The ‘Some Stuff’ Garden

The ‘Some Stuff’ Garden

The good news is this is probably the easiest garden to design. You might think the ‘blank canvas’ garden would be because it’s empty but that can often be a daunting task. Because your garden has some structure in it, you’ve got a place to start from.

But, having said that, there is something that may really trip you up…

Is This You?

If you have any of the following thoughts bouncing around in your mind: “I don’t need to design my whole garden, I just have this one area that needs doing.” Or “If I could just do something interesting with that corner” (if you don’t have those thoughts skip straight along to the action steps below).

Now back to you with ‘areas’ of concern in your garden. I’ll let you into a little secret – that ‘little area’ or ‘corner’ that you think is the problem, isn’t. I can pretty much guarantee that when you’ve ‘fixed’ it with adding a feature or some plants that you’ll immediately come across another ‘little area’ or corner that needs ‘doing’ and your garden still won’t look the way you’d hoped.

In order for a garden to look really good, it has to be done in a way that brings the entire garden together, rather than a series of unrelated, random, garden features. I’ll explain more and give you an example in step 4. But before we get there, you’ll need to do the following:

Step 1

First, write a list of what you want. If you don’t know, look at books and pictures for inspiration or check out the garden ideas gallery.

Map out your garden onto a bit of paper (preferably to scale) – if you want to know how to do this there are some free video tutorials here:

If the thought of putting pencil to paper sounds scary, let me assure that it’s nowhere near as difficult as you might imagine. It really is an important step though. On paper, you can see what’s working and what isn’t and change it much more easily than trying to do it all in the garden. You’ll get a much, much better design for your garden if you start it on paper.

You don’t need to be able to visualise, draw well or any of the other things that people list as to reasons they ‘can’t do it’. If you can draw an approximation of a circle or a square, you’re good to go.

The ‘hardest’ part of the whole thing is probably the measuring (and it’s not  hard!). So, if you have an awkward site or a change in levels, then the garden survey mini-course will show you how to tackle these as well as how to draw a scale plan (vital if you want everything to fit when you or someone else builds the garden).

Step 2

Answer these questions:

Assuming you already have a patio or deck area, is the existing one in the right place for your sun or shade requirements? If it’s not, would having a second, smaller seating area somewhere else in the garden be a nice idea? If yes, where’s the best location for it?

Step 3

Now you’ve worked out the best places to sit, what other features are on your wish list? On your base plan (which I suggest you photocopy a few times before you start sketching) draw some bubbles to represent roughly where you want to put things like ponds, pergolas etc.

This will give you an idea of where everything should go. Now, it’s onto the next step.

Step 4

Create a coherent design shape to bring the whole garden together. If you look at your current garden, it’s probably a series of unrelated elements like patio, shed, plant areas etc. You need to visually join up the dots, so to speak.

You need to get the right design shapes in place to enhance your garden and make the best use of the available space. If you have a long, narrow garden, you need to make it look wider than it really is. Or if your garden is small, you need to make it look visually longer than it really is and create more interest and feelings of space. Getting this right will dramatically improve your garden and help it look good all year round, not just when plants are flowering.

Getting the right design shapes that link your garden together properly, make a tremendous difference – see pictures below.

Look at the difference a ‘shaped’ lawn and patio make

Step 5

There are several ways to achieve the right design for your garden, location and lifestyle needs. Now go to the overview on the Garden Design Options page I’ve put together for you and download the free guide at the bottom of the page which shows which steps to take next.GOTONEXTPAGE


  1. My garden needs restructuring and it’s rectangular, is it better to keep it rectangular or is there a way to make it more circular? It is also small

    • Rachel Mathews says:

      You don’t have to keep the main shapes rectangular unless you want to. Circles can look really good in small gardens, in fact they can help make them look larger. It will all depend on the exact dimensions – sometimes an oval shape fits better than a full circle but will look as effective as a circle. You could also try having 2 interlocking circles which works well if there is room.

      The best advice I can give you is to measure your garden and draw it out onto paper and experiment with different size circles and ovals and then you’ll be able to see what works best. If you need any help or extra advice once you’ve done this take a look at the Design Clinic page

  2. We would love some advice as to where to start with our new garden. We have had an extension built and it has eaten into our patio area.
    The garden is sloping towards the house and there is a low retaining wall about 1 ft away from the newly extended kitchen.
    Any ideas would be great.


  3. The problem I have is the front yard. I don’t want it to be so very different than the other yards but I do want it to be appealing.

    I have a maple tree in the middle and right in the middle and close to the front of the house is a tall cedar. So far I have various planst like lilies down from it. My front door is on the side.

    What to do?????

    • Hi Pat, A simple design shape like an oval or circular lawn with planting around it wouldn’t be too over designed, it’s simple, yet effective. Have you signed up to the FREE online garden design workshop that’s happening this weekend? Although I demonstrate on a back garden, it should still hopefully help you with the front as the principles are the same. You can view the demonstration here:

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