In October 2019 SGD will be 10 years old! I can hardly believe how quickly the years have gone! In that time I’ve had the pleasure of teaching thousands of people from all over the world learn how to successfully design their gardens.

So I thought I’d share some of my top tips that have helped people the most with the design of their garden.

Top Garden Design Tips

  1. Don’t get hung up on the details

This is one of the BIGGEST mistakes that anyone can make with garden design, professionals included.

If you focus on all the issues you may be facing like slopes, awkwardly-shaped garden, size issues and even things like how to blend exiting garden elements into a new design – it will make life much harder, sometimes impossible to come up with a good design…

By focusing on all the ‘issues’ and challenges a garden might have, and trying to solve each one of them individually, it doesn’t help the design be coherent. And often as not, focusing on the problem makes them feel bigger and even more challenging.

When you first start to design, you have to let go of everything superfluous and concentrate on one thing, which leads us nicely on to tip 2…

2. The ‘Shape’ of your garden is your KEY to success

Initially, this might sound like a really ODD thing to focus on. Here’s why it’s VITAL…

Good garden design is all about how you arrange the space. Just like it is inside a house. We’ve all been in homes where the design layout is wrong. And it never feels right or flows properly. Gardens are no different.

If you have a long narrow garden, you need to make it look wider to feel comfortable. Wide, shallow and square gardens need shapes that make them look longer. Awkwardly-shaped gardens needs the eyes taken away from the odd angles.

So unless you resolve to make the most of your garden from a shape perspective, anything else you do probably won’t enhance the space to its fullest potential.

Get the right design shape in place first, then start to look at the details. He’s the great part – if you do get the right design shapes in place first, often as not they take care of the majority of the issues you think you have with your garden!

Take a look at one of my free fast-track garden design web classes to see a design demonstration and a look at the steps involved with successful designing any garden.

3. Plants are NOT the answer

Oh boy, do I get some flack online for this one! People get really irate at a designer telling them plants aren’t important. And I get it, plants are the part we love the most, a garden wouldn’t be a garden without them!

However, if you haven’t sorted out a good design layout that benefits your shape of garden you can spend as much as you like on plants but they won’t ever be enough to give you a spectacular garden.

Plants are the icing on the cake, they are not the cake itself. I know, shoot me now! People wrongly assume I hate plants when I say this. This makes me laugh because what they don’t know is that I grew up on a plant nursery, surrounded by hundreds of thousands of plants. Plants were my first love.

I learned the hard way that it didn’t matter how much I loved plants, they weren’t the key to creating a gorgeous garden, they are only a component.

4. The powers is on paper

Or a tablet, laptop or whatever you want to use to plan your garden. A lot of people fear putting their ideas down on paper and prefer to do it as they go. Unless you are an absolute visualising genius, you are doomed to failure with this method…

Garden design plan example

If you put ideas on a plan in whatever format, it enables you to see things in a way that will make sure the garden works as a whole entity, not a series of unrelated parts. It will also give you a fresh perspective and enable you to work on all the details that you might have been getting hung up about before you started the design process.

5. Complete novices make better designers than designers!

Feel empowered when you design your garden. You can definitely do it and do it well. I teach garden design as a formula. It’s very different from the theoretical way it’s taught in college courses and books. There are formulas for all size and shape gardens that enable complete amateurs to design like a pro in 10 days or less.

That’s a HUGE claim, isn’t it! But that’s the power of a formula, you just follow what works in your size and shape garden and adjust according to your individual tastes and needs.

Here’s a garden a complete amateur designed, with no previous design experience after doing our Great Garden Formula course

What’s been really interesting is when professional designers start to learn the formula. To begin with, they try and integrate it with what they’ve already been taught. So it takes much longer for them to un-learn their old ways.

Complete novices tend to follow the formula to the letter and get to higher levels with it faster than the pros! Of course, the pros get there eventually, and when they do it’s wonderful to see the improvement in their design skills.

To celebrate 10 years of teaching garden design online…

Purchase any of our design or planting course during the month of October there’s a 10% discount with the coupon code ‘10YEARS’

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Rachel Mathews
Rachel Mathews

Professional international garden designer for over 30 years. My mission is to de-mystify garden design and make it easy for people to successfully design their own garden - without needing to spend a fortune!

    2 replies to "Avoiding garden design mistakes – Top tips from 10 years of teaching"

    • Geraldine

      Hi Rachel,

      Do you know what design software your “complete amateur” student used for their design?


      • Rachel Mathews

        Hi Geraldine,

        Yes, Sander said he used: Realtime Landscaping Architect 2013.

        It looks great, doesn’t it! Unfortunately doesn’t work on Mac, only Windows so I haven’t been able to try it myself.

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