Creating a Site Plan for Your Garden

There are several different types of plans, but before creating your final design, you need to draw up a site plan, which shows the basic measurements in your garden, as well as the position, shape and size of elements you intend to keep.

From: DK Books - Garden Design

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Getting Started

The idea of creating a site plan can be a bit daunting if you haven’t put one together before, but most plans are easy to produce, espe-cially if you have a small- to medium-size, fairly regularly shaped garden with straightforward topography. However, if you have a large, irregularly shaped or hilly plot, or even one that is very over-grown, it may be wise to employ a land surveyor.

When drawing up a site plan for your plot, first take a pencil and sketch pad (letter-sized paper is best) out into the garden and study the boundary and position of any elements you plan to keep, such as outbuildings, hard landscaping, and planting. It is also important to take note of the position of your house, including the doors and windows—not only because their location will directly affect your ideas and design, but also because your house is one of the best points from which to measure other features, such as trees, sheds, and so on.

Now, roughly sketch the outline of the garden and the position of the relevant elements within it. Refine your sketch until it is clear enough to mark up with measurements. Then start measuring up. Even if you are only planning minimal changes to your plot, it is worth taking a few basic measurements, such as the length and width of the boundaries, to give you a sense of scale for new features, such as flower beds or a water feature. Whatever the size and shape of your garden, you will also find it easier with the help of a family member, friend, or neighbor. Take measurements in centimeters, rather than feet and inches, as the metric system makes it simpler to convert sizes to create a scale plan.

Measuring a Rectangular-Shaped Pot

Rectangular and square gardens are the easiest to measure. Ask your assistant to help you measure all four sides of the garden with a long tape measure, and add the measurements to the corresponding boundaries on your sketch. Then measure the length of the garden’s two diagonals and mark them up on your sketch, too. To measure the position of features, use a giant tri-square and measure, at right angles to the house, the distance to the feature or plant you want to keep. Do the same from a boundary.

Essential Equipment
To measure up accurately you need the right equipment; most items are available from home improvement stores.
- level
- small tape measure
- medium tape measure
- extra-long tape measure
- eiant tri-square (a large set square)
- pegs and string
- sketch pad

Site Plans for Rectangular Plots

When you have decided which scale you are going to use, convert your measurements accordingly. For large- or medium-sized plots you may want to create more than one plan for different areas, or use different scales to focus on a planting bed or similar feature that requires more detail. When drawing up your plan, use a large pad of graph or grid paper; you can use plain paper and a measuring triangle, but it is more difficult and the results may not be as accurate. Then, using a sharp pencil and ruler, plot the mea-surements on the paper and draw out your scale plan. You can then go over the pencil lines in pen.

grid or graph paper, or plain paper
measuring triangle?
scale rule and/or clear plastic ruler
pencil and pens


1. Start in the bottom left-hand corner of your page. Draw the wall or walls of your house—including the positions and dimensions of the doors and windows (Image 1).

2. To draw in the boundaries, mark the length and width on the plan, and add the diagonals. Diagonals show if the plot is a perfect square or rectangle, or slightly off (Image 2).

3. Use the measurements you took from the house and the boundaries with a tri-square to add trees and major planting—don’t forget to include their canopies (Image 3).

4. Lastly, plot all other features. Carefully draw on sheds, patios, pools, paths, and outbuildings, if you are planning to keep them (Image 4).

Measuring Gradients

This method is only suitable for small inclines. It is useful if you want a couple of steps or terraced flower bed and need to calculate the required heights. For more complex works or difficult sites, employ a land surveyor.

1 length of wood just over 3 feet long
level and tape measure
2 or 3 wooden pegs


1. From a specified point on the slope, measure 3 feet down the hill, and hammer in a peg. Check it is vertical using a level.

2. Lay the wood from the soil surface at your original point to the top of the peg, and use a level to check it is horizontal. Measure the height of the peg.

3. Then, 3 feet further down the slope, hammer in a second peg, as before. Lay the wood from the bottom of the first peg to the top of the second.

4. Measure the height of the second peg. Repeat these steps as necessary until you reach the bottom of the slope. Next, calculate the "fall" or drop.

5. To do this, add up the heights of all the pegs. Here the calculation would be: 14 inches + 20 inches + 8 inches = 42 inches over 9 feet.

Employing a Surveyor

You may wish to employ a land surveyor to produce a site plan for you if you have a difficult site. Surveyors can be found in the Yellow Pages or search the Internet. Land surveyors must be licensed by an approved in-stitution, so it is best to check that the person you employ is a member of the appropriate organization.

The cost of employing a land surveyor will depend on the size and complexity of your plot, and may vary depending on where you live. This fee will pay for a topographical survey, but a cross-section may be more. Not all land surveyors are used to surveying gardens, so explain your needs carefully to ensure you employ the right professional for the job.

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