Sometimes we spend so much time making the inside of our homes look good that our gardens often get the last attention! But how do you plan a garden? There are so many great garden ideas that you can implement. We explain how to plan a garden.
Whether you want a kid-friendly outdoor space, a garden with beautiful borders, or a low-maintenance design that looks good all year round, there are many ways to make your garden look amazing. One of the most important things is to take your time, explains Guy Barter, RHS Head Gardener: “Don’t rush, see what’s growing and blooming (and what’s not) throughout the year. Lay in temporary paths, perhaps made of bark, until you decide where the main paths should go.’
When it’s time to plan a garden—whether it’s for the backyard or front yard—follow our ten steps to get it right.
How to plan a garden – step by step
1. Make a garden wish list
Before you reach for the shovel, think carefully about how you plan a garden and what is most important to you. “When planning your garden, the first question to ask yourself is how you intend to use the space,” explains garden designer Pollyana Wilkinson (opens in new tab).
“Make a list of must-haves,” Pollyana continues. “Be realistic about what you can fit into the space. In large spaces you can set one usage per “zone”, but in smaller spaces try setting a limit of 1-2 or usages rather than throwing the kitchen sink at it, which can clutter the space.’
2. Find out the look of your garden
Another important point to consider when planning your garden layout is how much sun or shade your garden will get and at what times of the day. Find out which aspect it is, for example, south facing gardens get a lot more sun than north facing gardens.
“If you’re a sun lover, plan your garden seating to follow the sun,” says Pollyanna. “Perhaps add a morning coffee spot in an east-facing room and a chill-out area in a south/west-facing room for the afternoon and early evening sun. If you prefer shade, also include a dining area that sits in a more shaded spot.’
3. Make a plan
Now that you have an understanding of what you want, take a piece of paper and sketch out a rough plan for your garden and work out what you want and where. Alternatively, there are many apps that can show you how to plan a garden.
Be practical in your design and choose simple garden ideas. For example, if you spend a lot of time outdoors, you might want to keep the seating area close to the house so you don’t have to walk to the end of the yard when serving food.
4. Set a budget
As with any project, set a budget early on so you can keep track of spending. Think carefully about what you want to spend your money on. If you want the best patio furniture you can afford, set aside a high percentage for it.
Also, consider using reclaimed or post-consumer materials for things like band aids to reduce these costs. There are some great DIY pallet ideas for gardens that keep costs down.
5. Check the limits
Before you start landscaping your yard, make sure your perimeter fences or walls are in good condition as it’s easier to install new ones before you start landscaping. If they are in good condition, refresh them with a coat of paint. Remember to let your neighbors know if you need to install new fences to avoid disputes.
6. Choose garden materials
While paving materials can be expensive, there are some cheaper alternatives. “Materials are a matter of personal choice and preference,” says Colin Gray, Managing Director of Lavender Green Gardens (opens in new tab). “Whether it’s a country garden or a modern space with a paired back, there are materials for all needs. Natural stones are always preferred, but there are now some incredible porcelain tiles that can give a phenomenal look at a fraction of the price.’
Gravel is a cheap alternative for use on pathways and junkyards are great for finding used pavers, decorative stones and other materials, while railroad ties are popular for making borders or vegetable beds.
7. Beautify yourself with lighting
Strings of lights hanging over a pergola, along a fence or wall create an inviting atmosphere as the sun goes down. You can also illuminate pathways with solar lighting, or ask your electrician to install a more permanent fixture.
Installing garden lighting at the base of trees with prominent planting is a great way to add interest. “In the dark of night, garden lighting can create a dramatic and inviting scene outside your windows,” explains Peter Legg, lead designer at där lighting. “By illuminating foliage from below and illuminating popular outdoor spaces and areas, a vibrant visual landscape can be created that can be enjoyed from a patio or indoors.”
8. Create seating areas
Plan what type of patio furniture or seating will work best for your yard. A bespoke built-in design is great for creating a social seating area, ideally along a wall or border, while a free-standing table and chairs give you the option to easily move seating from one area to another (handy if it’s a hot day and you want to move it to a shadier part of the garden).
Also consider creating different seating areas, a hanging egg chair or rocking seat is a relaxing place to read while a small bistro set is perfect for a compact patio area.
9. Think about storage
Every outdoor space needs garden storage, and if you don’t have a garage you need a quality shed to store garden tools, furniture, children’s toys and DIY supplies. Think about what you want to store in it and if you have bulky items like lawn mowers, measure the size before ordering your garden shed to make sure it will fit.
10. Choose your plants
Once you figure out all of your landscaping needs, the fun part is the planting! Check your soil type with a test kit (available at garden centers) and consider what types of plants you want. Do you want easy-care plants? Does color matter? Do you want bright, modern planting or something more traditional?
Visit your local garden center or RHS Garden for ideas, and remember that buying plants at the end of a season is often a great way to save money. Where you plant is also important as some prefer shade over sun or vice versa.
How do you plan a garden?
Draw your garden to scale with a pencil on a piece of paper and sketch some ideas from your garden wish list and be inspired by current garden trends. There are also many garden design apps to create a digital version or you can ask a garden designer to create plans for you.
“Anyone can design a garden,” says garden designer Kate Gould. “But with a designer who has a wealth of experience in hard landscaping and planting materials/furniture, a much more polished finish is generally achieved.”
What orientation does my garden have and what does that mean?
When you walk into your garden with a compass (try your smartphone – most have one!) and look towards your garden. This shows you the direction your garden is facing.
- north orientation Your garden is in the shade for most of the day.
- east facing The gardens are sunny in the morning and shady in the afternoon.
- west facing The gardens are shaded early in the day and sunny in the afternoon.
- southern exposure Your garden gets a lot of sun during the day.
The aspect of your garden is key when choosing plants to ensure they grow happily and healthily. It also makes planning your garden easier as you can zone different areas based on the type of light they receive during the day.
How much does a garden designer cost?
If you’re having a hard time planning your garden and want some expert advice, hiring a garden designer is a good idea, but it comes at a price. Speak to several local garden designers to get an idea of their fees, but Getagardener.co.uk suggests the cost can start at upwards of £5,000 for a small, simple design, which includes design fees, materials, plants and contractors .
Ask locally for recommendations or visit the Society of Garden Designers, whose members have been trained to the highest professional standards.