Wow Factor Gardens Secrets

Creating a garden with the ‘Wow!’ Factor is easier than you think, if you follow 3 simple rules.

Modern garden

Garden Designed Rachel Mathews Photograph by N. Townley

The reason few people have a really fantastic garden is because the route to creating them is somewhat counterintuitive…

1. Keep It Simple!

Simple? But I want Wow! Factor, I hear you cry. How can Simple = Wow? Let’s have an example. Think about the most beautiful car you’ve ever seen, picture it in detail.

Now try and imagine that same car with a pyramid shaped bonnet, a flat roof and a ski slope shaped rear! How is it looking? Not quite so sleek, huh? Forgetting for a moment it’s completely impractical, you probably wouldn’t want to be seen driving around your neighbourhood in it.

In a nutshell, simple coherent shapes work the best. It doesn’t matter if it’s a car or the shape of your lawn, simple shapes make good design, which always tops overcomplicated.

2.  Use The Rule Of Three When Choosing  Materials

It can be easy to overcomplicate the choice of materials in the garden. As in our first example, too much creates a chaotic effect. If you stick to the simple rule of three, you won’t go wrong.

The three rule doesn’t apply to plants, but hard landscaping materials like paving, gravel and walls.

Just make sure that you don’t use any more than three different types of hard landscaping material. So, for example, if you have a patio, you can mix one type of paving with some gravel and incorporates bricks and it will look good. Start to add in tiles, cobbles and a wall using a different type of brick and you’ll have a hotchpotch which will look ugly.

Think of it like adding clothes to your body. Do you want to wear 10 different textured fabrics that don’t match, or have a coherent outfit using three or less fabrics?

3. Plants Are The Finishing Touch Not The Starting Point

Blasphemy, I know! This is often the hardest part for people to take on board. We all love plants. They are what makes the garden a garden, surely? Well, yes and no.

Creating a fantastic looking garden is a bit like baking a cake. The ingredients have to go in the right amount and most importantly, in the right order. Plants are the icing on the cake, they are not cake itself.

When you’ve created a beautiful but simple shape lawn and patio area, then it is time to add the plants (the decoration). Think about how effective it would be, if you added the icing sugar and cherries before the cake had baked. Can you imagine what a mess that would be?

Unfortunately, the same thing happens if you start out by trying to put the plants in before you have shaped the main areas of your garden.  Your lawn is likely to end up a random shape that doesn’t create interest or make the garden look and feel more spacious.

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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. Great info, as usual, Rachel! I especially appreciate the reminder of using 3 types of hardscaping materials. One is boring, 2 is unbalanced, and more than three is chaotic. 🙂

  2. Indeed great info. I would advise to choose for max 2 greenkeeping perentials, at least 1, max 2 kind of trees and 1 kind of wintergreen hedge/shrub.

  3. Thanks Jenny, it’s all too easy to create chaos instead of calm in the garden by doing too much!

    Good suggestions Hans, having winter interest is really important to consider when creating a garden.

  4. Well-said and nice examples! Even in large scale design, like streetscape plantings where hardscape is rarely designed, the forms and lines of the road create the architecture – the plants should emphasize those forms as viewed from a vehicle’s speed. I’ll have to think more on the 3 diff. hardscape materials, though.

    • Thanks David. I’d never thought about the tailoring the streetscape to work with the car’s speed, but it makes sense to do so.

      Just to clarify, the rule of three is more the maximum rather than a set amount to aim for. Sometimes one hard landscaping material, used well, is enough.

  5. Great Advice – Keep it Simple! So important

  6. Great info! I’ll keep this in mind as I work on my new landscape! Thanks!

  7. Very doable steps to keep in mind when landscaping. Back in Cypress, pergolas are part of the finishing touch and usually part of the highlight of a landscape.

  8. Alison Boocock says:

    Rachel, your advice is as always….simple, effective and excellent!

  9. We have a small back yard with a 2 metre retaking wall around one side making it seemed closed in I want to put a garden in at the moment it's just a bit of lawn and trees all round

  10. Sounds like you've got a bit of a challenge ahead of you Douglas – do send me a photo of your garden, if you'd like – you can upload it here:


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