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!


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About Rachel Mathews

Professional international garden designer for over 20 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!


  1. love it!

  2. love it!

  3. Sofia (from Barcelona) says:

    Hi Rachel,
    What an amazing result! It doesn’t seem the same backyard! Great job!

    Best wishes,
    Sofia (from Barcelona)

  4. Thanks Iain! 🙂

  5. Dear Rachel

    WOW ! I just love the way you transform gardens ! Thank you for the befores and afters too, makes it
    come to life – and – a square garden too which I have been hoping would be on the menu.

    kind regards

  6. Irene Miller says:

    I have a 1 acre square plot with the house almost in the middle and I don't know where to start because it is so big. Any suggestions?

  7. Don't forget the big veggie patch somewhere!

  8. Irene Miller says:

    I'd like a veggie plot but our plot and Watership Down have little critters in common and in abundance.

  9. Hi Irene, sorry for delay in replying, FB doesn't notify me when I get comments on the blog for some reason!

    Anyway, I suspect your best bet would be to divide the areas off (even if you only do it mentally, rather than physically). That way you are not faced with a house stuck in the middle. Create a main garden area, an area for the veggies and then link the sides and front in to it.

    You can divide the space up with planting, hedges, trellis etc.

    Does that help?

  10. Irene Miller says:

    Great. Thanks Rachel

  11. Love the "swooping" quality of your design work. I've been more influenced by modernism and the order of geometry. It's nice to see the contrast.

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