Video: How to design and layout your garden
This video is part of a series of we have created with garden designer Alice Bowe. To watch more gardening videos or to see inspirational garden design articles and galleries, visit our garden design section.
Create a basic garden design sketch
Start by drawing a rough outline of the shape of your garden. Have a look on Google Maps for the precise outline of your garden or if you have a larger budget, buy a scale drawing of your plot from Ordinance Survey.
Once you’ve got your outline down on paper, start to think about the spaces you want in your garden. It’s worth considering if you want big open areas or more intimate areas. Start by working from the doorway of the house and start putting down some interlocking shapes to form the surfaces of your garden. Concentrate on circles, rectangles and squares - you don’t want anything too bitty. They should be interlocking shapes that fill the whole outline of your garden. Don’t think about what the different shapes represent but come up with a layout that you think looks attractive.
If you’d like to see some examples of some garden design layouts, take a look at the PDFs created by garden designer Charlie Dimmock. These garden design layouts include ideas for a creating a low maintenance garden, courtyard space and advice on transforming a blank canvas garden space on a budget.
Choose garden surfaces
Once you’re happy with the arrangement of shapes you can start to consider the surfaces they represent. For a low maintenance garden with areas for entertaining you will need to think about areas of paving, brick and gravel. Each of the different shapes within your design might represent a different material. You are trying to create a big open space, concentrating on varied textures.
To create a more intimate garden, focus on the interlocking shapes, making them areas of hard surfacing. Start with a large terrace, moving through transition points, to a path, through to a large area for seating. Surround these areas with planting that hugs the hard landscaping to create a more mysterious space that hides areas of the garden from view. Watch Alice Bowe’s video, choosing garden surfaces for small gardens for more advice.
Points of interest
Start by thinking about the windows and doors of the house - the ways in which you look out at the garden. A particularly important vista is the view from the kitchen window, especially if you have a sink underneath it. You need to make sure the view from this window looks good all year round.
Consider putting a point of interest immediately in the eye line of this – a small tree that has year round structure and won’t get too big. It should have several seasons of interest and you could event think about lighting it to add extra interest at night.
Putting a point of interest within the garden rather than the perimeter means you get to enjoy them from several different angles.
Create height within the garden
Start to think about the garden in 3D by introducing height into the space. Think about the fencing, whether you might want to put hedges in and if there is a view beyond your own garden that you can use as a focal point. If you are not lucky enough to have a good view, direct all the attention within the garden and think about potential screening. You may be limited by legal planning requirements (no structures above 1.8m), so this is where trees and shrubs come in handy.
Choosing plants for your garden
Most gardens with have a simple fence around the border of the garden so it is advisable to work to an average height of 6ft. Traditionally, smaller plants are planted at the front of a border and taller species at the back. This graded planting is easier to do if you have wide borders. Start with low, creeping ground cover at the front, perennials of around 60cm in height towards the middle and then choose taller perennials and shrubs for the back of the border.
When you’re working in a shallower border it is important to gain height quickly. A wall trained climber is perfect for this and you can buy climbers that have been pre-trained onto frames for an instant effect. Don’t try and have a complicated graded planting scheme within a narrow border as the smaller plants will get swamped and become leggy, leaving you with a messy garden. Keep things simple and concentrate on more complex planting in the larger areas.
For more information, read our articles on choosing plants for your garden and creating a garden border .