Not many of us have the skill or resource to build a home from scratch, but if you have a grand gardening design in mind, you can create something wonderful on your own. It will take some planning, and probably a fair deal of sweat, but you don’t have to spend a fortune to make your own landscaped garden, and the biggest investment – and the one that gives the best return – is probably your time.
Here are our top tips for designing your own, unique landscaped garden:
Inspiration is where you find it
If you’re a design fan, you’ve probably got your aesthetic hat on at all times. But when you’re planning a project, formalise your hunt for creative inspiration: remember your camera – or phone – whenever you visit a garden and snap away at anything that catches your eye. Take notes to remind you of the extra details, i.e. what sort of slabs was that eye-catching fountain mounted on?
Tune in to TV experts, YouTube gardening channels, and book tickets for big garden shows – they’re bound to inspire you! It might only be a glimpse of a walled garden on an episode of Downton that sets you off, but this doesn’t matter – don’t let scale, grandiosity or apparent expense put you off – this is the time for dreaming, and you can often reshape your visions to a budget and garden that suits you.
Mood boards are commonly used by designers who want to sift through ideas into broader themes. Apps and sites like Pinterest are perfect for building an online board of inspiration – a must for any person designing their own landscaped garden.
Form and function
As you go wild with plans of a Japanese gravel garden or wildlife pond, remember to keep one question at the forefront of your mind:
What is my garden for?
Outdoor space is supremely versatile, but for most of us – particularly in the land-poor UK – it’s not limitless.
If you try to cram in too much, you could end up doing everything badly and nothing well, so be prepared to compromise your big ideas with the practicality of your own garden. A single themed design can, and often does, look better. Mix and match too much and you’ll create a confusing visual cacophony.
Modern designers love to divide gardens into “rooms”. Structural barriers – like an arbour or gazebo, a fence or gate – not only give an illusion of extra space, but also allow you to practically divide the play area from the vegetable plot. Just make sure to design appropriately to the scale of your plot. Building up is good, but it can cut out light, and nothing will grow without sunshine: so whilst many of your inspirations will have been created in much larger spaces, don’t forget the size of – and available space in – yours.
You’re probably bored of being told to plan ahead with your gardening, but bear with us, it’s a message that’s repeated because it’s so important. A couple of hours with graph paper, pen and a ruler could save you days – and maybe hundreds of pounds – down the line.
If you happen to have plans of your garden with your house deeds, then great, get them out. If not, take the time to measure everything and plot it onto squared paper.
If your garden is a new-build blank canvas, then you may not have many lines on your plan. Older gardens, though, may already have structural elements that you should plot. There may also be mature plants – usually trees and shrubs – that you want (or are compelled) to keep.
Thinking about the future is always a good thing in gardening, which is perhaps the ultimate long-term hobby: remember to consider how a sapling will look – and what shadow it will cast – when it’s 20 feet tall, or how an arbour or pavilion will look when it’s covered in climbers.
The first thing to consider when planning any major landscape work is underground cables or pipes.
Most gardening projects won’t involve the local planning department, but check. It’s likely that only garden buildings will be affected, and only then if they are particularly substantial, numerous or close to your boundaries. Do a quick search for any tree preservation orders if you have mature trees on your land.
If you’re lucky enough to live in a listed building or in a protected landscape, then there are other restrictions that may apply.
When you need to work on your boundaries, it’s good practice to have a chat with your neighbours. Fencing is much more easily put up when you can work from both sides, and you may want to ask about trimming incoming branches from neighbouring trees or bushes.
Good materials, good tools
Once you know where you’re going with your design, you can decide how to get there. You’ll be working from the bottom up where possible, putting in the hard-landscaped skeleton of your garden before you fill in the detail with your planting, soft landscaping, and moveable features.
Work out what you need to get the job done and where you can get it from. If it’s a big job, you may wish to plan a proper schedule. Make sure there’s plenty of give in your calendar, and arranging deliveries of large items or big quantities of paving, aggregates, ballast, or top soil around your building schedule is a big plus.
Can you get rid of your construction waste in the ordinary rubbish and recycling collection and with a few trips to the tip, or do you need to hire a skip? Try to reuse, recycle or pass what you can on to friends and neighbours for a more sustainable job. A shredder can turn trees and shrubs already on their way out into useful wood chips.
No hobby is worth a breakdown, an argument, or bad blood, even if it does result in a superb rockery. Get stuck in, but go ahead with a sense of humour and a lightness of touch. You could even make a social occasion out of some of the big jobs. If you’ve got a fence to install, a foundation to dig, or a structure to raise, then get some food together, open a bottle or two, and invite your friends round for a gardening party with a functional twist.