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Designing a Garden from scratch!

03 January 19 Author:Michelle Gaffaney

Do you want to give your old garden an overhaul or maybe you have a new garden in need of work? Here are some tips to help you design the perfect garden for you.

Make a detailed plan:

The first stage of the process is to get a design brief for your new garden-to-be in place. You need to decide whether you intend to employ professionals such as a garden designer or complete the work yourself. Look at any potential problems you may face in the project, discuss how to resolve these problems, and draw up a list of requirements for the project to succeed. If you are getting others in to do/help with the project make sure you keep any notes brief and understandable, describe what the area is going to be for and when the area is going to be worked on/finished by. The design brief may change as the project goes along but don’t let this stop you doing one, a brief is essential it gives the project clarity to all involved and helps keep costs down.

Do you need a garden designer?

Many people view professional fees with scepticism, but if you’ve never undertaken a large garden project before, or don’t have experienced friends or family to call then you really should consider a garden designer. They will help in all areas of your project, and can save you money in the long run. A good designer will liaise regularly with yourself, your architect and main contractor to help make sure the combined project runs smoothly. If your budget prohibits taking on a designer, at the very least consider a day’s consultancy to help steer you in the right direction.

Do it yourself or hire in the pro’s?

Know your limits, what can you do yourself? Do you need to get a professional landscaper, builder etc in for certain parts? If it’s a fairly basic design it may be that you can pretty much do it yourself and save yourself the 50/60% project cost that it will take to hire a professionals in. However if you don’t have the skill set needed then you really need to make sure you get the right people in to ensure a good and safe finish, at the end of the day when you are spending a chunk of money you really do want it right!

Are you going to need planning permission?

For most garden projects, it isn’t necessary to apply for planning permission, but you will need to in certain cases, so when putting your initial design together ask your garden designer or check for yourself. Here are some cases you need it:

  • Extending boundary heights
  • Extensive terracing
  • Decking platforms above 30cm
  • New paving in the front garden being the most common examples.

If you live in a conservation area then the rules can vary wildly, so always check with your local authority, such as the fact some trees may have a Tree Preservation Order to protect them, or if you are working on an existing party wall or directly next to a boundary, the Party Wall Act is likely to apply. Also you may need to check the height and size for any potential garden structures as this can also affect whether you will need planning permission or not as well. For detailed information visit

Look for inspiration!

Look at websites, books, magazines, TV programmes etc to get inspiration for your design. You could also visit public gardens at country estates and make notes/take photos to add to an inspiration board.

Set a budget

How much do you have to spend? Creating a new-look garden can be very expensive, some high-cost practices include the desire for instant impact, complex shapes and curves; requirements for extreme accuracy; fixed design details with no ability to adapt on site; and hiring specialist tradespeople that have to travel some distance. Moving underground services, drainage works, demolition and site clearance work will also add to the cost, especially if access is tricky or there’s a need to work by hand.

If your budget is tight avoid these choices and go for high-impact, low-cost design solutions. Reclaimed and recycled materials generally cost less than new, while ‘fluid’ materials, such as gravel, are cheaper than paving. You should also opt for plants over hardscape. In many gardens, it’s possible to cover or clad rather than remove. Always have a contingency fund.

Have a good think about the materials you want to use

Exploring potential materials is one of the fun bits of creating a garden. There are lots of options available for various parts of your garden out there – from expensive York stone for your paving to special woods for your decking. Performance, durability and ease of maintenance are key with all materials, however you should choose natural-looking surfaces that complement your home and garden design.

You could use similar material as what is used in the room linked to your garden to give it a seamless transition effect, you just need to make sure it’s weatherproof, for instance decking if you have wooden flooring inside.

Does everything need to go?

How much do you really want to spend? Can you keep parts you already have or recycle items to keep costs and time down? Spend time looking at the garden, its good and bad points before developing your design, and before carrying out work, see what can be used or left whilst still achieving the end result wanted.

Have a schedule

It is unlikely everything will be completed at once especially with a tight budget so phase the project, complete parts as and when the finances are available. Unfortunately, the most important parts, which need finishing first, are usually the most costly. Tempting as it may be, leave design details such as ornamental planting, pots and furniture until after the bones of the garden have been completed. Ensure you think about the seasons, when it’s are the lighter nights, when does it tend to be dry, when do plants need putting in to the ground etc. Remember good contractors will get booked up early, so the quicker you start to develop the actual design, the better.

Consider things like what it will be like to maintain once done!

Specific wants and needs vary from person to person, but ask yourself, ‘how do I want to feel?’ and ‘who is the garden for?’ Also consider how much time you have for maintenance. Together with a particular style or theme in mind, the answers will determine the layout and design details. Consult everyone who has a stake in the project, including children. Inevitably some compromise is usually necessary, especially if the space is small or access is difficult.

Do you need to make your design child-friendly

If you’ve got very young children, it’s worth planning the layout of your garden and choosing the right landscaping, surfaces, plants and play structures to create a child-friendly area that not only suits your family now, but will be future-proofed, too.

You could create different zones

Use plants, different landscaping materials and fencing to create areas for lounging, cooking, eating or whatever else you require.

  • Choose different hard landscaping and floor surfaces to differentiate between areas.
  • Use different colours on fencing or walls to create separate zones.
  • Architectural planting can be used to divide up zones. For example, group tall, tropical-looking plants at the far end of a dining space to disguise a play area beyond.
  • Don’t neglect vertical space: screens, arbours, and trellis all provide privacy and somewhere to train flowering climbers for visual interest.

Lighting can make a huge difference

Well positioned lighting can completely transform your garden space, so it really is something to give plenty of thought to. Think about what kind of an atmosphere you’d like to create and choose your outdoor lighting accordingly. Remember the colouring and strength of your lights will contribute to the overall effect.

Having a water feature?

If you are installing a water feature, you will need to make plans for this early on, you don’t want to have to pull up work already done to end up installing the pipework down the line so plan exactly where and when the pipework needs doing.

like to dine outside? How about a kitchen?

If you love dining in your garden on every possible occasion and would like to cook outside as well, why not create a fully equipped kitchen outside too, that allows you to cook in different ways. It could have preparation and plating-up space, as well as super-useful features like sinks, fridges and lighting. You could even include a bar!


If you would like some further advice pop to our contact page and get in touch! #Greenstonedesignltd

Also check out some of our other blogs for more inspiration:


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Michelle Gaffaney
Michelle Gaffaney - Architectural Director
With a wealth of experience working on a range of projects, Michelle Gaffaney has a passion for design and strong relationships with her clients. Connect with Michelle on LinkedIn