Garden design: laying out your space

You don't need to be a mathematician or a budding artist to design a successful garden. The principles behind a great garden design can be mastered by anyone who takes the time to do a little planning. It's also worth assessing your garden's character to find out what sort of designs would suit the space you have and your family.

Garden design: laying out your space

Garden design: laying out your space.

Designing a garden involves making the most of the space you have, whilst ensuring all the elements (plants, structures, open spaces etc.) are in harmony. By combining different lines and shapes, you'll be able to come up with a design that highlights your garden's best features and connects it visually with your home. But before you start landscaping and digging up your existing grass, you'll need to sketch out a initial plan.

Sketch your basic layout
Begin by measuring your garden's boundaries and distance from the house, and sketching them out roughly using graph paper and a pencil. Don't worry too much about exact measurements at this stage, just try to keep everything in proportion. If you want to analyse your garden in more detail, take a photo of it, blow it up to A4 or A3 and sketch your plans over the top.

Put in your fixed features
Mark out your fixed aspects like the position of the house and its doors and windows, the main gate and any features you plan on keeping like patios, water features and large trees/shrubs. You should also mark in any features that you plan on hiding in your new design (such as an unsightly shed or compost bins). You now have your basic layout. You might want to make a few photocopies or print-outs of it at this stage so you can experiment with the possibilities!

Fill in lines and shapes
Think of your garden as a blank canvas which you can fill with any lines or shapes you choose. Lines will lead your eye through the garden to areas of interest, while shapes create blocked-out areas for hard or soft landscaping. If your're stuck for ideas, have a look at our article: Modern garden design ideas.

Flowing lines and curved shapes give the garden an informal, natural feel, while circles can work in both formal and informal designs. Geometric shapes such as straight lines, squares and rectangles are more formal and provide a simple framework for gardens of all sizes. If you want a more relaxed look, you can position these lines and shapes diagonally.

Consider the view
Be sure to inspect the views from the larger windows that overlook the garden on each floor. A path that leads into the distance, or a strong feature like a pond, can be enjoyed every day from indoors. See our advice on choosing a water feature.

If you're blessed with a good view from the garden, use lines to draw the eye out towards it. If not, try to stop the eye wandering into the boundaries. Internal divisions and screens can be used to divide the garden up into parts for different uses. If neighbouring buildings overlook your garden, you may want to have a few enclosed spaces in your garden to screen a secret hidden arbour or seat, for example.

Problem shapes
Lines and shapes can also be used to great effect when trying to conceal your garden's flaws. Gardens can be made to appear longer, wider or shorter by using perspective tricks. If your garden isn't particularly spacious, have a look at our design ideas for small gardens.

You can break up a long, thin garden by creating a series of smaller areas which you have to walk through, one by one. Changes in garden surface (gravel, decking paving etc.) or planting taller items as screens between the areas will help create different environments. Find out more about using different types of garden surface.

Ready to go?
When you're happy with your final layout, it's time to get out the measuring tape to measure up your space and draw yourself a more accurate, scaled plan (using a scale of 1:25 is ideal). This will help you to calculate the amount of materials you'll need to buy. At this stage, it might also be worth starting a scrapbook of photographs and ideas culled from magazines and catalogues to add colour to your vision and serve as an exciting reminder of where you're heading.

Extra garden design advice:
There are plenty of ways to make the most of your garden, whatever size or shape it is. For inspiration, check out our gardening articles:

  • How to assess your plot
  • Garden design ideas
  • How to design your garden