Choosing a garden design that will work best for your space and actually is achievable––amongst other factors––is important during the initial planning process. Of course, it’s easy to be seduced by an attractive garden
design, but it’s important to be practical about what you can
realistically accomplish and how well the design will suit you and your
Set Your Priorities
When deciding on a design for your garden, think about how you live and
the resources you have available. In addition to how much the garden
will cost to build, also take into account how much maintenance it will
need, and what skills and time that will require. For example, lawns and
hedges need routine care during the summer, requiring tools and time,
whereas patios and fences are much less demanding.
It’s also important to choose a design that suits your site. Soil type
and pH largely determine the plants you can grow, and exposure will
influence where you position features such as seating areas. Slopes,
drainage, and access for machinery and materials are important factors
Points to Consider
- Time available: Estimate the time needed to build the design, as well as that needed to maintain the plan. Looking after this topiary bed, for example, would be a time-consuming labor of love.
- The budget: Shop around to get the best prices for materials, and compare quotes for labor and tool rental. Building a raised bed like this from lumber is cheaper than using bricks.
- DIY or hire someone? Do you have the skills to complete the design yourself, or will you need professional help? Laying a brick path like this yourself is fairly easy; pouring a concrete one is less so.
The success of any design is greatly improved by understanding the plot, particularly soil type, growing conditions, and microclimate. In unfamiliar locations, look at what is thriving in nearby gardens, and seek local advice on seasonal variations. Making even small improvements, like creating shelter, can increase the range of plants you can grow, but get to know the plot before making major changes. Consider these factors as you plan your garden design:
- Soil and exposure: Many plants require specific soil conditions, such as acid, alkaline, moist, or well-drained, which will influence what you can grow. Exposure also affects plants, which often have a preference for sun or shade, but is equally important when siting features: Seating areas, for instance, are best in warm, sunny spots. Watch the garden during the day to see where sun and shade fall, and adjust your plans and planting accordingly.
- Open space and shelter: Unlike sheltered spots, open gardens can be prone to gusting winds, which may damage plants and will test the durability of garden buildings. Even urban gardens can be exposed, suffering damage caused by wind racing between neighboring buildings. Sheltered sites are often warmer and allow a wider range of plants to be grown. They also provide the ideal site for large-leaf plants that would be damaged by wind. Garden structures can be more lightweight, and more open designs are possible.
- Access and obstacles: Whatever you’re planning for your garden, don’t forget that you need to
be able to bring materials in and take debris out. In a ground-floor
unit that could even mean carrying everything across the living room
carpet. Find the best location for deliveries and decide where to store
them. It may be advisable to seek access from neighbors. It is also important to keep in mind that you can't change everything in your garden to suit your
design. Existing trees and features may be protected, so check with the
local extension office.