Garden Design (2015)

Bold Visions, Great Designs



The interplay of shapes and forms sets up a dynamic rhythm across a series of shallow terraces, while the linear timber walkway effortlessly spirits the eye and body across the landscape into the space beyond.


GARDENS ARE EXCITING and dynamic places. They play with our emotions, positively influence our sense of wellbeing and connect us to the natural world, creating glorious alchemies of art and science that tap into the bedrock of our cultural existence.

Sourcing inspiration

What we personally want and need from gardens and how we interact with them are as multi-various as our personalities. Practicalities aside, personal history, culture, taste and vision all play a part in influencing our needs and aspirations for our outdoor spaces. We may yearn for something bold and uncompromising, minimalist and highly architectural, wild and romantic, or just simply a refuge from the worries of the world. Often, the difficulty is pinning down that vision or idea and making it a practical reality. Conversely, you may not know what you want and seek inspiration, perhaps assembling a portfolio of ideas from books, photographs, magazine articles or the internet. In either case, you can start by considering a range of garden design styles, as shown on the pages of this chapter, to find a look that suits you best. You can then evolve it to create a design of your own or commission an experienced garden designer, such as one of the professionals who belong to the Society of Garden Designers (SGD).

Choosing a style

While there is nothing to stop you choosing any style you wish or taking a completely personal approach, some designs and the dynamics that underpin them may be more appropriate to your situation than others. Sensitivity to sense of place, historical nuances and the intrinsic elements that determine the character or use of the space can provide inspiration and guide the direction of your design. Formal gardens, either period or contemporary, are often attractive propositions as they are relatively easy to create, using strong geometrical forms and a restricted palette of materials. While they do provide opportunities for dramatic theatre, their geometry and the scale and proportion of the various elements should be your primary consideration when evolving this style.

Cottage, country and naturalistic gardens involve the creative use of plants and, while rewarding, they are demanding in terms of the time, skills and effort required to manage them effectively. The same is true for a tropical-style garden, which would suit an enthusiastic plant lover. The species and varieties you choose are critical to the success of these styles, although structural planting is essential, providing the bones of the garden. Plants with varying seasons of interest are crucial, too, helping to carry the style throughout the year, and foliage is more valuable than flowers, so get to know a range of plants with colourful or dramatic leaves. Also ensure your plant selections are appropriate to the space; varieties that are ideal for expansive landscapes may be inappropriate for small gardens.

Water is probably the most dynamic element you can include in your garden. Essential to our own wellbeing, water also sustains wildlife and helps to increase biodiversity, so before creating a feature, decide if it will be for you, wildlife, or both, as this will determine the design and the way it is managed.

Maintaining the look

One of the most important considerations when designing a garden is how you will maintain it. No garden is completely maintenance free: plants are living things and require regular care, such as mowing, pruning, training, feeding and watering, to maintain their appearance and long-term performance. You may be a willing participant, relishing the opportunity to nurture and develop your garden, or, equally, you may want to delegate the responsibility to someone else. Either way, it is an aspect you will need to consider from the outset, and if planning to use a gardener to help with maintenance, ensure that this cost is factored into your thinking.

The following chapter showcases the work of a range of leading designers and design styles, providing you with a rich seam of inspiration and illustrating what can be achieved in gardens of all shapes and sizes.


Repeated drifts of ornamental perennials coalesce to mimic the structure of natural plant communities. Although the effect looks random, plants are carefully blended to provide year-round interest.



The artful and potent use of lighting can transform a garden space into a theatrical stage set at night, either to be viewed remotely from indoors or to immerse yourself in while hosting a social event outside.



Selecting an item of furniture is just as critical as choosing a piece of sculpture when establishing the theme or style of a garden, as its design and colour exert a powerful influence on the overall look.



Textured treatments of the boundary provide interest in this minimalist-style room outdoors. A log fire inset into an imposing chimney breast adds a practical feature while maintaining the design intention.



Realised through the use of different features and materials, the powerful lines in this design create a dramatic picture, with the clean shapes of the architecture contrasting with woodland plants and box spheres.