Changing a ‘nice enough’ garden that isn’t nice enough!


A ‘nice enough’ garden, but could it be made better?

A few years back, a friend of mine asked me to redesign the garden of a house she’d just bought. I was happy to help as I could see there was lots of room for improvement.

Her family were all keen gardeners, and by the look on their faces, they were somewhat aghast at her getting a garden designer in! The garden was perfectly ‘nice enough’ as it was, surely? It only needed a few extra plants and it would be great. Getting the whole garden redesigned was unnecessary and might ruin it!

I can only imagine what horrors were running through their minds of what a designer might do…

A very common problem

If you have a garden that is already quite nice, the concern is often that you might ruin what you have now. One thing I can absolutely promise you, is that a good design will never ruin what you’ve got, it will only improve it.

The average garden can and should be so much more than average. So please don’t settle for the average boring and bland backyard!

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to create great looking garden

Really, you don’t. Of course, you can spend a lot of money if you want to, but you actually don’t have to. The trick to creating an amazing looking garden is all down to how you arrange the space. That basically is what shape lawn/patio area you put in. If you already have a patio down, then it’s just the shape of your lawn that will need to change.

Just reshaping your lawn to get a lovely looking garden might sound far too good to be true, but it really is the key to creating a great looking garden. The reason it is so powerful is because you are controlling the shapes within your garden.With the right shapes you can make a garden look larger and more interesting.


Most people do it the other way round. They add the plants and then the space that is left is an odd shape lawn. By doing it in reverse and choosing the correct shape lawn first, the areas that are left are where the plants go. It will also help prevent you from having a random lawn shape that is disjointed and doesn’t help the garden to flow visually.

A ‘nice enough’ garden case study

The key to transforming my friend’s garden came down to getting (you guessed it) the right shape lawn in!  A very simple oval shaped lawn with a brick edge surrounding it was the basis for the entire garden. The old concrete patio was dug up and replaced with natural stone paving laid in a random bond style (lots of different sizes mixed together).

The sizes of the paving was quite small to make the space look larger, and the different sizes works well with the modern cottage garden style that we were aiming for to match the house and owner’s tastes. The same paving is also used in the raised patio at the far end of the garden.

A timber planting rail, to match the neighbours fence, was added to the top patio, making it more enclosed and creating an interesting area at the end of the garden.


Design does make the difference

If we had just added more plants in the garden, it really wouldn’t have looked much different. My friend loved the new look to her garden and thankfully, so did all her family. Phew! It would have been rather awkward if they hadn’t!Oval-Garden-mature1

Need more help?

If you’d like to learn more about exactly how you can transform your garden, then check out the online garden design courses I run here at Successful Garden Design.

I particularly recommend signing up for our FREE web class… 

Learn how to design your garden – Attend one of our FREE Fast Track Garden Design online classes…

Register on this page:

Small Garden Re-design – Case Study

Small gardens do not have to be dull and boring. You’d be surprised just how much you can do in a small space garden.

Small-paved-garden1So let’s now take a look at a small garden case study and walk you through the design steps.

Step 1 – With any small space garden, the 1st thing you need to do is decide if you want to have a lawn or not.

Lawns are fairly inexpensive in the scheme of things, but they are not always practical in a small space garden. Ask yourself is it really worth getting out the lawnmower for such a tiny area?

If you’re someone who would prefer to look out onto something green rather than paving or gravel, then you could consider having an artificial lawn. There are pros and cons to them. They’re certainly not maintenance free, but there’s less work involved in them than with a traditional lawn.

Step 2 – The next thing you need to do is to try and make the space look larger.

This can be achieved with the design shapes you put in the areas of empty space (your lawn, patio or deck areas).

Step 3 – Choose your materials really carefully.

In small gardens if you use larger paving materials it will make the area seem smaller. If you pick smaller sizes of paving, the reverse is true. Your eyes will see a larger quantity and this tricks the mind into assuming that the area is larger than it really is.

You can see as the planting matures, it spills out over onto the paving more, which softens the hard edges and makes the paving more appealing.


Need help with your small space garden?

SmallGardenDesign1If you’d like to learn more about the exact steps involved with making a small garden look larger and more interesting, then take a look at the Small Garden Formula. It’s an online course packed full of ideas, plans, examples and a step-by-step formula to follow that will make your small space garden look stunning.



Comments or questions?

Leave them in the box below!

Transforming a bland garden – Case study

So, just how do you go about transforming a boring and bland garden into something that is beautiful, eye-catching and won’t blow your budget?

CIRCLE-GARDEN-beforeStep 1 Take a good look at the overall shape of your garden.

Is your garden long and narrow in shape? Perhaps it is wider than longer? Or maybe it is a square shape? Maybe, none of those and you have a really odd and awkward shape garden?

If your garden is long and narrow you need to use shapes that make it look wider (lawn and patio shapes are the critical ones to get right here). If it’s a wide garden you need shapes to make it look longer. If your garden is square, you need to use shapes that create interest and draw the eye around it. And if you have a really odd shaped garden, you need design shapes to take your eyes away from the awkward angles.

Step 2 Apply the right shape of lawn, patio or deck to suit your shape of garden that creates interest and makes best use of the space.

I will cover how to do different shape gardens in upcoming blog posts. Today though, we’re going to focus our efforts on how to tackle a square shaped garden. If you can’t wait for future blog posts in this case study series, and you have a long narrow garden you desperately want to transform, then head over to the free LONG garden web class.

Step 3 Once you have your main shapes organised, then choose a focal point that leads the eyes around the garden and creates additional interest.

Focal points can be anything from a nice statue to a bench or urn. You can even use showy plant varieties as a focal point. A plant like a Japanese Maple with deep burgundy coloured foliage makes a great focal point.

So, let’s now break down those three main steps by looking at a case study.

Square garden case study

Now, although this garden isn’t a perfect square, it’s close enough for demonstration purposes.

The main problem with it was the existing block paving patio was very boring. There was no nice mixture of paving or nice shape to it. Also, the path that led straight to the garage was at a bit of an odd angle and didn’t do the garden any favours visually. In other words, there was no real design shape to the garden.

The first job was to disguise the shape of the relatively new patio and lead the eyes away from the straight lines and bland paving. This was done by the use of a large oval, brick-edged lawn and curved shaped water feature area. A big sweeping curved gravel and stepping stone path replaced the old paver path to the garage, making much better use of the shape whilst still being practical.




If you compare the garden before to the after picture below, you can see just how much difference correctly shaping the lawn can make. The factors like the planting, water feature and pergola obviously play an important role, but the key is getting the lawn shape right BEFORE adding all those other goodies!


Need more help?

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

Register on this page:

Wide garden design – Case study

wide garden

Wide garden before design

If your garden is wider than it is long, then you need to put a bit more thought in to how you plan it. The problem with wide gardens is their lack of depth, it makes the garden feel confined because the end of the garden is so close.

This is true even if the garden is quite sizeable. You might have a lot of physical space in the garden, but if it’s pointing in the wrong direction i.e. widthways and not lengthways, then visually it will make the garden feel much smaller than it really is.

So how do you design a wide garden?

Step 1 Divide the space of the garden into different areas.

The division doesn’t have to be a wall or fence, it can be very subtle with planting or a pergola. By dividing the space up, it will make each area look longer. So in effect, each end of the house has its own garden.

Now depending on just how wide your garden is, you can divide it into two or perhaps three areas.

Step 2 Choose shapes that will make each of your divisions look longer.

So, for example, using either an oval or rectangular shape in each of the sections of your garden for the lawn, will make that area look longer, because your eyes will follow the length of shape. You can also use interlocking circles or boxes. If you have enough space, then you can consider using the free form flowing curves. However, it is advisable to start off with simple geometric shapes, just to get an idea of the feel of the space.

Step 3 Create interest by having focal points that draw your eye down the garden.

By having strategically placed focal points like a statue, urn, or bench/seating area, your eyes will automatically be drawn to the solid object in between the planting. Adding a focal point to look at occupies your mind with more visual information and that always helps distract your brain from the true shape of the garden.

Case study wide garden


In our wide garden case study example you can see that owner had had a really good go at designing the garden herself. She had put in one nice size lawn shape, and had a good ratio of plants to space. However, the shape she had used for the lawn accentuated the width and made the garden feel shorter, rather than longer.



This transformation could be easily done on the limited budget that was available for this garden. It really is amazing just how much difference getting the correct shape lawn can make to a garden. I know it’s totally counterintuitive, you want to think of your garden as putting things in, like patios and plants, but it really is down to how you shape the areas of empty space. That’s what really makes a difference!

Many thanks to Gillian for so willingly allowing me to use her garden plan as a case study example.

Did you find this case study helpful?

Please leave your comments in the boxes below!

Would you like us to show you how to design your garden?

If you’d like to learn more about exactly how you can DIY transform your garden, then check out our brand new course on WIDE, SQUARE & AWKWARD shape gardens! Discounted price until the end of May!WideBOXcov

Not ready for a course yet? Then attend one of our FREE Fast Track Garden Design online classes…

Register on this page:

Gardens that disappoint – the Chelsea Flower Show

Have you been watching the coverage of the world’s greatest gardens, the Chelsea Flower Show in London? What do you think of the gardens this year?

Chelsea Flower Show Display Garden from a few years ago...

Chelsea Flower Show Display Garden from a few years ago…

I hate to admit it, but I’m really not enjoying the gardens. In fact, if I’m really honest, I haven’t for a few years now…

After watching the garden coverage on TV, I think I’ve turned into a ‘grumpy old woman’ (though that might be the result of a recent significant-ish birthday). If my grumpiness isn’t a result of the ‘0’, then is it because we are getting the same old gardens repackaged at Chelsea each year, but with slightly different gimmicks?

The Chelsea Flower Show used to be the highlight of my year. I’d go down to London, full of excitement, with an armful of cameras and film, fight my way through the crowds and walk round in awe at the amazing and inspiring gardens. Now I’m sitting in front of the TV, yawning or muttering, “They did that garden three years ago. That one is a re-hash of so and so’s garden and why on earth did they do that!”

What’s the problem?

Is it age that’s making me fed up with all the gimmicks and metaphors that designers seem to be spouting on about, or have the gardens lost their true essence these days? Has anyone designed a Chelsea garden this year for no other reason than to create a stunning garden to inspire people?

I feel when designers are focusing too much on the concepts and trying to add things they wouldn’t normally, for the sake of their theme, the gardens lose something as a result.

Bad design examples

What’s really making me grumpy is seeing gardens that don’t flow and work as a garden that well. I’m seeing designs that are nothing more than a series of unrelated features. They don’t utilise the space well. Some shapes even make the garden look narrow and awkward. And don’t get me started on the practicalities of actually mowing those odd shaped lawns!

Now, in fairness, I haven’t yet seen all of the main gardens on TV yet, so I am really hoping that there will be a garden that’s well designed, so I can say “Wow, I want to design a garden like that!”

I know how incredibly hard everyone involved with the show works. It’s no mean feat getting a garden built to the high specifications, deadlines and pressure that goes with the world’s greatest garden show. I just want to see less gimmicks and metaphors (when did a garden EVER need a metaphor) and more inspiring design.

I want REAL gardens.

Perhaps then, Chelsea isn’t the place for that. It is a show after all.


What do you think about this year’s Chelsea Flower Show?

Hopefully, it is just me that’s feeling jaded with the Chelsea this year. I hope that other people are feeling inspired. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below…

Do you need help with your Garden (with no gimmicks)?

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

Register on this page:

Every business has got to have one these days, so here it is - Disclaimer: Please note, the information contained on this website is for educational purposes only. Every attempt has been made to provide accurate, up-to-date, reliable, and complete information. No warranties of any kind are expressed or implied. Readers acknowledge that the author is not engaging in rendering professional advice. By reading this website, the reader agrees that under no circumstances is the author responsible for any losses, direct or indirect, that are incurred as a result of use of the information contained within this website or related downloads, accompanying videos, or other supplementary materials. This includes but is not limited to errors, omissions, or inaccuracies. The material contained on this website is not meant to be a substitute for formal training nor a replacement for professional training or services. Please note some of the links on the site go to affiliate websites where a small commission is earned if you purchase. Please do your due diligence on all linked to products before buying.   Find Rachel on Google+
Google+ Google