How to plan a garden: everything you need to know

Sometimes we spend so much time getting the inside of our homes looking good, that our gardens are often last to get any attention! But how to plan a garden we hear you ask? There are so many great garden ideas to incorporate. We’re a going to talk you through how to plan a garden layout.

Whether you want a child-friendly outdoor space, a garden with beautiful borders, or a low-maintenance design that looks good all year round, there are plenty of ways to get your garden looking amazing. One of the main things is to take your time, explains Guy Barter, chief horticulturist at the RHS: ‘Don’t be in too much of a hurry, see what grows and flowers (and what doesn’t) over the year. Put in temporary paths, perhaps of bark, until you decide where the main paths should run.’

When it’s time to plan a garden – whether it’s at the back or a front garden – follow our ten steps to get it right.

How to plan a garden – step by step

1. Make a garden wish list

Garden with raised beds and path

Image credit: Future PLC/Colin Poole

Before you go reaching for a shovel, think carefully about how to plan a garden and the things that are most important to you. ‘When planning your garden the first question to ask yourself is how do you want to use the space?’ explains garden designer Pollyana Wilkinson.

‘Draw up a list of must-haves,’ Pollyana continues. ‘Be realistic on what you can fit in the space. In large spaces you can designate a use per “zone” but in smaller spaces try and designate a limit of 1-2 or uses, rather than throwing the kitchen sink at it, which can make the space cluttered.’

2. Find out your garden’s aspect

how to plan a garden

Image credit: Future PLC/Colin Poole

Another key point to consider when planning your garden layout is how much sun or shade your garden gets and at what times of the day. Find out what aspect it is, south-facing gardens get a lot more sun than north-facing gardens for example.

‘If you are a sun lover, then plan your garden seating to follow the sun,’ says Pollyanna. ‘Perhaps include a morning coffee spot in an east facing space, and a chill out space in a south/west facing space for afternoon and early evening sun. Equally, if you prefer shade, include a dining space which sits in a shadier spot.’

3. Draw up a plan

how to plan a garden

Image credit: Future PLC/David Giles

Now you have an understanding about what you want, take a piece of paper and sketch out a rough plan for your garden, working out what you want and where. Alternatively, there are many apps, which can show you how to plan a garden layout.

Be practical in your design and choose easy garden ideas. If you’re going to spend a lot of time dining outside, for example, keep the seating area close to the house so you don’t have to walk all the way to the end of the garden when serving food.

4. Set a budget

how to plan a garden

Image credit: Future PLC/Claire Lloyd Davis

Like 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 garden furniture you can afford, set aside a high proportion for that.

Also look at using reclaimed or second-hand materials for things like paving to bring those costs down. There are some great DIY pallet ideas for gardens that will keep costs down.

5. Check boundaries

how to plan a garden

Image credit: Future PLC/Colin Poole

Before you start creating your garden ensure your boundary fences or walls are in good condition as it’s easier to install new ones before you start any landscaping. If they are in good condition, freshen them up with a lick of paint. Remember to let your neighbours know if you need to install new fencing to prevent any disputes.

6. Choose garden materials

how to plan a garden

Image credit: Future PLC/Colin Poole

While paving materials can be expensive there are some cheaper alternatives. ‘Materials come down to personal choice and preference,’ says Colin Gray, managing director at Lavender Green Gardens. ‘Whether it’s a country garden or a paired back contemporary space, there are materials to suit all needs. Natural stones are always favoured but there are some incredible porcelain tiles now that can give a phenomenal look at a fraction of the price.’

Gravel is a cheap alternative for using on pathways and reclamation yards are great for finding second-hand pavers, decorative stones and other materials, while railway sleepers are popular for creating borders or vegetable patches.

7. Smarten up with lighting

how to plan a garden

Image credit: Future PLC/David Giles

Hanging festoon lights across a pergola, along a fence or wall creates a welcoming atmosphere as the sun starts to set. You can also light up pathways with solar lighting or ask your electrician to install a more permanent set up.

Installing garden lighting at the base of trees of 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, där lighting. ‘Lighting foliage from below and illuminating favourite outdoor features and areas can create a living picturescape to enjoy from a patio or indoors.’

8. Create seating zones

how to plan a garden

Image credit: Future PLC/Tim Young

Plan what type of garden furniture or garden seating would work best in your garden. A bespoke built-in design is great for creating a sociable seating area, ideal along a wall or boundary, whereas a freestanding table and chairs gives 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, think about creating different seating zones, a hanging egg chair or swing seat makes a relaxing spot to read, while a small bistro set is perfect for a compact patio area.

9. Think about storage

how to plan a garden

Image credit: Future PLC/David Giles

Every outdoor space needs garden storage and if you don’t have a garage you’ll need a good-quality shed for storing garden tools, furniture, kids toys and DIY materials. Consider what you will use it to store and if you have any bulky items like lawn mowers, measure the size before ordering your shed to make sure it fits.

10. Pick your plants

how to plan a gardenImage credit: Future PLC/Colin Poole

Once you’ve figured out all your landscaping needs, the fun part is planting! Check your soil type with a testing kit (available from garden centres) and think about the types of plants you want. Do you want plants that are easy maintenance? Is colour important? Do you want bright, modern style planting or something more traditional?

Visit your local garden centre or RHS garden for ideas and remember buying plants at the end of a season is often a good way to save money. Where you plant is also important as some prefer shade to sun or vice versa.

How do you plan a garden layout?

Draw your garden to scale on a piece of paper in pencil and sketch out some ideas from your garden wish list and get inspiration from current garden trends. There are also plenty of garden design apps, to make a digital version or you could ask a garden designer to draw up plans for you.

‘Anyone can design a garden,’ says garden designer Kate Gould. ‘But using a designer who has a wealth of experience in terms of hard landscaping and planting materials/furniture will generally achieve a much more polished finish.’

Which way does my garden face and what does this mean?

If you go out into your garden with a compass (try your smartphone – most have one!) and face towards your garden. This will show you the direction your garden faces.

Garden aspects:

  • North facing Your garden is shaded for most of the day.
  • East facing Gardens will be sunny in the morning and shaded in the afternoon.
  • West facing Gardens will be shaded at the start of the day, and sunny in the afternoon.
  • South facing Your garden will get plenty of sun during the day.

The aspect of your garden is key when choosing plants to make sure they’ll grow happily and healthily. It also makes it easier to plan your garden as you can zone different areas depending on the type of light they get during the day.

How much does a garden designer cost?

If you find it difficult to plan your garden and want some expert advice, calling in a garden designer is a good idea but it does come at a price. Speak to several local garden designers to get an idea of their fees but suggests that costs can start upwards from £5,000 for a small simple design covering design fees, materials, plants and contractors.

Ask around locally for recommendations or check out the Society of Garden Designers whose members have trained to the highest professional standards.

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