3 Basic Garden Design Tips

The first garden I ever designed was many years before actually doing it professionally. I moved to a nice cottage just outside Ringwood and as luck would have it, it came with a large garden. The only problem was, it was a garden in name only.

There was a fence around the edges, some mud and what once looked like a lawn. It was pretty uneven and it looked as if an old pond had been filled in at some point. When I dug into the edges, there were plenty of broken bottles, ceramic pots and the general condition of the soil was poor.

None of this put me off and I set about trying to design and construct a perfect garden, my own little haven.  The problem is, I didn’t really know what I was doing and the 1st attempt was a bit of a disaster. £2500 spent and I had borders where some plants were thriving and some were dying. A pathway that you couldn’t really walk on and a gravel patch in the middle that had so many weeds growing up underneath it, that the plant pots kept falling over.

I pretty much had to rip it all up and start again!

Naively, I threw myself into designing my garden, without even contemplating 3 basic principles.

  1. Functionality
  2. Aesthetics
  3. Budget.


It doesn’t matter how much money you have or how pretty you can make a garden look, it absolutely has to function. Anything from a place to store your bins, a path that you can move a wheel barrow on, storage, entertaining areas, safety features etc. The garden needs to work with you, your family and your lifestyle.

For example, it might be nice to contemplate having a pond but if you have a 3 year old child, that’s a potential hazard. You might yearn for a picture postcard lawn but if you’re kids are going to kick a ball around every night after school, how perfect is it going to look come Sunday afternoon? You might want to create a perfect sun bathing area but have you thought about that tree, that blocks out the sun for two or three hours every afternoon?

The first tip I am going to give you is, if you are attempting to design your own garden, make sure you make a list of absolutely everything you NEED from your garden and another list of everything you WANT from your garden. Your needs will take precedent and when it comes to your want list, look closely at whether they are safe, practical and viable. It would be better to remove something from your want list, than to spend money on it and find later that it doesn’t work.


Aesthetics is all about the look, feel and creativity of your garden. Some people like concrete patios, others like wooden decking. Some prefer square edges, others prefer curves. The size and original shape of your garden, will probably lead you in a certain direction as its easier to improve on something that already exists, than to rip it all up and start again.

Then we have the plants and the features themselves. Colours, size, type, materials, all of these things have to be thought about before you get started. What kind of look are you going for and, will it actually work in your garden.

The second tip I am going to give you is don’t let your ambition override your limitations. Look at anything you already have and plan to keep as much of it as possible. You’re better off moving a plant than just getting rid of it, if you can make use of it. Your better off trying to improve an existing feature, rather than ripping it up and throwing it away.

Importantly, look at the area you have to work with and build it a little at a time. Have your design in mind (or even draw it), so that you can refer to it regularly but don’t be scared to change it a little along the way. There may be cables, pipes and other things you just won’t be able to move, so work around these and be prepared to adapt, even if it means a slight adjustment of your original, overall aesthetic ideas.


It doesn’t really matter how great your design is on paper, it’s not going to work if its going to cost you more than you can afford. If your going to price your design from the beginning, make sure you get it as accurate a s possible and then add a further 20%. It doesn’t matter what kind of design you go for, they’ll always be some extras that you’ll want to add to give it those finishing touches, hence your 20% extra.

I mentioned before about trying to use as many of the plants and features you already own. Tidying up a feature, moving it to a better place and doing the same with plants will save you money.  Also if you are pricing up new plants on the internet, make sure you look carefully at the size. There is no point buying in plants for £10 only to find that they are tiny and will take 4 years or so to get to the size you want.

My third tip is to split your design into three budget sections.  An initial section and probably the most expensive, will establish the shape of your garden and incorporate any hard landscaping (patios, decking, gravel, features etc).

Once the hard landscaping and initial shaping has been done, you can then start adding the plants and doing all of the soft landscaping (flowerbeds, borders, planting, pruning, weeding etc). This is a very enjoyable part of the process and you can actually do this over a period of a couple of months or more.

The final part of the process is the finishing touches and you won’t need to add these until you actually come to use the garden. Furniture, BBQ, night lights, fire pit etc. There isn’t much point of buying all this stuff in January, unless of course you have the funds, are looking for a bargain and more importantly, have somewhere to store it all.

If you started your first clearance work in February, you could have the whole thing finished by June, having spread the cost over 5 months. That’s a lot better than waking up in May and trying to get it all done in 6 weeks.

I hope these tips have been helpful, they in no way cover absolutely everything you need to think about when designing your garden but they are absolutely fundamental.

If you need a little help along the way, you could always call in the experts 🙂