A while ago we looked at why it is so important you plan your garden before it’s built. But there is one thing that is crucial to get right before you even get to the planning stage. The dreaded garden survey!

Why do so many people avoid this part? Well tapemeasureaphobia is usually to blame for that. But there is another factor. Let’s be honest, striding round your garden, getting tangled up with a tape measure and genuinely looking like you’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards is not one of the most fun things you could do with your free time. BUT it’s really important you get your garden plan to the right size and scale before you design it.

Here’s Why (and an exclusive on how the fashion trend ‘sagging’ actually started!)

I want you to imagine you’ve never bought clothes before and you go into a department store to get an outfit. You see some clothes you like, grab enough for your outfit, pay for it and leave.

When you get home, you try on the top you’ve purchased. It’s a bit big but it more or less fits, not wonderfully, but it will do. Then you come to try on the trousers and find that you’ve inadvertently got them with legs far too short for your legs.

You now have a problem to solve. You’ve got this far and are determined you can get things to work – there is no way you are going to measure yourself and go back to the shop and admit you’ve got the size all wrong; you’re an inventive and determined person and you WILL get this to work out if it’s the last thing you do!

You’re Smart, You Can Find a Way to Get This to Work, Right?

So the legs of your trousers are far too short – you don’t have any spare material so the only solution you can see is to pull the trousers down lower, so they are sagging and the bad fit should more or less be covered up by the slightly big top. Can you picture just how bad that would look (and feel)? Other than quite a current fashion trend, does this sound like complete craziness to you? It will, if you are over the age of 25!

What on Earth Does This Have to do With Gardens?

Now back to gardens, the exact same crazy thing can happen. And very easily, if you haven’t measured your garden correctly or at all. You’ve spent time working out your design on paper, you’re happy it looks lovely, off you go to buy everything you need. Then, when you come to build it, nothing quite fits or looks right – the area is either bigger, smaller or a completely different shape to what you thought it was…. and you’ve got all this stuff you’ve had trucked to your home. Are you going to face the embarrassment of going back to the builder’s merchant and being called ‘Luv’, ‘Dear’ or ‘Mate’ again and admit you’ve botched things up?! I’m guessing, not.

Just in the same way the poorly fitting trousers didn’t produce quite the look you were planning for your outfit, having to totally change your garden design to make everything fit also has equally disastrous consequences. Nothing fits as it should and making adjustments makes the proportion and flow not work well. It won’t ever look as good as it should, or, worse, it’ll look awful.

The mistake with the clothes is pretty minor in the scheme of things – you don’t have to wear them EVERY day, they are relatively cheap to replace and very easy to rectify. Unlike the time and money you spent on the garden. That’s not nearly so easy to get right once it’s gone wrong. And if you’ve spent a lot of time and money on it,  you may be looking at it for a VERY long time…

Moral of The Story

Don’t make the mistakes of a teenager and dress your garden like one! Measure your back yard before you design it.

Spending time getting to know your outside space intimately with a tape measure doesn’t seem quite so bad now does it? If you have no idea how to measure your back garden then head on over to the free garden video tutorials on measuring and how to draw up your plan to scale. Or if you’d prefer to be guided through the entire process with both video and written instructions, take a look at the Garden Survey Mini-Course.

If you would like the Successful Garden Design cheat sheet and video on how to add the WOW factor to your garden please add your email address below (don’t worry we don’t spam and will NOT pass on your address to anyone else!).



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!

    12 replies to "Is your garden a ‘Sagger’?"

    • Scott Hokunson

      Hi Rachel, great analogy! Hope your readers will follow your advise and not end up with “low riders”!

    • Nicky Patterson

      I agree – very good analogy – not sure I would regard being over 25 as being out of fashion though (I’m only 27)!!

      These are great articles Rachel and I’m going to share them with my Facebook fans!!

    • […] You’ve got this far and are determined you can get things to work – there is no way … work trousers – Google Blog Search Share and […]

    • Rachel Mathews

      Hi Scott – let’s hope not!

      Nicky, thank you, Facebook fans are wonderful to have – I’ve finally come round to being on FB myself!

      I’m sure your fashion sense is still right on trend – can’t quite picture you as a Sagger though! ;o)

    • SusanJ

      Just the cringing over how much I dislike the look of “saggers” is getting me in the mindset to get my tape measure out this weekend and start a rough drawing BEFORE my plans get away from me.

      Thanks Rachel!
      .-= SusanJ´s last blog ..The Curse of “You should know better” =-.

    • Sherice Jacob

      Plants on the ground…plants on the ground… lookin’ like a fool with your plants on the ground. 🙂 Seriously though, this is a great reminder to measure twice and cut once!
      .-= Sherice Jacob´s last blog ..The Three Secret Ingredients of Successful Websites =-.

    • Anne Wareham

      Isn’t there something to be said for working it out on the ground, not on paper?

      Due to hills, size and angles that’s what I did and I’d like to think people realised it’s a viable option.

      XXXXX Anne

      • Rachel Mathews

        Hi Anne,

        Good to see you here again! I recommend a combination of both for that type of situation. Having an overall idea of what you want to achieve down on paper makes it easier to experiment with, rather than trying out concepts on the ground, especially in large spaces. Having said that, the nuances and subtle effects that undulations can create are tricky to capture purely on paper unless you have a really detailed professional survey done.

        Sketching out your ideas then setting them out so you can see how they work within the landscape is usually quicker and easier in the long run, unless you really don’t feel comfortable working on paper. I think it’s worth giving planning on paper a go because you can often see things looking down on an area that aren’t always obvious to you on the ground. But really it’s whatever method works for you, the vital part is planning in the first place rather than popping in a few plants and features and hoping for the best!

        • Anne Wareham

          You right about mix.I did do diagrams for the formal flat bits – very detailed in the case of the reflecting pool!
          But overall I swear by marking out on the ground, and looking…..looking…looking….and taking time, the amateur garden designer’s great luxury!
          Happy New Year! XXXXXX

          • Rachel Mathews

            Well that method has certainly worked very well for you (take a look at https://veddw.com/ and you can see Anne’s wonderful garden for yourself) – not sure I would class you as an amateur Anne! 😉

            You are right though, not rushing and taking the time assess what you want to do before you build it is a really good idea. When we build gardens for clients we spray paint out the whole design so people can live with it for a few days before we build it – no going back once the concrete has set!

            Happy New Year to you too!

            R x

    • Laura Jasińska

      My english not good, but I couldn’t resist commenting, Many thanks a whole lot for sharing! Good job

      • Rachel Mathews

        Thank you Laura – you are very welcome, thank you for taking the time to comment 🙂

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