8 Tips for Planning a Beautiful and Functional Garden

A well-designed garden will provide the perfect space for relaxing, dining and entertaining. Whether you’re looking to grow your own veg or plant colourful flowers, a little planning will go a long way.

Observe how much sun or shade a particular part of your garden gets at different times of the day. This will help you choose plants that thrive in your climate and soil conditions.

1. Create a Plan

One of the most important aspects of any garden is a thoughtful plan. It’s easy to get tempted by plants that look beautiful at the garden store, but creating a plan ahead of time will help you choose plantings that fit your landscape and thrive in your climate.

Start by taking a site inventory, including notes on existing plants and structures, water sources (spigots, gutters, et al) and electrical lines. A sun map can also be useful to understand how different parts of the garden receive sunlight throughout the day.

Consider how you can utilize circular lawns to make a long garden appear wider or work with an ‘S’ shape to soften any hard edges. Think about using color contrasts and foliage shapes to create visual interest, as well as methods for making your garden bloom year-round such as succession planting. A sketch on paper will help you visualize your landscape and refine your design.

2. Plan Your Plantings

Once you know your garden’s function and the planting types you want from Succulent Alley, it’s time to start planning your plantings. Match plants to the site, so sun lovers are planted in the sun and shade lovers in the shade, for example. Look for microclimates to exploit — sunny walls soak up the heat each day and release it at night, for example – and make sure you plant in layers.

Consider the color palette you wish to use, using contrasting or complementary hues to add visual interest. This applies to both the plants and the hardscapes — garden structures, paths, and furniture — in your garden.

Choose plants that will provide interest all year round – think about succession planting, the agricultural practice of sowing crops in intervals to extend the blooming season. Flowers are a great choice for adding splashes of color, but many herbs and vegetables also have pretty flowers, as do some shrubs and trees.

3. Plan Your Furniture

There’s no doubt that a garden is a place for relaxation and entertainment, but it requires planning to achieve the balance between beauty and functionality. To make the most of your garden, you should plan for a focal point, plant flowers and vegetables, incorporate garden structures and hardscaping elements, consider seasonal changes, and practice sustainable gardening.

Adding a water feature to the garden is an easy way to create visual interest. Ponds, fountains and waterfalls add soothing sounds and can reflect light around the space, helping it to appear brighter and bigger.

If you’re looking for ways to keep the kids entertained in the garden, try creating a secret playground. This clever design by Adolfo Harrison uses the plants to provide a fun environment for children to run around in and hide. To create this safe zone, the homeowners planted robust and kid-safe shrubs and perennials, densely planting to avoid gaps that kids could wriggle through.

4. Plan Your Lighting

The trick to a great garden is in the details. It’s important to plan your plantations carefully, using a wide variety of color and foliage shapes that compliment and contrast each other. This is especially true for plants that will bloom or change color over the course of the year.

Water features such as fountains or ponds add visual interest and create a tranquil atmosphere in the garden. They also help to create a habitat for wildlife, which will bring the garden to life.

Lighting can be used to highlight focal points in the garden and create a magical space at night. It can also be used to create depth and layering in the garden.

Don’t forget to consider the sound of the garden too. The rustle of wind in the trees, birds singing or water trickling will add to the overall experience of being in the garden.

5. Plan Your Water Features

A water feature can transform your garden from a simple backyard into a lush wildlife habitat. From small ponds in tight city spaces to expansive waterfall systems in rural settings, there is a water feature idea recommended that can work with your space, climate and budget.

A waterfall can be energizing and create drama, while the still surface of a pond can reflect the sky and the surrounding landscape. The gentle flow of a rill or stream can add a sense of peace and tranquility to your garden.

A well-designed water feature can also attract a wide variety of birds and other wildlife. To make your garden wildlife-friendly, keep water moving by preventing stagnant water and using biological control methods such as mosquito-eating fish or frogs to reduce mosquito populations. Also, provide escape routes and deter domestic pets to help protect wildlife in the garden.

6. Plan Your Seating

Whether you want to entice visitors into the garden with a seat waiting for them at the end of a path or use seating as a focal point within a garden, it is important to plan where seating will be before or during a redesign. It is better to have one seating area that works correctly than several small ones squished in as an afterthought that never get used.

If you are designing a seating area as part of a larger garden, mapping out where the sun sits at various times of day in spring and summer will help with planning. Early birds may favour an east-facing seat for morning coffee, whereas night owls might prefer a west-facing spot to soak up the last of the evening sun.

Seating can also be incorporated into the planting scheme to create immersive areas, such as this charming banquette by Emma Whitten Gardens. The planting flows around and over the bench, tucking it into the garden and creating leafy, scented shelter.

7. Plan Your Focal Points

In the same way that a living room has a focal point like a fireplace or TV, garden designs benefit from the use of focal points. Focal points grab a viewer’s attention and direct it throughout the landscape. Focal points are usually something that stands out in color, shape or texture from the surrounding garden area.

They can be man-made objects like a statue or fountain, but can also include features of the landscape itself such as a pond, bench or trellis. Even an old bicycle or sewing machine can act as a focal point in the right setting, creating a unique and eye appealing design.

Focal points can be new additions to the landscape such as a specimen tree, a sculpture or a seating nook. Or they can be a feature that is part of the garden already, such as a garden bed with a focal point planting. Focal points can also be incorporated into pathways to draw the viewer’s eye across the garden and into the next space.

8. Plan Your Paths

If you want your garden to be functional, you must provide pathways that offer easy access to the spaces in your landscape. Pathways can also serve to protect plants from the wear and tear of frequent foot traffic.

Garden paths can be practical, leading to a statue or container at the end, or they can divert you from the main route, inviting you to explore different areas of your garden or to stop and enjoy a view. Pathways can be straight or curved and can disappear into the planting or be made from a hard surface or gravel.

When selecting your pathway material, consider whether it matches the overall look of your landscape or your home. Consider the maintenance and cost of your chosen material too. Choose surfaces that are durable and easy to clean if you want to reduce your maintenance time. For example, use paving slabs that can easily be hosed down or opt for a stone mulch like shredded bark or wood chips that is easy to maintain by replenishing it each year.

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