Garden Design Guides: Laying Out Your Space

Flower garden
Flower garden

You don’t need to be a whiz with a calculator or a budding artist to design a successful garden. The principles behind a great design can be mastered by anyone who takes the time to do a little planning.

A successful garden design makes the most of the garden’s space while achieving a harmony between its elements – plants, structures and the open spaces. By combining lines and shapes, you’ll be able to come up with a scheme that highlights your garden’s best features and connects it visually with your home. But before you start, you’ll need to sketch out a plan…

Sketch your basic layout

Begin by measuring your garden’s boundaries and sketching them out as a rough plan usig graph paper and a pencil. Try not to get too bogged down by exact measurements, but do your best to ensure that everything is in proportion.


Put in your fixed features

Mark out any fixed aspects, like the position of the house and its doors and windows; the main gate and features you plan on keeping like pergolas, patios, water features and large trees/shrubs. You should also mark in any features that you plan on hiding in your new design – an unsightly shed or compost bins, for example. This is your basic layout. You might want to make a few photocopies or print-outs of it at this stage so you can experiment with the possibilities!

Compost in wooden box on sidewalk
Compost in wooden box on sidewalk

Fill in lines and shapes

Think of your garden plan as an empty picture frame which you can fill with any lines or shapes you choose. Lines will lead your eye through the garden to areas of interest and shapes create blocked-out areas for hard or soft landscaping.

Flowing lines and curved shapes give the garden an informal feel, while circles can work in both formal and informal designs. Straight lines, squares and rectangles are more formal and provide a simple framework for gardens of all sizes. Lay them on the diagonal for a more relaxed look.

Consider the view

Be sure to look at the views from the larger windows that overlook the garden. A path that leads into the distance, or a strong feature like a pond, can be enjoyed every day from indoors.

Patio and pond
Patio and pond

If you’re blessed with a good view from the garden, use lines to draw the eye out towards it. If not, try to stop the eye wandering into the boundaries. Internal divisions and screens can be used to divide the garden up into parts for different uses or to create an element of surprise by screening a secret hidden arbour or seat, for example.

Problem shapes

Lines and shapes can also be used to great effect when trying to conceal your gardens’ flaws. Gardens can be made to appear longer, wider or shorter by using perspective tricks.

For instance, break up a long, thin garden by creating a series of smaller areas which you have to walk through, one by one. Changes in garden surface (gravel, decking or paving, for example) or planting taller items as screens between the areas will help create different environments.


Ready to go?

When you’re happy with your final design, it’s time to get out the measuring tape to measure up your space and draw yourself a more accurate, scaled plan. This will help you to calculate the amount of materials you’ll need to buy. At this stage, it might also be worth starting a scrapbook of photographs and ideas culled from magazines and catalogues to add colour to your vision and serve as an exciting reminder of where you’re heading.