Hartley Magazine

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Designing a garden – a novice’s approach by Alison Wren

I love gardens, but I’m not much of a gardener. I enjoy caring for plants, but I’m even happier sitting in my outdoor space, just relaxing. Breakfast in the garden on a sunny day is one of my favourite treats.  However, we’ve just moved into a new house with a garden 3 times bigger than anything I’ve owned before. What’s more, it’s a blank canvas with virtually no features.

I don’t have the budget to call on a designer to do it all for me – and where would be the fun in that? This is a challenge I can’t resist, so I’m on a steep learning curve to create a lovely garden.

Here’s how I’m tackling the design:

Step 1: Look at what I have


This picture was taken last year by the estate agents.

I’ll be watching to see which areas get sun and whether anything else appears as we get into spring and summer.

Step 2: Listing my wants and needs.

I’ve decided on a style I’m calling “urban oasis” – not country cottage but a long way from a sleek contemporary design with lots of hard landscaping.

So far I’ve identified 3 “must have” elements:

  • a shed (there’s no garage so we need outside storage)
  • a sunny area to sit
  • a herb garden (just because I love herbs)

Some “like to have” elements:

  • water feature
  • lots of interesting foliage
  • lawn (but not too much)
  • some wildlife friendly plants and features

And one thing we’ll be doing without: a vegetable plot (too much like hard work).

Step 3: Looking for inspiration

This is the fun part. As well as reading books, I’m spending far too much time browsing websites and I’ve also developed a habit of peering into gardens as I walk along the street (apologies if you live nearby).

I’m keeping a notebook handy to jot down thoughts as they occur. But my favourite resource is Pinterest, the social sharing website that lets you organise online images into virtual Pin Boards. It’s a great way to save different ideas.

Here’s my garden board:


Step 4: Sketching some plans

So far, I’ve sketched out a couple of very rough outlines but I’ve yet to measure up properly. This is my next priority.

I’ll also have to make some key decisions, such as whether to go for mainly straight lines or curves and where to locate the shed.

The planting scheme is the part I expect to find most challenging. It’s so easy to get carried away with plants you love individually but which fail to work together. But, as I’ve found to my cost in previous gardens, it’s important to pay attention to all the details: height, spread, season, colour, soil and shade preferences.

Step 5: Making it happen

Once I’ve created my design, I’ll talk to a landscape gardener to help me put it into practice. At this point we’ll probably find a large gap between desire and budget! So I’m expecting to have to do some redesign at this stage.

I know this will be a long term project – at least 2 years before I have a garden that is even close to the one I want, but I’m determined to enjoy the process and create something worthwhile.

This is a guest post written by Alison Wren who, when not gardening, is an online marketing consultant specialising in blogging for business. You can read how Alison gets on with her new garden in her blog Hostas and Herbs.