Looking for garden landscaping ideas? The late, great garden designer Rosemary Verey once famously said, ‘True gardening is as much about the bones of a garden as its planting.’ Indeed, few outdoor schemes are complete without some form of hard landscaping. The materials used – from paving and aggregates to decking and decorating edging – will add texture, character and structure, leading the eye through the landscape. While the best time to redesign your space is in the 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.
How do you design a landscape garden?
If you are employing a professional to help, establish first what level of service you require. Garden designers and landscape designers are known by various names, which, confusingly, are often interchangeable. If you are creating a new scheme for your garden or radically altering its structure, you can either employ a garden designer or tackle the job yourself.
A designer will look at the design as a whole, including the layout, structure and planting, and may call in a landscape contractor – or landscaper – to oversee the hard landscaping features as in walls, beds and paths. If you design the garden yourself, landscape contractors can still advise on the use of space and suitable materials.
1. SET PRIORITIES
Invest in the places you, or your visitors, will notice. First, focus on anything that makes the garden an easier and more enjoyable space to use: new paths, paved areas, steps, ramps and flat areas on a slope. You are giving the garden ‘bones’, which will define both the way the garden is used and how it looks.
2. MAKE SAVINGS
If your budget is small, then favour good design and layout over expensive materials. You can make enormous impact by creating simple garden paths and surfaces for entertaining by using locally sources gravel or crushed stone edges with timber. Wood is also a good cost-effective option for barriers, screens and plant supports, and for steps. All of these can be made yourself with basic DIY skills and a good choice for informal, naturalistic style; the wide variety of reasonably prices outdoor plants that are now on offer can help you achieve a customised look.
3. ADD VISUAL INTEREST
Think about how you can introduce drama and energy: add water, lighting, garden structures, artworks, mirrors. furniture and so on. Assign a quarter of your budget to the materials and stick to that because, unless you are doing all of the design and construction yourself, the bulk of the budget will be needed for design fees and contractors’ labour.
4. CHECK IF YOU NEED PLANNING PERMISSION
As with any project, once you know what you want to achieve, do your research and get some price quotes. Some elements may need planning permission: a common requirement is approval for retaining walls, drains, sewers and underground services, so find out how much formal applications and consultancy will cost and set that money aside.
5. CREATE AN EVERLASTING SPACE
For a more permanent solution, or where you want to create a garden characterised by architectural elements – from pergolas to pool houses – you need everything to be properly detailed in advance and built by skilled contractors or craftsmen to keep your budget under control. As a general rule, the longer a construction takes to build, the more expensive it is likely to cost.
6. PLANT PERFECTLY
One of the simplest ways to rapidly transform your garden is to use your budget on a scheme based around plants. With a clever design and good plant selections, you can give your garden structure, year-round excitement and, assuming you include crop-producing plants, enjoy the fruits of your labours in the kitchen.
7. INVEST WISELY
If recreation is not part of your plan, try to be as organic as possible and opt for a meadow-style spread. A genuine native wildflower meadow is difficult to achieve and will fail quickly unless you can afford to buy seeds suited to your local conditions. A pictorial type of meadow, using seed selections chosen to thrive in more fertile garden soils, is the best compromise.
8. CONSIDER COST VERSUS IMPACT
To turf recreational areas, spend as much as you can from your budget; rough turf may be cheaper but it can look terrible and is difficult to mow.
How do I plan my garden layout?
As this is your chance to tailor your garden to your lifestyle, think about who will use the space, especially if you have children or pets or you’re keen on outdoor entertaining, and consider how these needs might change in the future. Surfaces of walkways should be anti-slip; consider maintenance levels, too, not to mention the crunch factor, when using aggregates. If you use unusual materials, such as broken china for a mosaic, also bear in mind the effects of frost.
While aesthetics will guide your choice, materials need to be fit for purpose. At ground level, drainage is a big issue. When laying paving, look for Sustainable Drainage Systems (SUDS) that slow the run-off of rainwater and so reduce the risk of flooding. Find out more by visiting the Environment Agency’s website, environment-agency.gov.uk.
Establish a style. 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.’
How do I find a garden designer?
Regardless of whether you use a garden designer, there are many decisions to be made about materials, so it pays to understand the pros and cons of each.
Your first priority will be to establish the functional spaces, from terraces to paths. The size of an area and its use will dictate which materials are most suitable. For instance, a hard surface for a table and chairs needs to be flat and stable, while you might want to keep granular aggregates like gravel or bark away from entrances so that it’s not tramped indoors. Also think about colour, texture and interest, and how the materials will interact both with plants and with the house when viewed from the garden. Sleek, smooth stone that continues inside is a smart option if you have a modern extension or folding doors, but can look harsh butted straight up to red brick period home or a rustic cottage.
You can ask a general builder to do hard landscaping, but a specialist will have a much better understanding of the principles of soil compaction, levels and drainage, and will also be well versed in the available materials.
Expect to provide a down payment of 25-35 per cent of the overall cost to secure the contract, and to arrange to pay to remainder in instalments to ensure the job is done to your satisfaction. Check that he or she is a member of a bona fide trade association (such as the British Association of Landscape Industries – BALI) and establish time schedule, payment terms and any guarantees for the project in writing.