How to Plan and Design a Garden


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Do you have a green thumb? Do you enjoy spending time outdoors? If so, then it’s time to start planning your garden! A home with a well tended garden is beautiful and can also be very relaxing.

Having a garden is a joyful thing, and you are not limited by space or budget. Obviously having a large plot of land with excellent soil and an unlimited budget would be great, but by no means necessary. 

In this article, I will discuss how to plan and design a garden that suits your space and your gardening needs.

Steps to Plan and Design a Garden

First and foremost, you should assess your space and how it correlates with your needs and requirements. Take your time in observing the environment for a successful garden plan.

For example If you notice your garden doesn’t get a lot of sunlight, then research plants that will thrive in the shade, and vice versa.

If you find your garden is generally quite dry, or boggy then think about plants that will enjoy those conditions. Alternatively you could grow in pots to reduce watering or add raised beds to improve drainage.

While there are plenty of ways to change the environment of your garden, it’s often easier (and less costly) to work within it.  

Once you’ve established your gardens conditions, you can start thinking about your own requirements and how they fit with your space.

For example, if you want to plant a vegetable garden, but you have a small space, then having a lawn is probably not a good idea. It would be best to stick to making it functional to get the most out of it. 

Really think about how you want to use your garden. Is it a space for you to relax and watch your flowers grow, or will you need somewhere for the kids to play? Do you want to entertain guests, or a natural garden to attract wildlife?

Once you’ve established how you want to use the space, you can start to piece together the best design that caters to your location and needs.

1. Choosing a Garden Style

There are many garden styles and if you’re not sure of what you like, I highly recommend visiting public gardens in your area to see what they have achieved.

You obviously won’t be able to recreate the scale, but you will find plenty of inspiration. Take notes of plant names and placements, as well as features.

Professional gardeners create amazing effects simply by planting certain plants together, so if possible try to talk to the gardeners who work there and get some tips. 

Once you’ve found a style that you like, you can begin to scale it down and see how it fits in your space.

Below I’ve listed three different popular styles of garden, and some ideas about how to achieve them.

Modern Garden Style

Gardens with a modern style are popular for entertaining guests. 

Think about using large light colored paving slabs and boarders or pots of plants. Stick to a simple color palette so it doesn’t become too busy.

As well as choosing comfortable garden furniture, you can really showcase your entertaining capabilities by adding a fire pit or BBQ area.

You could also add a simple pagoda or arbor adorned with lights to continue enjoying your garden into the night.

Country Garden Style

If a more natural country garden style is for you, then break up the space by growing plants at different levels.

For a higher budget, you can add blossoming trees and choose brightly colored flowering plants like hollyhocks.

You can keep costs down by collecting a few wildflower seeds, which have an added benefit of growing well in your area if you collect them locally. Although always leave some seeds for them to continue growing naturally and only gather them if they are in abundance already.

Create a rambling garden effect by creating screens with plants so you can’t see one end of the garden from the other. 

Japanese Garden Style

Japanese gardens are beautiful and calming. Add a water feature or two with a small ornamental bridge and really think about the framing of the garden.

If you can add trees, then go for it. Don’t go for lawns, but instead think about moss, paving or white gravel. Add features like stone lanterns or even just large rocks.

2. Location

Where you live and assessing your location is paramount to basic garden planning and designing. You don’t want to be battling your local area elements to create your perfect vision. 

That being said, if you have the money to spend, there are always plants that will work in your locale that can give the effect of somewhere else.

Research online as well as visit public gardens in your area to see what grows well in your climate and how closely it resembles your vision.

For example, if you like the idea of a rainforest garden, but live in an area with not a lot of rain, there are plenty of drought resistant plants that can give the same effect.

Plants like palms, agave, and even some ferns, with the right planting arrangement, could create the effect of tropical rainforest in even the driest conditions. You could even add a small water feature to get that lovely sound of waterfalls. 

Similarly, if you want a desert style garden in a cold and rainy climate, you can find things that will accommodate the style.

Choose alpine succulents, yellow gravel, sun-bleached tree branches and white stone to create the effect. You could even have some cacti in terracotta pots so you can move them inside if it gets too cold and wet. 

3. Garden Size

I can honestly say that size does not matter. You can create an impactful garden with a small space just as much as with a large. 

If you’re working with a small space, think about using fences bordering your garden. You can grow climbing plants like honeysuckle or jasmine, or even fruit trees and train them as cordons using the fence as support.

Instead of a lawn, think about using paving and then growing plants in pots at varying levels. Not only is this a space saver, but you can move the pots about easily if you want to change the layout of your garden. 

If you have a large garden, include a lawn and let part of it grow wild. Not only is this attractive, but is also beneficial to wildlife. Think about adding a pond or stream to break up the space, and add trees for shade.

4. Deciding What To Grow

You will be spoiled for choice when it comes to deciding what to grow and adding plants to your garden can become a bit of an obsession!

The best way to tackle it is to first decide what kind of plants you want. Do you want flowers, vegetables, trees, grass, etc.?  What would you and your family enjoy the most?

Think about the seasons. If you fill your garden with plants that look lovely in the summer, but all die off in the winter, then your garden will look a bit barren in the colder months.

To remedy that, mix it up with some evergreens or perennials, as well as early and late flowering varieties.

Next, take into account the condition of your garden. How well the plants you want will grow in your garden?

Choose varieties that work well with your soil and local climate. If your soil is unsuitable, consider growing plants in pots.

If you want a vegetable garden, think about adding a compost heap. This will provide you with invaluable, nutrient rich compost from organic matter. Dig it into your vegetable patch after the growing season to prepare your soil for the next year.

You may want to build your heap near your kitchen so you can easily add kitchen scraps, but don’t be tempted by this convenience. As useful as it is, is can still be unattractive and a bit smelly. So try to tuck it away at the bottom of your garden.

5. What’s Your Budget?

Obviously the larger your budget, the easier it will be to bring your vision to life. Being able to buy mature plants will certainly mean you can create your garden design quickly. 

There are also many online seed catalogs where you can find open pollinated and organic seeds.

However, a large budget is not always necessary. With a bit of extra effort you can still create a beautiful garden for next to nothing.

Below are some money saving tips when it comes to creating a garden:

  • Talk to other gardeners – Many gardeners are willing to let you take cuttings or seeds for free. The other advantage talking to local gardeners is they’ll be able to give you tips on what grows well.
  • Forage for seeds and take cuttings from wild plants – Make sure if you do this you don’t take whole plants and limit what you take from any one place. 
  • Look on websites for people giving stuff away for free – This sounds obvious, but with a little creativity you’ll be able to find things that will fit with your garden design and cost nothing.
  • Use whatever materials are available to you – You usually have a lot more workable materials than you first think. Look around and use your imagination to add features such as a bathroom sink planter, or a tire as raised garden beds. There is a wealth of inspiration online if you’re unsure of what you can achieve with what you have.

Final Thoughts

Planning and designing a garden is an exciting and inspiring thing. However, make sure you don’t over-reach.

Think about how much free time you’ll have to make your design a reality, as well as your budget and your space.

Set yourself achievable goals and really set up your space before you buy any plants. Plants are living things and will probably die if left in the pots you brought them in for too long.

The most important thing to remember is that creating a garden is an enjoyable experience, so don’t add unnecessary stress. Just relax and take your time so you can enjoy the end result.