Garden landscaping ideas: how to plan and create your perfect garden

Using an inspiring mix of materials to create paths, walls and raised beds will add structure and character to your outside space

The late, great garden designer Rosemary Verey once famously said, ‘True gardening is as much about the bones of a garden as it’s planting.’ Indeed, few outdoor schemes are complete without some form of hard landscaping. The materials used – from paving and aggregates to decking and decorative edging – will add texture, character and structure, leading the eye through the landscape. While the best time to redesign your space is in winter when plants are dormant, looking at it in summer gives you the chance to really understand how you use the space. Or if you just want to add new surfaces, you can do so now and reap the rewards this summer.

Related: Small garden ideas to make the most of a tiny space

Re-designing your garden is an exciting prospect. Do you wish you had somewhere to sit, relax, entertain or let the children play? Maybe you are just a little bored and want a garden design that is more colourful, varied or maintenance friendly. Garden landscaping is the ideal way to craft an attractive space to grow plants that give you a beautiful environment and design a practical layout that allows you to use your garden how you want. But where do you start? Take a look at our answers to common garden landscaping questions; whether its planning and budgeting, resourcing and building or aesthetic planting, our guide holds the key to the garden landscaping design of your dreams.

garden landscaping

How do I start my design?

Landscaping ideas start with good research. Take inspiration by visiting garden centres, public gardens, annual garden shows, even other people’s houses to get a feel of what is to your taste. Take into account your garden size and think about what you need your garden to do for you. Then, take to the drawing board to sketch your ideas and make mood boards from magazines and Pinterest of your dream garden landscape.

Elements to consider when first planning are:

Walls and boundaries
Hedges and fences
Paths and patios
Lawns
Water features
Zoning areas (dining, playing, shading)
Planting: trees, shrubs, pots
Lighting Out-buildings

Next consider your plot. Look at the size and shape and take into consideration the direction if faces, the style of your house it will be framing and the surrounding area. Achieving balance is a strong aspect of good garden design; pay equal attention to all areas and remember that plants and shrubs will change size and shape throughout the seasons. Do you prefer formal or informal gardens? Formal gardens tend to be tidy and geometric with lots of straight lines and clipped hedges, whereas informal gardens are made up of organic curves and planting is much more relaxed.

Stepping-stones-summer-house-style-ideas-David-Giles

Image credit: David Giles

There’s no shortage of hard landscaping styles, from rustic to sleek and modern. In general, hard landscaping tends to be the star of contemporary designs, and the range of materials for such spaces is more extensive – mirror, metal, concrete and painted walls, to name a few – but there is nothing to stop you using these in traditional herbaceous gardens. The trick is to create a single, homogenous design. ‘Simple, elegant detailing is often the key to a successful space,’ says garden designer Robert Myers. ‘People often over-complicate design by putting too many ideas and patterns into a small space, making it look busy and fussy.’

What landscaping materials will I need?

Select your materials with care and check the quantity and condition upon delivery. Common landscaping materials are:

Bricks
Timber and decking
Paving and block paving
Aggregates and sand (check that the chemicals included are suitable for horticultural use)
Concrete, mortar and render
Damp proof membrane and landscaping fabric
Exterior paints and finishes

You’ll need to consider waste removal. There are two common methods; skip hire or muck away. Consult your local council and waste removal companies to find the most appropriate method or if hiring a professional to carry out your project talk to your contractor to establish whether clearance is included in their service.

garden landscaping

Image credit: David Brittain

Who will do the work?

Every construction project involves a fair degree of upheaval, so plan meticulously to smooth the way.

Do I need planning permission?

Yes, if you intend to build walls over 1m by a road and 2m elsewhere, or lay impermeable paving in a front garden. For listed buildings and in conservation areas, you may need permission to remove and install hard landscaping. For everyone else, outbuildings of up to 2.5m high are permitted beside the house, and those of 4m and taller need to be 2m away from the house. Decking and outbuildings must not take up more than 50% of the garden. Find out more at planningportal.gov.uk.

Keep your neighbours onside

Inform them every step of the way and double-check boundaries when erecting fencing and walls. Where dividing lines are shared, you must get their permission in writing.

garden landscape

During construction

If you do not have access, ask neighbours or approach the local council if the area is public. Hire a skip for large amounts of soil, rubble and plants; expect to pay around £50-£200. You need a licence to put a skip on a public road; apply for this at your local council. Your landscaper can organise this for you; ask to see the permit. A landscaper will need to pay to use a commercial tip. If you tackle the project yourself, contact your local residential tip to see what it will take. Find out more at direct.gov.uk.

At this stage you should have realised whether your landscaping ideas will be a hands-on DIY job or a complete overhaul that will need the skills and labour of a professional landscape designer or tradesman that can do the work for you.

DIY

If you are tackling the job yourself, there are plenty of books, online guides or even short construction courses to help you get started. Most building materials (mentioned above) are easy to obtain from garden centres and builders merchants. Don’t overlook access points to your garden if materials are to be delivered and stored. Also look into machinery hire – you may need a cement mixer or even a digger to prepare the ground. Off-the-peg materials such as bricks, blocks, slabs, timber are rectilinear and so are more straightforward and cost effective when building along straight lines. If your design is curved, use more flexible materials such as gravel, poured concrete or drystone techniques.

Professional

Deciding how much to spend on building structure, hard landscaping, planting and lighting can be daunting. For this reason, it is well worth employing a professional landscape designer and gardener to ensure you get the most beautiful garden your budget allows. It also makes sense if you need to install or move major services – gas, electricity or water pipes as then you must employ a qualified engineer to survey the site and undertake the job. They will see obstacles or shortcuts you may not have noticed and can ensure all work complies with relevant regulations. Reputable sites such as Checkatrade.com or RatedPeople can help you find skilled contractors in your area or you can find an accredited Garden Landscaper at Association of Professional Landscapers.

garden landscaping

Image credit: Mark Bolton

How much will it cost?

Your budget will decipher what you can achieve in your garden; here’s an overview on what you can create with the finances you have available.

No money options:
Have a good clean and tidy up of your garden. Prune overgrown shrubs and remove self-seeded trees. Edge lawns, clear weeds in beds and on paths. Swap plants with friends.

Up to £100
Do all of the above and then brighten the garden up with some new plants or accessories. Or, you could re-gravel and mulch planting beds with bark to suppress weeds and retain soil moisture. Invest in some attractive containers or visit a salvage yard and build a raised bed with reclaimed timber.

Up to £500
This budget allows you to consider building materials as well as plants. Simple concrete slabs, perhaps a new lapped panelled fence, re-turf your lawn or buy new garden furniture.

Up to £1000
You can just about consider bringing in outside help. Two days’ work by a skilled trades-person and materials for perhaps a new patio. Or, if you are doing your own work you can invest in a digger driver to prepare ground.

£5000-£10,000
The lower sum will get you about a weeks work by a skilled tradesperson or team including materials. If your budget is at the higher mark a professional designer will help your money go far in terms of impact. Expect to pay a designer around 15% of your budget.

£10,000 – £30,000
With this as your budget you can hire a professional landscape designer and contractor to ensure your work is done to a specified standard. Creating a 10sq m garden with significant hard-surfacing, high-quality planting, barriers and special features, will cost from around £25,000 and with design fees on top you can quickly reach the £30,000 mark.

Obviously you can go even higher with your finances and a budget of this scale will enable you to create an incredible garden that can last for generations.

small garden ideas garden landscaping

Image credit: James Merrell

Do I need permissions?

Planning restricts differ widely from one area to another. Consult the planning department of your local council before going ahead, especially if you live near a Conservation Area. If planning permission is necessary your Planning Department will require an application together with fairly detailed plans and a fee. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister contains up-to-date information about planning regulations.

How long will it take?

This depends on the type of project. If you have the budget and are employing the professionals, they will give you a detailed time-frame and work-plan in their quote. Working in stages can help with the cash-flow. Hard-landscaping should be completed first, if possible during winter months so the garden is ready for planting in the spring. Do not build walls or patio’s below 3 degrees as frost can weaken new concrete and mortar.

Which plants shall I choose?

One of the simplest ways to transform your outdoor space, be it an urban garden or country garden is to invest in a scheme based around your plants. A good selection of flowers, trees and shrubs will create year round interest. Spend some time getting to know your soil and aspect in terms of sun, shade and exposure. For structure invest in larger hedging and trees. For colour spend money on bedding plants and bulbs. Further research in books, garden centres and online will throw up so many planting suggestions. Potted flowers and plants are a great option for adding easy colour and the movability means you can change your design when the mood takes you. Be sure to plant them with plenty of drainage and water regularly.

small garden ideas garden landscaping

Image credit: David Giles

Are there current trends to follow?

Everyone’s dream garden is different according to our tastes and lifestyles. Take a look at our garden galleries which are filled with ideas for traditional gardens, modern gardens, family gardens and innovative ideas for gardens big or small.

Will you be using any of these garden landscaping ideas to create the space of your dreams?

Visit the Ideal Home garden shop

Love your garden? Take advantage of our special offers on plants at the Ideal Home garden shop. Our curated collection of beautiful flowers and shrubs is guaranteed to add colour and charm to your outdoor space.

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