The Dos and Don’ts of Designing a Beautiful Garden

Gardeners can easily get carried away with plants and features. But overcrowding can create a cluttered outdoor space that is less than attractive.

Instead of filling gardens with flowers that only provide a brief moment of beauty consider using plants that have interesting foliage, form or texture. These qualities are more lasting and deliver extended design value.

Don’t forget about wildlife

Not only are plants a visual delight, they provide food and shelter for a huge range of wildlife. Providing a wide variety of flowers and fruits, and including some that are out of season, will encourage more insects to visit throughout the year. Choosing some that attract a particular bee species – long-tongued bees, for example, love foxglove and forget-me-nots – will help support your local pollinator populations.

Leaving dead trees in the garden, as well as brush and rock piles, can provide valuable cover, nesting sites and food sources for many different bird, reptile and amphibian species. These can also be an attractive feature of a garden, especially when they’re arranged in secluded areas that don’t block views or create safety hazards.

It’s not necessary for gardens using native plants to look wild and unkempt, but they shouldn’t be too neat either. Aim for a balance between formal and naturalistic styles, with the use of plants that support our local wildlife.

Aim for splashes of colour, which not only break up the green and add contrast, but can be a great draw for wildlife too. The most obvious are flowering plants, but herbs and vegetables with pretty foliage are a good choice too. For instance, clumps of curly leaf parsley, mounds of chives and thymes, compact Greek basils, rosemary and lavender (in purple) and flowering tatsoi, marigolds and violets will provide plenty of colour without distracting from the garden’s structural elements.

Fences, walls and hedging can be a significant element in the landscape, so it’s important to make them look as good as possible. If you can, paint them in pale colours to reflect light and show off the plants behind. You might even consider growing climbers up them, such as native honeysuckle or clematis.

Don’t forget about water

A garden should have some form of water feature, it doesn’t need to be a large pool or an elaborate water feature but even a small pond can create a focal point and be attractive. Be careful with water features though and make sure that the plants and soil are able to tolerate the amount of moisture in the area, especially during summer when temperatures can rise and dry out the soil.

The other thing to consider is that water features can also be dangerous for children and pets, so it is best to design something that a child or pet cannot access. This could be achieved by having a curved water feature or an enclosed pond that is fenced off in some way.

Another important consideration is that a beautiful garden should last through all the seasons so choose plants and features that will look good in winter as well. This is often easier said than done but things like evergreen foliage, berries or fruits, bark texture and plant shape can all help to create a beautiful winter garden.

Finally, be sure to remember about the views from your house and any other buildings, these may need to be screened or hidden from view with planting or hedging. Also consider any nearby roads and footpaths as they might need to be screened with hedges or fences too.

It is important to plan out a garden and create a design before starting any major work, ideally you should have at least two plans one to scale for the overall layout of the garden and a second to scale for the individual areas or rooms that you want to include in your garden. This will help you to visualize what the finished garden is going to look like and will prevent any major mistakes from being made.

Don’t forget about lighting

Lighting is a key component to a beautiful garden. It allows you to highlight features and create dramatic effects with shadowing and silhouettes. It can also be used to create a sense of movement in the garden, by highlighting moving shadows and reflections. It is important to remember that lighting should not be overdone, as too much can wash out the natural beauty of the plants and create a dull and two-dimensional appearance.

Another thing to remember when planning your lighting is that a garden is a living, evolving space and should be considered a whole landscape. It is important to take into account the placement of any structures or other elements such as a house, shed or deck that might interfere with your planned lighting scheme. Learn more about summer houses that can provide you with a good garden area for you to experiment on!

It is also important to think about the effect of your lighting at different times of year. Evergreens are a great choice for year round focus, but deciduous trees can look sculptural in winter when the leaves have fallen and are contrasted with ice, snow or bare branches.

The way a garden is lit can have just as much impact on the final design as the planting itself. Choosing the right lights for your garden can make it feel more magical, especially at night. It is also a good idea to include some lights for practical purposes, such as paths, entranceways to the garden and any elevation changes. However, it is best to avoid illuminating everything in your garden and to focus on a few focal points such as a water feature, tree, wall or pond. Including these key elements can help to bring your garden to life at night and will give the space a more intimate, personal feel.

Don’t forget about texture

The colors and flowering periods of plants may be highly attractive, but there is much more to a garden than just flowers. Plants have many attributes, from shape and form to color, texture and size — all of which contribute to the overall look of your landscape. Flowers, shrubs and groundcovers are the most obvious elements of a garden to consider, but don’t forget to consider how other plants like foliage, herbs, or even the berries of fruit trees add interest and beauty to the landscape.

In addition to providing visual contrast, a variety of shapes and textures can also help to create a sense of movement in the garden. This can be achieved by using contrasting plants with different heights and textures, or using varying levels of edging. The use of unique structures and garden ornaments can also add a focal point to the garden and capture attention.

It is important not to overcrowd the garden with too many plants and hardscape features, which can lead to a cluttered and chaotic look. If you are using fences and hedges in your garden, try to link them visually with other features in the garden by choosing a color or style that will blend in well. If you are using climbers, make sure they can scale your walls or fences and are well suited to your climate.

Straight lines and hard angles can suit formal gardens, but gentle curves give a more natural and informal feel. Curves are particularly effective when used to form borders.

Don’t forget about color

A garden is a place for fun and should reflect your personality. If there’s something that really stands out to you – whether it be a particular plant, piece of garden art or a color scheme – don’t be afraid to incorporate it into your garden design.

Using a palette of pale colors makes your garden feel bigger and brighter. You can use masonry paint to make brick walls or fences pop, and you can add splashes of brighter color with flowers like lilies, chrysanthemums and peonies. Brighter flowers also play a role in the overall landscape by contrasting with the green of foliage and providing a focal point for the garden.

If you aren’t ready to commit to a bold color scheme, try a neutral palette with varying shades of browns and greys. This helps create a sense of depth in the garden and makes it easier to see the structure of the plants and the shapes they form.

A lot of us love a good bloom, but many flowering plants have very short durations and can quickly become dull and uninspiring when they’re out of season. A better strategy is to introduce a lot of color by planting a mix of perennial and annual flowers that come in different hues and repeat throughout the growing season, e.g. hydrangeas, dahlias and petunias.

Don’t forget about color in the winter too! Evergreens, berries and other fruit, bark color and texture and even the shapes of branches can all play a part in making a garden beautiful. If you want to add extra interest and drama to your winter garden, consider incorporating evergreens with interesting color and textures that will stand out in the snow.