your garden is on different levels but you’re not keen on hard landscaping severely breaking things up take inspiration from this garden by Helen Elks-Smith MSGD. Instead of incorporating stone steps, Helen has used grass treads, integrating them into the existing lawn to connect the lower patio to the small sun terrace above. Creating a softer approach to the flow, seamlessly journeying from one space to the other.

    3. Pave the way

    path at the side of the lawn

    Image credit: Claire Lloyd Davies

    The trend for creating garden zones is hugely popular, meaning the need for having a garden path is great. A link that unites the different areas is not only highly practical, it can also be visually appealing as this example demonstrates.

    Without a pathway you’ll soon find that you tread an unsightly channel into the lawn – which will ruin all your hard work with the overall garden aesthetic.

    Read more: Garden path ideas – curved and straight walkway designs in gravel, brick and stone for every budget

    4. Favour environmental choices

    Image credit: Sue Townsend/ The Society of Garden Designers

    If you’re concerned about the environmental impact of your garden and looking for ways to make it more sustainable, look no further than Sue Townsend’s ‘Samphire’ garden. The winner of the Beth Chatto Award for best Eco Garden, this garden demonstrates how you can create an oasis that can benefit the planet and which is bursting with texture and visual interest.

    ‘The coastal garden in Suffolk uses a rich palette of drought-tolerant planting including native seaside plants, grasses and Mediterranean shrubs surrounded by a stone mulch in different sizes and set amongst paving of locally reclaimed York Stone,’ explain The Society of Garden Designers.

    ‘Plants include verbena bonariensis, eryngiums, euphorbias, lavender, achillea, ballota, miscanthus nepalensis, pennisetum, verbena and thymus. Make sure you use permeable surfaces to allow water to be released naturally into the ground.’

    5. Plant for privacy

    Urban city garden with mature trees and raised beds

    Image credit: Lizzie Orme / Future PLC – Garden designed by TJG Gardens

    In terms of the space, the owner of this garden wanted a rear terrace to catch the evening light and provide the perfect spot for entertaining. Laurel hedging planted alongside gives the new terrace an instant sense of privacy. The imposing rear garden wall was painted a natural green colour, to blend in with the greens provided by nature.

    6. Create a flowering roof

    sedum roof garden landscaping idea

    Image credit: Stuart Craine MSGD/ The Society of Garden Designers

    Green roofs, living roofs, vegetated roofs, — whatever you call them, planted roofs are sprouting up everywhere! The growing new trend can be home to an array of plants from grasses to flowers, as well as being the perfect way to bring biodiversity into your garden.

    ‘In his garden in north London, winner of the Planting Award, Stuart Craine MSGD has created a stunning sedum roof in pastel powdery pinks – adding a softness to the abundant greenery in the surrounding garden’ explain The Society Of Garden Designers. ‘You can create a green roof on any flat surface or unsightly roof – from bin stores to bike sheds, and if you’re not sure what to plant simply lay a ready-seeded wildflower turf.’

    7. Hard landscape dedicated levels

    landscape garden with levels

    Image credit: Mark Bolton

    Use hard landscaping to make a feature of a sloping garden, allowing the incline to create dedicated, defined levels for different zones.

    Allow the zones to take on very different purposes – from a dining area to a relaxing lounging zone that makes the most of garden shade ideas.

    8. Stick to a simple scheme

    jobs to do in the garden in March

    Image credit: Colin Poole

    ‘Simple, elegant detailing is often the key to a successful space,’ says garden designer Robert Myers. ‘People often over-complicate design by putting too many ideas and patterns into a small space, making it look busy and fussy.’

    9. Go hard on the detail

    restore your garden

    Image credit: Annaick Guitteny

    There’s no shortage of hard landscaping styles, from rustic to sleek and modern. In general, hard landscaping tends to be the star of contemporary designs, and the range of materials for such spaces is more extensive – mirror, metal, concrete and painted walls, to name a few – but there is nothing to stop you using these in traditional herbaceous gardens. The trick is to create a single, homogenous design.

    10. Recycle materials to enhance planting

    Urban city garden with mature trees and raised beds

    Image credit: Lizzie Orme / Future PLC – Garden designed by TJG Gardens

    Recycled whelk shells light up the ground underneath this Acer palmatum at the back of the garden. The owner wanted to make a feature of the tree, and to hide the dark soil beneath – and it really does work well!

    11. Change the shape

    Curved garden decking landscaping idea

    Image credit: Future PLC

    Create more space by breaking free of a symmetrical layout. It’s easy to think in straight lines when it comes to garden landscaping, especially when it comes to the flooring. Adding curved lines and elongated sections can help to soften the transition from hard landscaping to planting or lawn.

    Think about reshaping the lawn to allow for a sweeping shaped decking to give the landscape an interesting shape, or going for completely grassless garden ideas like in this deck and gravel scheme.

    How to landscape a garden

    garden border flowers

    Image credit: Mark Bolton

    In order to understand how to landscape a garden, we have to understand what it actually means. ‘Landscape design is just the outdoors version of interior design -albeit with rather different materials’ says expert Tabi Jackson Gee, founder of TJG Gardens.  ‘The actual landscaping bit itself refers to any changes you’re making to your outdoor space – from creating new plant beds to building walls or terraces.’

    ‘Garden design can mean anything that’s to do with your outdoor space,’ Tabi goes on to explain. ‘With a basic understanding of architectural software (CAD) designers are able to draw up almost anything they want to create for a client – water features, feature walls, pathways, lighting designs, meadows, orchards, outdoor kitchens and so on.’

    ‘Both the hard landscaping and the soft landscaping (plants) need to be designed carefully to be functional and beautiful, and with budget, site and future uses all taken into consideration. Designers then work with landscaping contractors to make these ideas a reality. There’s so much that goes into the process which people don’t see – choosing the right materials, the right finishes, the right lighting and so all is all a skill that adds up to a beautiful garden.’

    ‘Most good designers can do both – you need an incredible amount of knowledge not just of plants but of materials, building practices, costs, supply chains – and it’s this knowledge which allows a designer to help a client get the most from their garden.’

    The other side of garden design is of course the planting. And while that may sound obvious it’s far from easy and can end up costing you greatly if you don’t know what you’re doing. ‘Different plants thrive in different conditions from one garden to the next,’ Tabi explain.

    ‘Soil health is really important to this too, and understanding this alone is what makes a garden designer such a help when you’re planning your outdoor space. How to space the plants, what grows well together, what suits the client’s lifestyle (e.g. low maintenance planting) – these are all factors that a designer will think about too.’

    What landscaping materials will my garden need?

    Select your materials with care and check the quantity and condition upon delivery.

    garden landscaping 2

    Image credit: Colin Poole

    Common landscaping materials are:

    • Bricks
    • Timber and decking
    • Paving and block paving
    • Aggregates and sand (check that the chemicals included are suitable for horticultural use)
    • Concrete, mortar and render
    • Damp proof membrane and landscaping fabric
    • Exterior paints and finishes

    You’ll need to consider waste removal. There are two common methods; skip hire or muck away. Consult your local council and waste removal companies to find the most appropriate method or if hiring a professional to carry out your project talk to your contractor to establish whether clearance is included in their service.

    Every construction project involves a fair degree of upheaval, so plan meticulously to smooth the way.

    How do I keep the neighbours onside?

    Inform neighbours every step of the way and double-check boundaries when erecting fencing and walls. Where dividing lines are shared, you must get their permission in writing.

    garden landscape

    How to I get rid of hard landscaping waste?

    If you do not have access, ask neighbours or approach the local council if the area is public. Hire a skip for large amounts of soil, rubble and plants; expect to pay around £50-£200. You need a licence to put a skip on a public road; apply for this at your local council. Your landscaper can organise this for you; ask to see the permit. A landscaper will need to pay to use a commercial tip. If you tackle the project yourself, contact your local residential tip to see what it will take. Find out more at

    At this stage you should have realised whether your landscaping ideas will be a hands-on DIY job or a complete overhaul that will need the skills and labour of a professional landscape designer or tradesman that can do the work for you.

    How do I landscape a garden the DIY route?

    If you are tackling the job yourself, there are plenty of books, online guides or even short construction courses to help you get started. Most building materials (mentioned above) are easy to obtain from garden centres and builders merchants. Don’t overlook access points to your garden if materials are to be delivered and stored.

    Garden landscaping 1

    Image credit: Colin Poole

    Also look into machinery hire – you may need a cement mixer or even a digger to prepare the ground. Off-the-peg materials such as bricks, blocks, slabs, timber are rectilinear and so are more straightforward and cost effective when building along straight lines. If your design is curved, use more flexible materials such as gravel, poured concrete or drystone techniques.

    Related: Small garden ideas to make the most of a tiny space

    Do I need planning permissions?

    Planning restricts differ widely from one area to another. The answer is usually yes if you intend to build walls over 1m by a road and 2m elsewhere, or lay impermeable paving as part of your front garden ideas. For listed buildings and in conservation areas, you may need permission to remove and install hard landscaping.

    For everyone else, outbuildings of up to 2.5m high are permitted beside the house, and those of 4m and taller need to be 2m away from the house. Decking and outbuildings must not take up more than 50 per cent of the garden.

    Consult the planning department of your local council before going ahead, especially if you live near a Conservation Area. If planning permission is necessary your Planning Department will require an application together with fairly detailed plans and a fee. Find out more at

    How long will my garden landscaping take?

    This depends on the type of project. If you have the budget and are employing the professionals, they will give you a detailed time-frame and work-plan in their quote.


    Image credit: David Giles

    Working in stages can help with the cash-flow. Hard-landscaping should be completed first, if possible during winter months so the garden is ready for planting in the spring. Do not build walls or patio’s below 3 degrees as frost can weaken new concrete and mortar.

    Which plants should I choose?

    One of the simplest ways to transform your outdoor space, be it an urban garden or country garden is to invest in a scheme based around your plants. A good selection of flowers, trees and shrubs will create year round interest. Spend some time getting to know your soil and aspect in terms of sun, shade and exposure.

    For structure invest in larger hedging and trees. For colour spend money on bedding plants and bulbs. Further research in books, garden centres and online will throw up so many planting suggestions. Potted flowers and plants are a great option for adding easy colour and the movability means you can change your design when the mood takes you. Be sure to plant them with plenty of drainage and water regularly.

    small garden ideas garden landscaping

    Image credit: David Giles

    The late, great garden designer Rosemary Verey once famously said, ‘True gardening is as much about the bones of a garden as it’s planting.’ Indeed, few outdoor schemes are complete without some form of hard landscaping. The materials used – from paving and aggregates to decking and decorative edging – will add texture, character and structure, leading the eye through the landscape.

    While the best time to redesign your space is in winter when plants are dormant, looking at it in summer gives you the chance to really understand how you use the space. Or if you just want to add new surfaces, you can do so now and reap the rewards this summer.

    Will you be using any of these garden landscaping ideas to create the space of your dreams?

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