How to landscape a garden

Landscape gardening goes beyond making an outside space “look nice”. It’s about harmonising dimension, colour and texture to make a garden work as hard as it possibly can. The best landscape garden designs are the most strategic: the ones where planting, lighting, building materials and views have all been carefully thought through.

How to landscape a garden

How to landscape a garden

Before we begin…
Like the idea of koi carp and Acers? First check the price tag. Landscape gardening can be a pricy business so set a budget and stick to it. Be realistic with how much time you can invest in your garden too. Ornamental Japanese trees look beautiful but they’re hellishly high maintenance; if you’re time-poor much better to think patios and decking. Going solo or calling in help? Visit or for local landscape gardeners.

Clever planting
Good landscape garden design is all about working with what you’ve got so before visiting the garden centre you’ll need to assess your garden and examine the soil. Buxus, forsythias and clematis all love chalky alkaline soils whereas evergreen trees, azaleas and rhododendrons prefer sandy acidic soils. Also take note of levels of sunlight in different parts of your garden. Silver foliage plants love bathing in full tilt sun whereas hostas, ferns and bamboo thrive in shady conditions. Read our tips on choosing plants for more advice.

Plant borders
A flat patch of lawn becomes infinitely more appealing when it’s flanked with interesting planting, say a sensory herb garden; a wildflower ‘meadow’; bamboo to screen ugly partitioning; a burgundy Acer for a hit of wow or deliciously tactile clump-forming alpines for texture. Read creating a garden border and choosing flowers for borders for more helpful tips.

A raised border adds height and depth (and saves your back!) Use railway sleepers for straight lines or slate or Yorkshire stone for flowing curves.

Introduce colour
Some gardeners embrace the entire colour spectrum choosing not to restrict their choices whereas others are inspired by the likes of Hidcote’s red borders and Sissinghurst’s white gardens. Whatever your preference there’s no denying that a shock of white hydrangea or red impatiens makes a real statement amongst a sea of green foliage. If you decide to plant a single colour scheme, take a look at these planting videos:

Planting a red colour scheme
Planting a blue colour scheme
Planting a white colour scheme

For an immediate visual impact you could paint a wall or a fence. Moody grey complements a modern look; bright white lifts and enlarges; while a splash of orange adds a fiery Mediterranean feel. Or, introduce colour with accessories. Striped garden cushions, a hot pink sun sail, painted terracotta pots, glass lanterns and bunting transform a garden into fun, vibrant place.

Lighten up
When planning garden lighting tick the practical boxes first by walking around your house in the dark making a note of all the places that need lighting. Next consider the aesthetics. Strategically positioned uplighters can highlight trees, sculptures or make a feature of even the plainest of back walls. As well as permanent lighting also consider temporary additions like paper lanterns and whimsical fairy lights. See our gallery of garden lighting ideas for inspiration.

Create a focal point
England’s unreliable climate means you’ll be spending a lot of time looking at your garden rather than sitting in it so it’s vital to consider the site line from your windows. The most effective focal points often include water. A garden pond provides endless fascination – not only from the fish that swim in it but the wildlife that visits it. Read our step-by-step article on building a garden pond. A fountain water feature or waterfall is a lovely way of drawing the eye, particularly if the backdrop is contemporary glass.

Create a quick-win focal point simply by introducing an intriguing ‘objet’. Choose from a traditional tree seat, arbour or sundial to more contemporary aluminium spheres, expanses of mirror or minimalist sculptures.

Play with contrast
Combining materials gives real character to a garden. Soften the edges of a military precision lawn with meadow like grasses (do keep an eye on vigorous growers or they’ll kill any lawn beneath.) Juxtapose spherical and angular - large white pebbles work brilliantly alongside decking. Play with textures too: position a zinc, aluminium or fibreglass planter against brick or pristine white plaster for a zen-meets-futuristic take.

Introduce hard landscaping features
Consider hard landscaping to create distinct zones in your outdoor space and give your garden real visual dimension. If your garden is a flat square you can add steps to create levels or terraces, each with its own theme: a hammock hung beneath a shady tree in one zone, a table and chairs in another, a grouping of terracotta pots in another. Read our guide on building garden steps for advice.

A rockery is a great way of introducing alpine landscape to your garden and works particularly well alongside a pond or wall. Read our guide on how to create a garden rockery. And don’t forget the humble path: a straight gravel path from back door to shed is perfectly functional but a reclaimed bricks pathway curving around a tree is immediately intriguing.