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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Patio or Deck – Which is Best?

I’m often asked by clients if they would be better off with a patio or a deck for their garden. There isn’t a definitive answer as to which is better because it depends on your location, tastes and lifestyle needs. But there are pros and cons to each which will help you decide. Here are some of the main things to consider:

Patio Benefits

  • Easy maintenance (if you’ve chosen a good quality paving)
  • Wide variety of colours, shapes and textures
  • Paving looks good with a larger selection of property styles
  • Longevity (if you’ve chosen a good quality paving)

Patio Downsides

  • More intensive construction required underneath a patio, especially in areas with a lot of ground movement where reinforcement is needed
  • Environmental impact of using concrete
  • Cost

Deck Benefits

  • Quicker, easier construction, especially if raised above ground level
  • Natural looking material
  • Slightly cheaper depending on wood used

Deck Downsides

  • Maintenance (requires regular oiling if you want to keep its brown colour)
  • Longevity (more of an issue with untreated softwood decking)
  • Can be very slippery in winter

The 1st Consideration…

Whilst the above list does have valid issues to consider, the place I like to start with is the style and type of property someone has. If you live in the middle of rural England in a beautiful old house, decking probably isn’t going to be the best material to use as it won’t be in keeping with the house style.

However, if you live in the USA with a timber clad house, decking will look great with it. So think about the type of house you have first and foremost, before taking the things in the list above into account.

Next Step

You may well have the type of house that will suit either paving or decking. In this case, the next thing to consider is personal taste. Does one material draw you more than the other? For those of you muttering “No, that’s why I’m reading this, just tell me which one to choose already!” hang on, we’re getting there…

If that doesn’t narrow it down to a definitive “I want this one” answer, the next thing to look at is the style of garden that draws you. Are you more of a traditional or modern garden type of person?

What Garden Style Are You Trying to Create?

Do you like simple, clean lines or lots of interesting details and textures? If you want lots of detail and interesting features then paving will be a better choice for you. It’s much easier to create interesting patterns and different textures with paving than it is with decking.

If you like clean lines and minimal detail, then decking is great for this. Minimal detail can of course be achieved with one size of paving but because the individual paving slabs are much shorter than deck boards, paving will always look slightly ‘fussier’ than decking.

You can create more intricate patterns with paving and cleaner, simpler lines with decking

Have It All!

Photo credit N. Townley

If you really can’t make up your mind, another option is to just have both. A combination of  paving and decking looks great in modern gardens, the contrast is really effective.
I hope this article has helped you on the road to making a decision on which option to go for. We have just scratched the surface of the process, though.

It’s Important You Design Your Deck or Patio Properly…

There’s a lot more that goes into creating a great looking patio or deck than we’ve discussed here. The design shapes you use play an even more critical role than which materials you use. So it’s really important to spend a little bit of time deciding which shapes will suite your home and work with the rest of your garden.

If you’d like to learn exactly how to create a stunning patio or deck, then check out the online garden design courses we do here at Successful Garden Design.

Learn more, attend one of our FREE Fast Track Garden Design online classes…

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Does it take a carrot or a stick to produce a great garden?

Someone kindly(?) referred to this website as “porn for garden lovers.” As much as l laughed at that, it has made me think; are people just ogling and not actually doing? I want this to be a useful resource where you can come and get the tuition you need (move on from the porn analogy, if you haven’t already).

I thought if I did this website, offered free advice, people would get ideas and they would go off and make their garden* great. But it doesn’t seem like that’s happening.

Why Aren’t More People Designing Their Gardens?

Blog post tutorials are just too passive. As much as people are reporting they are loving this site and all the information provided, they are not going off and putting pencil to paper. The exception are the ones doing the online garden design course.

What’s The Key To Helping People Create Their Dream Garden?

There needs to be a big motivator. I’ve had an idea that could help provide this motivation. It came to me a couple of weeks ago, after I interviewed Anne Wareham for a new feature on inspirational gardens. She has created an amazing garden and isn’t a professional landscaper. So, if she and people like her have created great gardens by studying garden design, it shows what can be achieved when someone puts their mind to it. Trouble is, most people don’t do that.

Where Do You Start With Landscaping Your Garden?

One of the main reasons people don’t do anything with their garden is because they don’t know where to start and get overwhelmed. They don’t know if they should do it themselves or hire a designer. If they do it themselves, they might muck it up. But if they hire a designer, what happens if they don’t like what the designer comes up with? Either option could be an expensive mistake. So maybe a few plants get put in, or the garden just gets left, with a vow to do something one day.

A Perfect Solution?

I think having a ‘roadmap’ to follow would be a big help. One that shows you how to either work with a landscape professional successfully or point you in the right direction on what you need to know to be able to design the garden yourself. But that’s not all. So I’ve set up a course that will guide people through the process and they can show their finished results if they wish. See The Great Garden Formula Home Study Course page for more details.

What’s Your Excuse?

Whatever the reasons are for not having done something great with your garden, tell me what they are. I have a few ideas on what the roadblocks are, but I don’t know what your blocks are. Even if the blocks are something outside of what would be considered a garden problem; tell me.

And if you’d like to see the ‘roadmap’ I’ve created then do come and attend one of our FREE Fast Track Garden Design online classes…

Register on this page:

Why You Can Create a Better Garden Than a Designer

I admit that is a statement I was never expecting to make. I’ve been designing gardens professionally for the last eighteen years. It’s how I earn my living. I charge people a fee to convert their ideas and lifestyle aspirations into a beautiful garden. So, why after so many years in the business have I come to the conclusion you’d be better off doing it yourself?

Well, we are going to have to go back in time by the measure of two whole weeks to answer that question.

Two weeks ago I interviewed Anne Wareham to kick start a new monthly feature on Inspirational Gardens and the people behind them. I knew very little about Anne before the interview; turns out she’s not a trained garden designer. She’s self-taught from books and studying gardens intensely. That’s quite something when you look at what she’s achieved in her garden.

Are Garden Designers Really The Best Option?

Whilst researching for my interview with Anne, I came across an article by Tim Richardson, who writes for the Society of Garden Designers. He wrote a while back, that most of the iconic or outstanding contemporary gardens have not been created by professional garden designers. He commented that if he was a garden designer he would be somewhat miffed by that fact.

Upsetting News for Garden Designers?

No, I don’t see it that way. For me, it’s not a true comparison. It is like comparing a book to a film. No matter how good the film is, it is an abbreviated version. A filmmaker simply cannot fit every detail and nuance into a movie. Also, there is less room for your own interpretation. It’s all been laid out for you; the intimate co-creation that occurs between author and the reader is very hard, if not impossible to recreate in a film.

I feel the same is true between the difference someone can create in their own garden, with the necessary studying and time on their side, and calling in a garden designer. I’m not trying to do myself out of a job or knock my profession. It’s simply a case of time and practicality. A professional designer will see a client and garden they’ve never met before, for one or maybe two hours. In that time they have to assess the personality of both client and garden.

In that one brief experience, that single moment in time defines the designer’s entire experience of that garden. The designer will not have seen the transitions of the seasons. They are unlikely to have witnessed the play of light around the garden from dawn to dusk. They won’t have ‘lived’ that garden in the one or two hours they were there.

For me, designers offer a translation service for those who can’t and don’t want to speak the language of their garden. Considering the short amount of time we see the client and garden, I think designers do an amazing job. It’s no easy task to get inside another person’s mind and dig out their dream garden. Very few people are able to articulate exactly what they want. It takes a truly skilled designer to create a garden that not only ticks all the boxes for the client but delivers more than they ever thought possible.


I notice the difference between the book and the film. I feel that professional designs can have a somewhat precise and almost clinical nature to them. A flatness, if you will. They miss that spark of true magic that is created by someone that lives and breathes their garden. And add to the fact that gardens are not static objects; they mature and change over time. Try as a designer may, you can’t think of everything that might happen in a garden for the entirety of its existence with one plan, the garden needs to evolve over time.

Not Really Something Professional Garden Designers Want to Admit To

So, if the best gardens haven’t been done by designers, then my belief that homeowners are more than capable of doing their own garden, with the right training, is not only justified, if anything, I’ve underestimated what can be done by non-professionals. Think about the exciting possibilities that exist if people put their mind to consciously creating their gardens…

Should You Employ A Garden Designer?

Not everyone wishes to employ a garden designer, which is fine, but so few people actually do anything with their garden. And fewer still take the time to learn the principles of design to do it well. Why is that?

I have a few thoughts on why, and I think I have come up with a plan to help address the situation… FREE online garden design classes…

And if you’d like to attend one of our FREE Fast Track Garden Design online classes…

Register on this page:

How to build a courtyard garden [part 4]

In this video you will see the courtyard garden (design shown in how to design a courtyard garden video) being built.

This is the first stage of the courtyard garden construction.

The paving slabs will be laid in a couple of months time, so you will have to use your imagination a little bit (or watch the next video in the series, see below for details). The rendered wall planters are built, so you will still get a good idea of the garden design layout.

You can also view this courtyard garden landscaping video along with many more on the Successful Garden Design YouTube Channel.

The earth moves!

Building a courtyard garden in this part of Spain is tricky because the area is subject to a lot of ground movement, the concrete is reinforced with metal to help prevent cracking. A plastic mesh is also worked into the wall rendering for the same reason.

The paving slabs will bring the ground level up approx 10cm (4″) higher, which will make the wall planters a look lower. The garden should be completed at Easter time. I will do a follow up video when the garden is finished. The paving, water feature and plants will make an enormous difference to the finished garden, I can’t wait to see it done!

Garden Update

You don’t have to wait to see how the courtyard garden turned out, you can see it on the courtyard garden design update page. The update video will show you how the garden looked after six and eighteen months.

Time to plan your own garden?

As now is a really good time to be planning the garden, the next 3 blog posts will be galleries of completed gardens. These will hopefully give you plenty of good ideas to put into your own garden design.

If you’d like  a step-by-step instructions on how to create a beautiful garden, visit our garden design courses’ page. 

And if you’d like to 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+
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