5 Common Garden Design Mistakes & How to Avoid Them

Bluestone Garden Design

Garden Design, for me, is about creating an outside space which is as unique and individual as you are and that unifies the creative potential of your dream garden with the practicalities of day to day life. I thought I’d share a few of the mistakes I see regularly when people design their own gardens, in the hopes that if you decide to do it yourself you can avoid these pit falls!

Sara Southey
Bluestones Garden Design

1. Garden Design is about plants

Most people associate plants with garden design.  When they think about their garden, love or hate plants, it’s the first thing that comes to their mind.

Garden design is as much about plants as wallpaper is about building a house.  It shouldn’t be the first thing that you think of!  It is the icing on the cake after the hard work is done.

Design is mainly about creating shapes and structure in your garden that work for you.  Plants are then used to accentuate, soften, highlight areas of your garden.   I have designed gardens that have no plants whatsoever!

Top Tip: Garden Design is about shapes first then plants!

2. Guessing the size and shape of your outside space

The size and shape of your garden needs to be drawn up before any design work can begin.

No matter how much your garden looks like a square or rectangle, it is probably not!  I have measured many gardens and not once have I come across a perfect square! Knowing the exact dimensions of your outside space and where your home sits within this space is critical.

A design can include complex and expensive features, large or small patios, paths, pergolas.  If you have guessed at the shape, the drawing will not accurately show the dimensions of any hard landscaping you want to put in.  Nor will you be able to get accurate quotes from anyone you want to build your garden.  And how will you know whether what you want will actually fit into your garden?

Without a scaled survey drawing of your outside space you cannot be sure what you want will work and it can lead to expensive mistakes later down the line when you discover it doesn’t fit!

Top Tip: Take the time to accurately measure up your garden, including all permanent fixtures, trees and levels.

3. Plonking a garden feature in

I tried to think of a better way of saying this but I guess plonking is a good a word as any!  Many people will say “I want a pond” or “I have this fountain…”  It could be anything.  If it’s something that you regard as an absolute essential part of your completed garden then it has to be incorporated in to your design.

A gnome knows his place

A treasured family heirloom in a custom built habitat

The random gnome, the water feature given by a kind friend, the family memento that means so much to you.  All should not stick out like a sore thumb.  Your design should bring these features into a unified plan to make them look like a part of a whole as opposed to looking like an after thought or being ‘plonked’!

Top Top:  Think about how your essential feature can be sympathetically incorporated in to your overall design.  Or build the whole design around the feature. No plonking!

4. Not thinking practically

A garden design is about building your own unique outside space to suit you and your lifestyle.  However, this should never be at the expensive of the practicalities!  You can never afford to ignore the essentials.  Where will the bins go? Is the greenhouse in the shade? where to store cushions for furniture?  Are any children playing in the garden visible and safe?  The list could go on and on.

Practical but ugly

Practical necessity but definitely not pretty

The best garden design will blend the ideas and creative aspects with the essential practicals and come up with inventive solutions to any problems.

Top Tip: Make a shortlist of essentials and a shortlist of dreams and then brainstorm with someone for solutions that can incorporate one with the other.

5. Not thinking about the surroundings

This one is an absolute classic.  It’s the stone clad walls amongst a row of brick terraces.  The alpine rock garden surrounded by country cottage gardens.  The red panelled fencing when all the neighbours have natural.  These things and more will jar the eye, yours as well as your neighbours!  They will never sit will in their surrounding as they are so different.

design eye sore

Not considering your surroundings

Now, I’m not saying don’t be unique and individual.  Quite frankly I am all for it!  However, do it in such a way that it sits well with your own individual surroundings.  If you’re set on red being a distinct colour, bring it into a feature in your garden and keep the boundary similar to your neighbours.  An alpine rock garden could incorporate country  cottage aspects with a nod to tradition using minature varieties of the planting and natural local materials to make the rockery.  I’m not going to find a solution to the terrace cladding.  That, in my opinion, is just wrong!

Top Tip: Finding common ground with your surroundings will help blend in new and unique ideas and styles without jarring the eye or upsetting the neighbours!

In summary, garden design is not just a question of scribbling an idea down on paper.  If you incorporate just these 5 Top Tips into your garden design you will end up with a much better result.

Hope you found some of that useful.   If you have any questions, just ask!

Happy Designing!

Sara Southey, Dip. PSGD
Bluestone Garden Design

07860 454514/01235 834868



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