Garden Planning Overview


Redesigning a garden may seem daunting at first, but if you break the tasks down into simple stages, you'll find it easier than you imagined.

Make lists of the features you want to include, plants and features to be kept, eyesores to screen and good views to borrow from outside. You should then draw up a plan of the garden either completely or as individual features, depending on how much you are planning to change.

Most gardeners find it difficult to imagine how their plans will look, so setting things out on the ground will help you put everything in the right place and allow enough space for features and plants.

Assessing Dimensions

As previously discussed in our article on creating functional areas, you will need to work out the minimum dimensions for lawns, paths, patios, pergolas and steps. Briefly:

  • Lawns - a minimum of 2 m radius.
  • Patios - 3.6 x 3.6 m (12 x 12 ft) for 4 people to eat around a table.
  • Paths - 60 cm (2 ft) for general paths, 1 m (3.2 ft) for paths where you plan to use wheelbarrows and mowers, and 1.2 m (4 ft) for paths with enough space for two people to walk comfortably side by side.
  • Step risers - all risers should be the same height; avoid steps of less than 15 cm (6 in), as they will tend to trip users.
  • Step treads - these should be a minimum of 30 cm (12 in), although 45 cm (18 in) would be preferable.
  • Pergolas, arches and arbours - these should all leave enough headroom to walk underneath, an average of 2.1 m (7 ft) is recommended.

Marking a Patio

Start at the back of your house and work away from it. Mark the shape of the patio on the ground, using running measurements from the same base point. More ...

Marking Major Features

If you are creating a lawn, establish its shape and size, and mark it out on the ground. You will have also need to decide where any sheds, greenhouses, ponds, kitchen gardens, bins and compost heaps are to go; plot these roughly into position.

If you plan to use walls, hedges, trellis or fencing to divide up the garden into compartments, plot these on the ground, using two rows of garden canes. Tie tape or string onto the canes to simulate the exact thickness of these boundaries.

Paths and Edges

You will then need to decide on the layout of your paths. Mark them out and spend some time using them to ensure that they work well. At the same time, plan whether your lawn, paths and flowerbeds are going to meet with right-angle corners, have curving edges, or perhaps make a circular pattern. Mark out these edges using:

  • two string lines (for corners)
  • a hosepipe (for curved edges)
  • a peg hammered in the ground and a string line attached, which you can use to draw a circle (for circular patterns)

More on paths ...

Structural and Planting Features

Decide if you want to include any other elements, such as arches, pergolas, arbours, permanent seating or other paved areas, and make temporary structures using canes roughly to the height of the feature.

Put canes in where you plan to plant trees and large shrubs, to approximately the same height and size they would reach after five years of growth. Use bubble wrap, stuffed bin liners, and other material to give you an impression of plant bulk and growth.

Checking Your Plans

At this point, you really need to try out your garden and make sure it really works before you start on the hard work of turning it into reality. Notice how shade is cast and how your planned garden will affect this, check privacy, views and shelter. Make sure you also check views from your upstairs and downstairs windows. Make any adjustments as necessary.