How to design a garden

When planning the design of your garden, there are certain tried and tested principles that are worth bearing in mind.

Visual considerations

The open centre

Whatever the size and type of garden, the centre should always be kept open. This means that the planting out should generally be kept to the sides and the end of the garden, except for any formal beds on a terrace. This does not necessarily mean that the borders on either side must be symmetrical; in fact, they will probably look more attractive if they are somewhat off-centre. All features, such as ornaments, island beds, rockeries, water gardens, specimen trees, and shrubs, which might be used as a focal point in the design should be positioned as far as possible from the house: never less than two-thirds to three-quarters down the length of the garden. The lawn or paved centre should not be cluttered with any of these features, so that there is a clear view from the house.

A balanced layout

A good balance between the features should be maintained in garden design. This means that no one of them should overwhelm any of the others. Balance, however, does not mean that one side of the garden should be a mirror image of the other, which actually makes for dullness and boredom.

Good proportions

This principle of design is closely linked to the balance discussed above, and in fact means that nothing should be either skimped or overwhelmingly large. The first consideration in this regard is the lawn or centre paved area which, in a small garden in particular, must be proportionate to the overall size. It should not be so large that the surrounding beds are reduced to mere narrow strips, in which it is impossible to achieve flowing curves. On the other hand, it should not be reduced to such a small size that the surrounding features wallow in an expanse of earth. As a guide, the lawn should generally occupy half to two-thirds of the total garden area.

For the sake of good proportions, no trees should be planted that will become overwhelmingly large in a few years’ time. On the other hand, features such as a rock or water garden should not be skimped so that they become insignificant. Bear in mind that dwarf versions of most trees and shrubs are available and are particularly suitable for small areas.

No excesses

This point is particularly pertinent for those gardeners who have a passion for any one species of flower such as Roses or Irises. If the garden is to be pleasing and balanced to look at, it is important not to allow a strong preference to dominate the layout. Specialities can be segregated, yet included happily in the general design.

Planning the planting

Concentration of plants

Planting schemes demand boldness: there should be no skimping. Most plants should be arranged in generous groups, e.g., two or three shrubs, three to five herbaceous perennials, five Ericas and eight to twelve Tulip bulbs in a border, rather than simply spaced throughout it. The exception to this rule is very large shrubs.

The unity principle

This is particularly important in relation to plants. Those grown in close proximity must blend happily and not ‘fight’ each other in any way. For example, a mixture of Sweet Peas, Irises, Cauliflowers and dwarf Conifers all in one small bed would hardly be a happy one!

Summary of the points to keep in mind for garden design

  1. Maintain an open centre
  2. Keep the lay-out balanced
  3. Keep the features in proportion
  4. Aim for a sense of unity and harmony
  5. Avoid excesses
  6. Plant in generous groups
  7. Position plants to give depth to a bed or border
  8. Bring in a sense of movement
  9. Include an element of’surprise
  10. Do not forget the view from the house
  11. Supply a focal point (eye-catcher)
  12. Enlarge the garden by illusion