Fire Pits, Garden Design, How To, Make over, Nick Dickinson

Garden Design: A Concise Guide

Garden design

If you’ve ever sat down and tried to work out how you can redesign your garden but felt that it’s all too overwhelming, then you are in the right place.

What I’m going to take you through is a simple self help system that will give you the same tools that a professional garden designer uses that will result in a scheme for your garden that you will recognise as your own.

Most of the enquiries we receive at Elementa Design are from clients who have either inherited a layout from the previous owners that doesn’t suit them, or just feel that the garden they might have tinkered with is still lacking in interest, functionality and form. Their priority now is to put this right by engaging a designer to introduce the wow factor that shows a professional has been involved.

It occurred to us recently, after meeting with a new client who said that she wouldn’t know where to start designing her own garden, that I thought I should jot down what we actually do as designers to create these wonderful spaces.

There are of course years of experience, technical construction know how and confidence to produce that wow factor, but you can go a long way down the path of garden design yourself if you followed these simple steps.

1. Surveying the area

Everything starts with getting a better understanding of what you already have. You’ll have to establish what you can and can’t do in the context of the site you have. Call it site assessment.

Walk round the garden for a couple of minutes taking in a visual brief to remind yourself of those boggy or shady areas that plants struggle in. Are there any areas that might have rubble or old garden features below the soil that need avoiding? Where are the areas of shade or baking sun?

Now clear the kitchen table, make sure you have a little peace and quiet for an hour or so. Find a large piece of paper. An A3 sketchpad would do but otherwise improvise with the back of some Christmas wrapping paper, or something that gives you plenty of room to experiment. You’ll also need some basic tools such as a scale rule, a small set square, a pencil and a large eraser. You’ll then need to pace out the garden. Don’t worry at this stage about tape measures, remember that a good long stride is a metre, so as long as you get rough proportions correct along with the positions of the doors, windows and other major existing features then that’s good enough for the time being. At this stage only plot the items that are immovable. That’s the practical things complete. Now you can do the creative side.

2. The Brief

To take the brief I find it helps to take a sheet of paper and put a vertical line down the middle and another line intersecting that to form a cross, or four quadrants as in the example below.

Garden design brief

You’ll see that there are specific titles in the quadrants; the top half deals with the existing garden and the bottom half gives you an opportunity to list those items that you do or don’t wish to see introduced into your new garden. Be as obvious as you can with your observations of the existing layout.

The bottom left hand quadrant should list those items and features that you’d like to see featured in your new garden that aren’t already there. This can be a wish list containing such things as water features, seating areas, BBQ area, shade sails, wooden planters and so on. Conversely, in the bottom right hand quadrant should go all those features and items that you wouldn’t like to see featured in the new garden. These may be items such as a particular yellow flower, statuary or more pots or containers, more lawn than you already have.

Patio heater

A lot of clients in the summer months are looking to plan to have features that can stand out in the winter months. Interestingly enough a lot of our garden design in Gloucestershire projects have incorporated both fire pits and halogen heating lamps adjacent to the seating area to add that wow factor and ensure you can enjoy your garden without necessarily wearing 4 layers in those chilly winter months. These are two of the stand out products from Primrose that we incorporated into our projects this year.

Firebowl

3. The Design

Given that sitting in the garden is an enjoyable and popular pastime for most people, it’s important that the seating area is easily accessible. Garden furniture can bring a sense of comfort to a garden. One of our most popular products that we have recommended to clients this year has been a corner Rattan sofa set that often seamlessly fits into both a country or town house garden. If you require something a bit smaller that could perhaps be suited to a focal point in your garden then a pair of stunning sofa chairs can be the perfect while adding that bit of luxury to another part of your garden.

Rattan sofa set

4. The journey – or joining the dots

Every garden should have a flow, by that I mean if the terrace is near the house then the next feature should draw you to it via a path or strong visual link that takes you to the next position in the garden. Perhaps now it’s time to look at your list of features and garden design ideas that you’d like to see incorporated in your living space.

You may have for instance a swing seat, water feature, planters or just a small bistro type table and two chairs that you can linger at. We call these areas honeypots as they give you an opportunity to stop, sit and just take it all in. The idea is to be able to walk round the whole garden, however small, to enjoy and sample the various honeypots, perhaps with a cup of coffee or something stronger after work. Here are our ‘Top 2’ honeypots this summer which we have included in our projects and strongly believe you should too.

Pergola Swing Seat

Designed to offer you a chance to really relax in your garden, this two-seater swing seat has been a client favorite of ours as featured in this garden design in Cheltenham below.

Pergola swing seat

Stainless Steel Glass Water Cascade

Incorporated into our formal designs, this stainless steel water cascade is made from high-grade stainless steel and glass, which added that wow factor when placed alongside a curved planting area.

Glass water wall

5. Focal points

These are much talked about and they are important. By definition a focal point is a feature or item that draws the eye to a distant point, partially obscured to create mystery in some cases. These can be something as simple as a pot, a tree, a bright stainless steel water feature or even just a white metal bench in the distance inviting you to go and sit. It needs to send a strong message so choose carefully and make sure it’s large enough to be able to dominate that space so when viewed from a distance it has the proportion to do the job.

6. Keep it simple

I know it sounds obvious, but the keep it simple rule should be adopted everywhere. If the design of the garden is strong enough it doesn’t need over embellishment. The curves in the garden whether it be gravel or lawn, the shape of the flower beds, keep it bold. Be courageous with fingers of planting beds that come out mid garden creating strong shapes. Big sweeping curves work far better than little wiggles that can also be a nightmare for those having to do the mowing.

7. The review

Hopefully by now you’ll have the features that you want dotted around the garden, some obscured from each other if you have the space and bold profiles defining the margin between planting and the central areas. You’ll see that it then all begins to make sense and with luck you’ll recognise it as something resembling what you wanted to achieve.

Now you can produce a fair copy of your sketch and put a little bit more definition and discipline into the design. You could then take your piece of paper out into the garden on a dry day and mark the positions of the main features with sand or marker paint. You can then ‘walk through’ the new shapes and see how it feels. Begin to select your garden furniture if you’re not using your existing furniture and walk around so that you feel you have enough space on the seating area. Sit at the end of the garden and see how the shapes work there as well.

The most extraordinary and magical process is yet to be enjoyed. The garden that has come from within through this process of design will then be brought to life in front of you and will continue to mature and bring years of enjoyment. There is nothing more magical and satisfying.

Nick Dickinson

Nick Dickinson of Elementa Design has been creating beautiful gardens for four decades now. Nick is an award winning garden designer who is able to take a brief, however sketchy, and transform your garden into something that will really stimulate the senses.

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