Planning a Garden

No matter how big or how small, a garden is a very personal space. The best garden design for you, therefore, is one you have conceived and put into practice yourself.

Planning Your Garden

To make the most of your outdoor space, start off by thinking about its physical characteristics. It's useful to have a compass so that you know where north is and can plan your scheme around the sunniest and shadiest areas. Fin out what the local climate is like and what type of soil there is; clay, peat and silty soils tend to need drainage while sandy and chalky soils dry out quickly. Steep slopes are difficult to maintain but you could create a terrace or series of terraces linked by paths or steps.

When you plan your garden, think about the features you have already, as well as the features you'd like to add. Start by listing the features you must include: perhaps a clothesline, a shed, or a gate to stop children and dogs running into the road. Draw up a list in order of priority of the items you'd like to include: hard surfaced areas such as patios, paths and driveways; a garage or carport; or an area of lawn.

A water feature is not only attractive but is also a way to increase the range of wildlife in your garden. A small pool will attract birds, frogs and insects, which will help to devour any pests. Remember that any water, no matter how shallow, is dangerous if you have small children. It might be better to stick to a birdbath instead, until the children have grown up. If you want flowing water, you will have to provide electricity. As with garden lighting, you will need to plan an underground electricity supply before you lay out paths and lawns. The alternative to this is to use solar power. Small solar panels for collecting and storing sunlight will power small fountains during the day or provide power for small lanterns at night; solar panels are available from many garden centres and DIY stores.

Once you've compiled your list, plan how you will carry the work through to completion. Measure the boundaries and draw the area out onto graph paper to scale. Plot the existing features, such as trees or other structures. Lay a piece of tracing paper over this scale drawing and start experimenting with ideas and locations. This gives you an opportunity to work out your ideas and various designs without spoiling the 'master drawing'.

Paths & Patios

Decide the position of hard surfaces like paths, drives and patios before you do anything else because they will determine the level and position of many other garden features. Paths should be wide enough to walk on and must be kept free of wet leaves and moss, which can make them slippery and dangerous. In a small space, stepping stones are a good way to make a path. Space them sensibly for easy stepping: not too close and not so far apart that you have to jump.

You don't have to build a patio against the house, but this is often the most convenient place. Remember to look carefully at the level of the damp-proof course or position of any air bricks on your house. Paving slabs must finish no less than two courses of bricks below this level or you risk damp creeping into the house. If the back of your house faces north, it could be a bleak area to sit in but you may decide you prefer to have the shade in summer.

Have fun with the shape of paved areas: square and triangular areas can be more useful than long narrow strips. There are paving stones and bricks in a variety of colours to blend in with the style of your house and garden. Slates, cobbles and grit add colour and texture. You could choose 'natural' materials like wooden decking, or go for a modern approach with industrial steel and glass.

Whatever style of garden you have, it is worth adding some lighting. A clever garden lighting scheme will allow you to use your garden well into the night and make an interesting feature when viewed from indoors.

Once you have finalized your plan, you can start work. Transferring your ideas from paper to the actual ground can be tricky, so it's a good idea to set a 'datum line'. This is simply a line down the middle of your garden from which you can take all your measurements. You can mark it out using string and some pegs knocked into the ground, or you can use sand trickled from a bottle - but this will blow away in time. Curves can be marked out using canes and for circles, attach a length of string to a fixed post in the ground and use it like a big compass.

Garden Boundaries

Boundaries in gardens are usually marked by hedges or fences: before you alter either of these, you'll need to find out whose fence or hedge it is - yours or your neighbour's. The title deeds to your home should state this. There are many types of fences available, so choose one that suits your needs: do you want it to add privacy, for plants to climb up and over, or to act as a windbreak? If your garden slopes, putting up fencing requires a little thought. Choose a fence type that can be made to follow the slope and make sure that the fence posts are perfectly upright. Don't try to follow every little rise and fall in the level of the ground or the top of your fence will go up and down like a rollercoaster track. Try to aim for one 'overall' and even slope. Panel fencing is harder to put up on a slope than post and rail or post and wire link fencing. On a gentle slope, you can put panel fencing in making a series of 'steps'. Make sure you take this into account when you buy your materials because you may need to order more panels and longer fence posts than normal. If your garden slopes steeply then panel fencing is no good, unless you want a big gap underneath the end of each panel.


Hedges can make good garden boundaries and windbreaks. You can choose from formal 'clipped' hedges or informal ones - those that come into flower each year. Hedges take up a lot of space, so be prepared to sacrifice some of the ground alongside the length of the hedge. Remember also that they will compete with other plants for water and nutrients in the soil. You'll need to keep the area underneath the hedge cleaned out to allow air to circulate freely and also to stop unwanted pests using the debris as their winter homes.

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