Garden Design SOS – Design rescue, AFTER the landscaper had finished…

Now, before you accuse me of unfairly knocking landscapers, I’m not. If I am knocking anything, it is what happens when there is no clear design process involved with creating a garden.

Something that people often don’t take into consideration, is the part a good design plays in creating a stunning garden.

A lot of people incorrectly assume that if they call in a landscaper, that they will take care of everything.

There is a heck of a lot of a difference between what a landscaper does and what a designer does. One builds, one plans. I wouldn’t dream of trying to build a brick wall for a client – I’m not trained in it – it would be a D I S A S T E R  darhling!

To their credit, a lot of landscapers do try to design. If it’s a choice of losing work or coming up with something, they will do their best to come up with ‘something’, but if they haven’t been trained in design, their efforts will often fall flat.Landscaped-Garden

Or vertical as in this case…

This newly built house had a small sloping back garden. So, they called in a landscaper to terrace it for them. He did an excellent job of creating a level area at the back of the garden and building a beautifully constructed wall with in-built lighting.

As beautiful as the workmanship was though, and as much as he had tried to be artistic, the end result really didn’t do the garden any great favours. The new wall accentuated the width, making the garden feel shallower and smaller.

So, by the time I was called in, the majority of the budget had already been spent on the hard landscaping.

My job was to try and tie the garden in and get it to work as a whole unit and try to blend in the curved wall as well as add interest to take away the wall’s dominance in the garden.

Salvaging what’s already been done

The ‘artistic’ elements that the landscaper had incorporated, i.e. the curved wall and planter, caused a lot of problems. The circular bed at the top left of the garden created an awkward lawn shape and clashed with the square patio at the top.

So the main thing I had to do here, was to soften all of the straight edges and get them to work with the curved wall. No easy feat in such a small space.

Normally, when you start to design a garden, the first thing you do is control the shape of space, namely the lawn/patio areas. Since this had already been done, it was more a case of damage control and forcing what was already in place to work as one whole entity.

You can always work with whatever is there in your garden already. In this case though, it was one of many incidences where the design is thought about after the main event – the hard landscaping (the most expensive part).


Garden ‘Makeover’ Plan

Make it work

  1. The 1st thing I did was to try and make the brick wall look like it belonged there. This was done by shaping the lawn space to coincide with the dominant curves of the brick wall.
  2. The next step was to try and take the eyes away from the dominant wall. This was done by adding vertical elements such as the pergola and the upright timber posts in the circular border.
  3. The final step was to try to disguise the wall by planting tall grasses in front of it.

Disguise it when all else fails!

You’ll notice 3 steps above were basically all about the wall, rather than the garden as a whole. So much more could have been done with this small garden had it been designed from the outset.




We did our best and managed to improve it a bit – that’s all you can do in these situations. It’s always been one of those jobs that has stayed with me as a ‘if only we could have designed it at the beginning…’.

So, don’t do this at home folks…

Call in a designer 1st, not the landscaper! OR better still learn about design yourself. It’s not as hard as you may think… We have a great range of online courses right here: Online Garden Design Courses that are guaranteed to teach you how to create a perfect garden all by yourself!

Attend one of our FREE Fast Track Garden Design online classes to learn more…

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Landscaping Disasters – How to Avoid Wasting Money in Your Garden

Landscaping a garden can be a costly business. There are certainly ways keep costs down but there’s one thing that will really screw up any landscaping work you have done…

Not having a design.

I see this all the time. People hire a professional landscape team, pay out several thousand to create their dream garden only to find it doesn’t look a great deal better at the end of it.

Undesigned v designed garden - good design doesn't need to be complicated

Undesigned v designed garden – good design doesn’t need to be complicated

It’s NOT the landscaper’s fault!

Really it’s not. They might have built you a fantastic patio, using lovely materials, laid to perfection but unless the shape is right, it can end up making your garden look smaller and very dull.

Landscapers on the whole just build. Very few consider themselves to be designers.

Building and designing, very different skills.

That’s not to say all landscapers can’t design, some can, pretty well but most aren’t schooled in it. They will try their best for you but the results aren’t likely to be on a par with a good designer, especially if they’ve provided you with a free sketch or budget design.

In fact I came across a really horrific example of this just yesterday!

This Really Upsets Me…

So I’ve come back to the UK for Christmas. Whilst out on our traditional Boxing Day walk a friend of mine points out the back garden of someone in her village that’s recently been landscaped. She excitedly tells me “They had landscapers in for three weeks, must have cost them a fortune!”

Now, I’m on a break, not thinking about gardens at all but as we got closer to the garden, which was near the woods we’d just walked through, I could see there was a gap in the hedge, needless to say curiosity got the better of me…

Oh dear! Really wish I hadn’t looked. I could see that about £4-5,000 (approx $7,000) worth of landscaping work had been carried out. Very good build quality, so the landscapers clearly knew what they were doing on the construction side but they didn’t know about design. It did not look good at all.

They Needn’t Have Wasted Their Money

If they had just spent a little bit of time thinking about the design shape first, they could have created an amazing looking garden for the same amount of money. Such a waste.

The main problem was the pond, pergola, path and focal point had been placed in the garden rather than designed into it. If you just add a pond, pergola or other feature rather than ‘designing’ them into the scheme, they tend to look like they’ve fallen out the sky and landed in your garden. They will never look like they belong there.

Design can be so SIMPLE, if you go about it the right way. That’s the part that really gets to me. So many people add ‘stuff’ to their garden rather than planning it properly. It’s so important to start with the overall shape of your lawn and patio areas BEFORE you add the features (you can do this retrospectively, if you’ve already added lots of features, it’s just a bit trickier to do).

My biggest wish for the upcoming year is to demonstrate just how easy it can be to transform a garden, without spending a fortune. So I’m planning on doing a lot more FREE stuff – particularly video tutorials and online garden design classes.

If you’d like to learn more about design, attend one of our FREE Fast Track Garden Design online classes…

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Garden Tour – Jardin Nazari, Spain

I’m currently residing in Spain and while I’m here, I’m taking the opportunity to visit the local gardens. So, I thought I’d share my tour with you virtually here. On Sunday, I visited Jardin Nazari in Velez de Benaudalla near Granada.

It’s an historic garden that was restored about three years ago. It is one of the last Nazarian gardens in Andalusia. So there is a lot of Islamic influence here, as in many gardens in this region of Spain.

Important Functions of the Garden

Gardens with an Islamic influence were designed to provide men and women with the five most important benefits of life:

  • The spiritual – a vision of paradise on earth
  • The aesthetic – it must stimulate the senses of sight, touch, smell, hearing to inspire us to be more artistic and create art
  • The psychological – to help us to relax, contemplate, observe, enjoy and rest
  • The botanical and scientific – to create a place for research (these gardens were chosen to grow new plants and spices brought from other continents).
  • The nutritional – the Nazari gardens grow fruit, vegetables and herbs.

Water is the strongest element, coursing through every part of the garden in a different way. At the top of the garden is a natural water cascade which gushes down into a channel that carries water to areas in the rest of the garden.

What I loved about this garden is the intrigue and imaginative blend of old and new materials. Cut travertine stone mixes perfectly with old stone walls and it looks fantastic. The garden isn’t large but the meandering paths that lead you down a narrow staircase that’s been carved out of the mountainside add lots of interest. You never know what is going to be around the next corner.

Once you get to the lower level, there are caves and grottos that are filled with ferns, moss and a cascade of water that’s very refreshing to walk under on a really hot day.

If you are driving to the garden from the coast, I recommend you take the old road to Granada (A346) – the scenery is absolutely stunning.



Any Gardens You Recommend?

I would love to know of gardens anywhere in the world that you think are worth going to visit. Please leave your comments below.

Next week, how to choose the right plants – some cunning tips to help you know which plants will grow in your garden and which won’t.

More photos of this garden can be seen on my Facebook page.

Planning to Design Your Own Garden?

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How to Make a Garden Great

Inspirational gardens can do more than just inspire, if you know what to look for they can show you how to make your own garden sensational.

I’m currently on a jolly around Spain and Portugal. I mean, I’m working very hard on your behalf, to find exceptional gardens that will inspire and help you improve your own garden.

What Makes Stunning Landscaping?

Mostly it’s shape. The shapes you create within the garden are the most important, not the actual shape of the garden. After that it comes down to subtle factors. Today, we’ll take a look at those more subtle elements that make the difference between OK and great gardens.

The above picture is of Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, a garden I discovered quite by accident whilst wandering around the beautiful city of Cordoba, Spain. I’m not usually drawn to formal garden styles but this one really did it for me. It took my breath away. There aren’t many gardens that I say that about, being a fussy designer.

What Makes This Garden So Hot (apart from the climate)?

What impressed me so much about this garden, wasn’t the obvious grandeur, the exuberant water features or the stunning setting. It was the use of sightlines and focal points. Everywhere you looked there was a stunning view. Every conceivable viewpoint had been thought about. I’ve never been in a garden before where every time I turned round there was something more amazing to look at with every view.

The design of this garden had been thought about, really thought about. This garden didn’t just happen, it was planned. Every time you reached the end of the path and looked to your left or right, there was another path with a view enticing you to go further into the garden. Turning around to view behind you was even more spectacular than walking down it in the first place.


So How Was This Achieved?

With very controlled sightlines. Every view was carefully orchestrated. The designer had complete control over what you saw and what you didn’t. It was impossible to see the entire garden in one go with the use of taller planting and hedges steering your view. This very clever organisation of space, with strategically placed features and focal points, made for a truly wondrous garden.

How Can You Transform Your Garden?

Think about how your garden is viewed from different locations. Which view do you see the most? Is it the view from your kitchen window perhaps? If so, what is it that you’re looking out to? Can you improve the view by the placement of a bench or statue? Then, when you get to that point in the garden, what is the view that you are looking back to?

Really think about how the garden is viewed from different locations. Then look at how you can improve each view by shaping it and placing a focal point to capture and hold attention. It doesn’t have to be a stature, a specimen plant like the one in the picture below can often do the trick.

Experience It Yourself!

Annoyingly I haven’t been able to do this garden anywhere near justice with my photography skills. It is spectacular in a way that will make your heart miss a beat, so I urge you to go and see it for yourself and experience the mastery of an exceptionally well planned garden.

Next Week It’s Plant Time

In the next blog post we will take a detailed look at what made the planting so effective in this garden. We’ll also discuss how you can create great planting schemes in your garden.

Attend one of our FREE Fast Track Garden Design online classes to learn more…

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How To Give Your Garden A Makeover This Autumn

How You Can Improve Your Garden Now

Gardens should be for sitting in and relaxing. That’s certainly my motto. A nice garden is one of the most relaxing places to be on a nice sunny day. But nice gardens don’t happen by accident, they need to be planned properly.

Now is the perfect time to start thinking about how you can improve your garden. Some people prefer to think about their garden only in the Spring. However, I think the perfect time to to be planning your garden is right now.

Now is when it’s fresh in your mind which bits of your garden worked and which bits didn’t. You’ve spent the summer using your garden, maintaining what is there and trying to get the best from it. Now is the time to make it fantastic for next summer, so all you have to do is sit back and relax in your favourite comfy chair.

Where To Start?

Grab a pen and paper and jot down your answers to the following questions:

  1. Which bits of your garden didn’t look good this year?
  2. Why didn’t those areas look good?
  3. What can you do now to improve it?

1 Which Bits Of Your Garden Didn’t Look Good?

It might be that there’s just a few gaps in your planting border that can be easily fixed by a trip to a local garden centre to see what is looking good now. If it’s more than just a lack of plants, then you need to take a look at the shape of your garden.

2 Why Didn’t Those Areas Look Good?

It all comes down to shape. Not the external shape of your garden, but the internal shapes you’ve created. The lawn and patio areas are the most critical to get right. The mistake most people make is to put things here and there in the garden, the lawn then becomes an odd shape to accommodate new features. It should be the other way round. The lawn and patio shapes should be the most important shapes to get right and the areas that are left to make the planting beds and areas that features can go.

3 What Can You Do Now To Improve Your Garden?

Reshaping your lawn so that it is a coherent shape will work absolute wonders for your garden. As simple as it is by just reshaping your lawn, it can bring amazing results. That’s assuming of course you get the right shape!

The Key To Success

Keep it simple. Simple geometric shapes work best, especially in small gardens. Larger gardens can lend themselves to free-flowing curved shapes, but even these need to work as a whole entity.

Attend one of our FREE Fast Track Garden Design online classes…

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