At this time of year, when the leaves are falling and I’m starting to see the boney silhouettes of the trees in my garden, I admit to feeling a little sad – both at the loss of all that beautiful colour and the prospect of the long, rather drab months to come. I do find consolation in thoughts of the future, though. With the garden laid bare, you can take a good hard look at its shape, its angles, the position of trees and shrubs, the state of the fences and paths. And then you can plan. It’s the perfect time to take stock and make structural and design changes. If you fancy a bit of a redesign but don’t know where to begin, you could follow some of my guidelines below:
Some questions to ask yourself
If you’re re-evaluating your space and planning on making a few structural changes, give some thought to the shapes and lines within your garden. Take a look from an upstairs window and see if it flows from one area to another; do the paths make logical and useful connections throughout the space? Are there any focal points in your garden? Where does the eye naturally travel? Are there areas where changes need to be made to the structure? Would a mowing strip between the lawn and borders make life easier? Does a patio need to be extended or moved? Would a native hedge make more sense than a shabby fence? Should a bed or border be moved or re-modelled? Could you do with another seating area in that sunny spot at the end of the garden? Now is the time to make those plans.
Do paths meander well and make logical connections?
Visualise the changes
If you’re having trouble getting started, take a couple of photos of your garden and print them out. It’s surprising what you can see when the evidence is there in front of you, in black and white (or full colour). If you cover the picture/s with a sheet of tracing paper, it’s simple to map out the new layout in pencil, erasing and tweaking until you’ve got it right. This will help you see how a new path or a differently shaped border would work with the rest of your garden.
Create a scale plan
Once you’ve decided on the changes you’re going to make, it’s helpful to make a scale drawing. Obviously, you’ll need to measure your garden first – not just the length of boundaries and adjacent buildings, but the position of trees and shrubs in relation to the buildings, too. Transfer these measurements to paper using a scale rule – a scale of 1:50 is usually the most practical – marking in all the trees, hard landscaping and shrubs you’re going to keep.
A scale plan is the way to go if you have big changes to make
First the practicalities…
The number one rule of patios is that they must be big enough to comfortably accommodate your table and chairs – and that means when the chairs are pushed out. Anything less than 3m square just won’t work, and that’s for the very smallest of patios. You’d be surprised at how often this rule is broken.
Think about the hard landscaping elements first – the paths, patios and boundaries – then look at the rest of the garden, the existing beds and borders and the potential for making space for new ones. One highly effective garden design trick is to create different ‘rooms’ in your garden, so something always remains hidden on the journey from back door to back fence. And always be as generous as you can with the size of your flowerbeds. Anything less than 1m deep will look mean and lack impact.
Create a sense of discovery in the garden with different ‘rooms’
Remember, too, that height is really important in good garden design. If everything is pretty much at ground level, you’ll end up with an unexciting garden. Pergolas, sheds and, above all, trees will all add vertical interest.
Make room for height from structures such as pergolas
Make a planting plan
Once you’ve decided on the layout, it’s time to have fun thinking about the plants you can buy and put in, in spring. It’s a statement of the blindingly obvious, but do choose the right plant for the right place; note where your garden’s shady spots are, whether the soil is heavy clay, friable loam or sandy and take a soil pH test to find out whether it’s neutral, alkaline or acid. Then choose accordingly. There’s nothing more disheartening than plants struggling to adapt to sun levels or soil they’re simply not cut out for. And don’t be too swayed by flower colour; instead make choices based on evergreen leaf colour and texture. Aim for half of your plants and shrubs to be evergreen, so you’ll have year-round colour and interest, with plenty of shrubs for structure and form, then mix up large-leaved plants with those with delicate leaf shapes.
Evergreen hedging, such as yew, brings wildlife-friendly structure
Lastly choose your bulbs (now 40% off all bulbs until this Thursday, use code VIPBULBS in your basket) and herbaceous perennials to add flowers throughout the seasons.
Francesca Clarke, Journalist and Garden Designer