Dakota Murphey, Garden Design, Hiring Help in the Garden, How To

Is your garden in need of some serious attention? Does your outdoor space look boring and uninspiring, without much thought given to structure, layout or planting? Whether you’re starting with the blank canvas green space of a new build or the outdated garden design of the previous home owners, if it’s not working for you, it’s time to take action.

Garden design is both an art and a science, but mostly it’s a craft. Even if you consider yourself to be reasonably green fingered and love pottering around in the garden, the vast horticultural knowledge and the advanced technical and management skills of a professional garden designer takes many years to master.

Find a good one and you’ll have a keen expert by your side who can see the vision of what you want your dream garden to be, and make your dreams come true. Here’s a useful 4-step process to ensure your chosen garden designer is aligned with your goals and has the right skill set for the project.

1. Create your vision

Before you’re ready to appoint a garden designer, it’s important to do a bit of homework first, so that you can articulate your vision. What sort of garden would you like to achieve – English cottage style, formal Italian style hedging or modern landscape architecture? You don’t have to be an expert in garden history but it helps to have a clear idea of the look and feel you’re going for.

Next, consider how you’ll be using the space. Are you looking for a garden for relaxing in peace and quiet, to entertain friends or for children and pets to run around in? Are you keen to grow your own veg? Do you love gardening or are you looking for a low-maintenance solution?

Without a defined brief, any garden designer is bound to struggle to develop a meaningful proposal. Look for inspiration on Pinterest and Instagram, books and magazines, garden shows and exhibitions and compile your own scrapbook or mood board with all the design elements you want to include in your garden design.

how to find garden designer
Source: Andy Sturgeon

2. Establish a realistic budget

We all like to dream big but having grand garden design visions is one thing, having the budget to realise your dreams is quite another. Obviously, the physical size of your outdoor space will be a significant factor of the cost of a redesign but even small gardens can eat up sizeable chunks of budget rather quickly, especially when it comes to major landscaping and planting schemes.

If necessary, revisit the different elements of your desired design including groundworks, hard landscaping, garden buildings, water features, electrics and choice of planting. What are your ‘must haves’, what are your ‘nice to haves’? Be realistic about the kind of investment you’re willing to make into your garden, and be prepared to cut your cloth accordingly.

garden design
Source: House Beautiful

3. Shortlist garden designers

Having determined the scope and creative direction of your garden design project, it’s time to start looking for garden designers. Word-of-mouth recommendations are always a good starting point, so ask family, friends and acquaintances for who they’ve used.

Don’t underestimate the power of the internet to help you in your search, especially if you’re looking for specialist garden designers. Try googling for keywords such as ‘coastal gardens’, ‘north facing gardens’ or ‘clay soil’ to help you identify the right expert to deal with specific garden issues.

Do bear in mind that anyone can set themselves up as a professional garden designer, whether they’ve taken an evening course at their local college, are a full member of the Society of Garden Designers or have no qualifications or experience whatsoever. While formal qualifications aren’t always the best indicator of quality, it’s always wise to check the designer’s background. Ideally, you’re looking for a combination of professional qualifications coupled with solid practical experience across many garden design techniques and a wide range of projects.

Once you’ve chosen your favoured garden designer, take a keen interest in their portfolio and visit some of their completed projects. If at all possible, speak to past clients to gauge customer satisfaction levels first hand.

manicured garden
Source: Design Trends

4. Trust your instincts

When you’ve reached the end of the decision making process, you should feel happy with your choice of garden designer. The importance of working with someone who is on the same wavelength cannot be overstated when it comes to this kind of creative process. Whether the two of you will be able to ‘click’ will become obvious very quickly once you’ve met in person – and this is where you really need to trust your instincts.

A garden redesign can be an intensely personal experience requiring a great deal of trust and confidence. If there’s anything you don’t like about your garden designer now and can envisage problems working together as the project progresses, that’s a huge red flag. Cut your losses now and find somebody else before you’re in too deep.

Through the lifecycle of your garden project, you should expect the relationship between yourself and your designer to develop and grow, just like your garden.

planted hedges
Source: Outdoor Ideas

Dakota Murphey

Dakota Murphey is an independent content writer who regularly contributes to the horticulture industry. She enjoys nothing more than pottering around her gardening in the sunshine. Find out what else Dakota has been up to on Twitter, @Dakota_Murphey.

Dakota Murphey, Garden Design

garden building improve life

Garden sheds have come a very long way. Once a basic and unloved timber storage facility for garden tools and other outdoor paraphernalia, these days smart log cabins come in an astonishing array of styles and designs that take pride of place in the privacy of your garden space.

A modern garden building serves as a useful and attractive addition to your home’s indoor space. Cheaper than building an extension, and constructed and insulated for year-round use, it’s a convenient and cost effective way to give you more space at home.

With a bit of knowhow, you can build your own bespoke log cabin, ideally using FSC certified timber harvested from sustainable woodlands, such as the renowned Balcombe Estate in West Sussex. Alternatively, sectional sheds and garden buildings can be purchased pre-fabricated according to your specifications and installed on site.

Whether you need an extra guest room, a hobby room or a retreat from the rest of the family, once you add finishing touches such as electrics, heating and plumbing, it will be a cosy space you’ll love to spend time in.

Here are some great examples of how you can improve your home life with a timber garden studio.

Working from home

Working from home is becoming increasingly common, as more companies allow their employees to work remotely for a day or a few days a week. But it can be difficult to find the right space to set up a home office in your already crowded house. A shed in the garden could be the perfect solution, as it’s only a few steps from the house.

Here, you’re unlikely to be interrupted and can work in relative peace and quiet. Even the smallest log cabin can be equipped with all you need, including phone, printer and WiFi connections. There are so many office shed designs to choose from and the big bonus is that you get to avoid that dreaded daily commute!

working from home

Claiming your man cave

The garden shed has always been stereotypically male territory, so perhaps you could play up to that and create a dream space for you and all things masculine. The opportunities are limitless – imagine what you could do!

What about the ultimate workshop with a spacious workbench and all your tools perfectly arranged and easy to access. And, of course, you can always make space to fit in a comfy chair in the corner right next to the all-important bar fridge, which may just happen to be opposite the TV, tuned to your favourite sports channel. Everyone needs a rest in between projects, right?

If you have some extra space, why not go large, by adding an interlocking garage? Then you’ll have all the space you could want for that motorbike or classic car you may have been thinking about doing up. How’s that for a dream space?

But it’s not just men who need a space to de-stress – how about creating a mum-cave too?

Creating your hobby heaven

For those who love making things but hate the time it takes to set up and pack away the necessary items, why not ‘craft’ your very own creative space? Set up that easel, your paints and canvases, get out your sewing machine and fabrics, or whatever hobbycraft you’re into, and give some energy and space to your artistic side.

Imagine being able to take your time with each project without having to put everything away at the end of the session because you need the dining table for supper. Design a shed that’s bright, airy and inspiring and unleash your inner creative.

Giving teenagers a cool hangout zone

Teenagers need a space of their own and sometimes the bedroom is literally just a bit too close to home to have friends over. But with the oldies occupying the living room downstairs, where can they go?

A log cabin in the garden may be the perfect space. You might like to kit out your garden shed with a games centre, a large screen TV and surround sound and who knows, you may never see them again! Except, of course, when they need feeding… Hmmm, perhaps you should also think about arranging a hotline to the local takeaway service.

decorated garden building

Gathering friends in a cosy hub

If you like entertaining, then why not turn your shed into a little pub? You could equip your garden building with a proper bar counter and two or three small stools. Add a few shelves and optics, fill with the relevant bottles and hey presto you can stay out all night without going out at all!

If you’re not the pub type but still want an entertainment room, no problem. Go luxurious with a comfy couch, some soft lighting and a great sound system. What about a woodburner for cosy nights in? Hey, if you wanted to go really mad, you could even fit in a hot tub!

Dakota Murphey

Dakota Murphey is an independent content writer who regularly contributes to the horticulture industry. She enjoys nothing more than pottering around her gardening in the sunshine. Find out what else Dakota has been up to on Twitter, @Dakota_Murphey.

Conservation, Current Issues, Dakota Murphey, Grow Your Own, How To

living off grid

If you hanker after a simple, sustainable life, you will love the idea of living the off-grid dream. Living without household utilities, the internet, fast food and all of the trappings of modern living may seem unimaginable to some, but to others it is a vision of the ideal lifestyle.

Going off-grid is a growing trend. Are you ready to take the leap? Read on to find out more.

What exactly is living off-grid?

The term off-grid actually means disconnected from the main national transmission grid of electricity. For some, off-grid living simply means disconnected from the electrical grid, for others the concept extends to a completely self-sufficient existence without reliance on any public utilities, including gas and water supply.

Why live off-grid?

There are many reasons people choose to live off-grid. Here are some of them:

  • Freedom from utility bills
  • A desire to live more in tune with the environment
  • A desire to be more environmentally responsible
  • Location (remote and beautiful)
  • Self-sufficiency
  • Healthier lifestyle
  • Educating future generations
  • To opt out of consumerism
  • To achieve complete independence

How to live off-grid

If you have pondered the idea of a more sustainable lifestyle, but don’t know where to start, here are 7 steps to get you living the off-grid dream. Just how far off the grid you go is up to you.

1. Land

Off-grid means different things to different people. If you are serious about going off-grid completely, you may be considering the purchase of a piece of land on which to start your smallholding and/or new eco-friendly life. Finding suitable, affordable land is one of the biggest hurdles to people looking to go completely off-grid in the UK.

However, while living completely off-grid in the UK is actually quite difficult, it’s not impossible. There are ways to live legally on cheap land in the UK, but you will have to negotiate local planning restrictions before constructing any dwelling.


2. Power

There are many homeowners in the UK who have taken their first step to off-grid living simply by installing solar panels. Wind and water power are also being used to generate electricity for some homes. One of the biggest commitments required when going off-grid is to cut down and minimise the use of power as a resource.

There are many options on the market for home owners interested in self-sufficient renewable energy sources. Examples are biomass boilers, ground source heat pumps, and solar water heating.

Renewable electricity generated by acceptable installations, including off-grid systems, is currently eligible for payments under the Feed-in Tariffs (FIT) scheme. This is a government programme designed to promote the uptake of renewable and low-carbon electricity generation. However, the government have announced plans to axe the scheme from April next year.

3. Heating

Heat pumps are the most efficient way to heat an off-grid home and are currently considered one of the best off-grid heating options. Ground source heat pumps harvest heat from below the ground. Air source heat pumps absorb heat from the outside air.

Other options are biomass (burning wood and other organic matter) and solar thermal collectors.

4. Water

Truly living off-grid requires you to harness the invaluable resource that is water. Rainwater and borewater are clean sources of water, but may be contaminated and will therefore require sterilisation through a filter system before consumption.

Rainwater can be harvested, but realistically will need an underground tank that collects water from the guttering on your house, as well as a filter system. This can be costly (over £10,000). A borehole will require a geological survey. There are companies in the UK that can arrange the survey and drill the borehole for you. Find out more about the process here.

There is even the option of an off-grid box!

5. Food

You’re not truly off-grid until you grow your own food. Here are several good reasons why you should grow your own grub. For more tips on growing your own food, see here.

basket of food

6. Drainage

A simple soakaway is required to drain shower, washing machine and sink water (known as grey water) away. A soakaway is a hole dug in the ground approximately 1 metre deep. The hole is 80 per cent filled with broken bricks and rubble.

7. Sewage

Sewage wastewater from toilets and dishwashers is known as blackwater. When you live off-grid and you disconnect yourself from the municipal sewage system you’ll need to consider how you manage your wastewater and sewage.
The main options are a septic tank system or a more sophisticated miniaturised sewage treatment plant system. With a septic tank, you will need the tank de-sludged regularly. You may want to consider a composting toilet. See more information about off mains drainage here.

If you are looking for a challenge, a different pace of life and care about the planet, then off-grid living is worth considering. With battery storage and other eco-friendly technologies developing, living off-grid is likely to become easier and more popular in the future.

Dakota Murphey

Dakota Murphey is an independent content writer who regularly contributes to the horticulture industry. She enjoys nothing more than pottering around her gardening in the sunshine. Find out what else Dakota has been up to on Twitter, @Dakota_Murphey.

Dakota Murphey, Gardens

sell garden for development

As a property owner with a large garden, you may be wondering how you go about selling some of the land off for development. After all, there’s a national housing shortage on, and new builds seem to be going up in other people’s back gardens wherever you look these days. Could you cash in too?

But before you get carried away dreaming about all the things you would do with the windfall, let’s take a reality check. Not every residential property is suitable for development, and even if it is, the process may be far from straightforward.

Take a look at these 7 questions that you should investigate in to help you determine whether your garden does indeed have development potential.

Your basic property checklist

1. Does your garden have a minimum length of 35 metres?

Is your garden really big enough for two houses plus two adequately sized gardens? Take a look at other new builds in your local area to see how big their gardens are, then see how your own plans and proposals compare. If the amount of land isn’t sufficient to accommodate both, this can be a major reason why planning permission for ‘backland development’ might be refused.

2. Rather than behind your house, is there ample space next to the building?

You will need at least 7 metres of land between your property and the neighbour’s boundary in order to be eligible for an ‘infill development’, meaning the new building would neatly slot into your street alongside the other houses. However, if all you have room for is a narrow house, planners could refuse permission because the new development is out of character with the neighbourhood.

extra wide garden

3. Are you lucky enough to have an extra wide plot?

Not all housing plots are created equal and it is just possible that your house was built with a particularly large garden in mind. If your property is wider than the average plot on your street, you might be able to get permission for a ‘replacement development’ whereby you knock down one house and replace it with two new ones.

4. Is it possible to create vehicular access from your garden to the main road?

Any new build in your garden will require proper road access, and not just a footpath. No suitable access means that your chances of obtaining planning permission are going to be very slim indeed. Is there perhaps another road that goes around the back of the garden? Or could you move/demolish a freestanding garage to create the necessary space?

5. Is your property located on the corner of two roads?

Corner houses typically have a double advantage when it comes to development potential. Not only are they generally sited on bigger plots with larger gardens compared to other houses in the same street, they tend to have better access too. Identifying a building plot with easy road access should be a much easier undertaking.

6. Is your property located at the end of a cul-de-sac?

End-of-the-road properties have similar advantages to houses built on corner locations. They’re typically built on wider and/or more generously sized plots than regular houses in the street, which makes access from different sides easier and allows for ample space for a second house to be built on the site.

7. Has anyone else in your street developed their houses or gardens?

Interestingly, if a precedent has already been set, either as backland or infill residential development, this may help your case substantially. Official planning guidelines have changed and been updated over time. These days, a greater housing density tends to be welcome since it helps to meet local housing requirements. Here’s a case in point.

replacement property

More legal and financial checks

Once you’ve completed the basic property checklist above, your next step is to consult your conveyancing solicitor and ask about any restrictive covenants or other changes to permitted development rights that would affect your property’s development potential.

You should also speak with your local planning officer to get an insight into any additional factors that the authorities may take into account when considering your planning application, especially if you are planning to build multiple houses on the site. These can include landscape and environmental impacts, heritage issues, flood risks and much else besides.

It is assumed that your chief motivation for developing some of your land is financial gain. With that in mind, it is well worth checking with a local estate agent that the new development won’t have a detrimental impact on the value of the original house, or that any reduction in property value will be amply outweighed by the proceeds from the new development.

Finally, double check with your accountant that the sale of part of your garden qualifies for PPR (Principal Private Residence) relief from Capital Gains Tax. To ensure any relief is available, the land to be sold must be an integral part of your gardens/grounds, and not a separate area. For very large plots, HMRC may need convincing that the land you are thinking of selling is not required for the ‘reasonable enjoyment of the property’. Specialist advice is highly recommended.

Dakota Murphey

Dakota Murphey is an independent content writer who regularly contributes to the horticulture industry. She enjoys nothing more than pottering around her gardening in the sunshine. Find out what else Dakota has been up to on Twitter, @Dakota_Murphey.