How to Create a Design Plan for Small Gardens

Step-by-step tips for planning and implementing your small space landscape design.

From: DK Books - Small Garden
Garden Beds Overflow One Year After Planting

Garden Beds Overflow One Year After Planting

©2009, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2009, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Materials Needed

  • Pen or Pencil
  • Eraser
  • Sketch Pad
  • Tracing Paper
  • Ruler and Tape Measure

Step 1: Assess the Garden Site

Look carefully at your site, ask yourself plenty of questions, and note any problems. For instance, is it overshadowed by neighboring buildings or a tall tree? Which areas, if any, get the sun? Are there any eyesores you would like to disguise? Then ask yourself how you want to use the space. Do you enjoy gardening and want to devote most of the space to plants? Or do you want an area that requires minimal maintenance? Would you like to be able to use the space for parties, or do you need a play area for children?

Step 2: Measure

First, draw an outline sketch of the site on which to note your measurements. Then measure across the width of the house wall facing the garden, including any adjacent structures, and then measure the length of your site at an angle of 90 degrees from each side of this. If the far end of the site is narrower than the house, measure back to the house from each end of the boundary facing it. Make a note of the dimensions of permanent features (such as trees or a pool) and their distance from the house and boundaries, and the height of the doors and windows and their distance from one another and the boundaries. As well as brandishing your measuring tape, make notes to yourself, preferably throughout the day and evening, to establish just what is sunny and shady—in short, the direction of north and south.

Step 3: Draw a Scale Plan

Draw Up Plan for Garden Design

Draw Up Plan for Garden Design

©2009, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2009, Dorling Kindersley Limited

The next stage is to draw up an accurate scaled plan of your garden. Use a scale of 1:50 (one unit of measurement on your plan for every 50 in your garden), or 1:25, whichever fits on your size of paper. Using the measurements you have taken, draw in the boundaries and the exact position of any existing features (such as steps or areas of planting) you intend to keep. Scaled rules are widely available and will speed up this process.

Step 4: Make a Grid

Devise Grid to Evolve Garden Design

Devise Grid to Evolve Garden Design

©2009, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2009, Dorling Kindersley Limited

You can now devise a grid that will make any pattern you choose to fit into it suit the proportions of your home and its garden space. On tracing paper (so that you can overlay your scaled plan and compare different patterns), draw up a series of squares that relate in size to the dimension of a permanent feature of the house or in the garden—the width of a door or height of a window, or the width of a step, for instance. You will get leftover bits along the bottom of your grid, but this doesn’t matter. If you now halve your basic grid in both directions, you have made your own graph paper, as it were, suited to your particular site.

Step 5: Create a Pattern

Collage Plan Used to Help Design Garden Space

Collage Plan Used to Help Design Garden Space

©2009, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2009, Dorling Kindersley Limited

The next stage is to evolve a pattern using your grid, and pieces of paper that relate in size to the grid squares. For example, some pieces of paper can be half the size, some the same size, and some double the size of the grid squares. Use the squares to create a pattern on your grid, rather like a collage. Whatever the pattern you create, it will have a proportional relationship back to the house or boundary. Try the squares at right angles to the house or at 45 degrees to it, or a combination of the two. If you want a garden pattern on the oblique (and this is a good way of breaking up the boxiness of a small garden), turn all the cut shapes at an angle of 45 degrees. In a small space, any angle smaller than 45 degrees or larger than 90 degrees is likely to create awkwardly shaped areas that will prove difficult to deal with as an element of the garden, be it pavement, planting area, water, or whatever. Some people consider straight lines to be unsympathetic, and would prefer to use curves, but bear in mind that if the proportions are correct and the area is well planted, the straight lines will be softened by vegetation. If you want curved structures, substitute circles cut out so that their diameters equal the length of one of the sides of your grid squares, or a fraction or multiple of it. When designing a garden enclosed by walls (as many small-space gardens are), it is all too easy to be tempted to use the boundary walls as a starting point, running a raised bed all the way around them, for instance, only to emphasize the garden’s shortcomings. By using the collage method, you will avoid this temptation, since your shapes will relate to the house and one another. 

Step 6: Realize Your Design

Once you have a design that you find visually pleasing and that seems broadly to fulfill your practical requirements, start to knock it into shape by defining exactly what form each area will take in reality. What is to be the main feature of the garden, which areas should be paved and what materials should be used for the paving and any new walls?

Step 7: Add Plants

Planting Plan for New Garden Design

Planting Plan for New Garden Design

©2009, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2009, Dorling Kindersley Limited

This blueprint shows a planting plan for a new garden design.

The styling of the plant material and its overall shape, color, and texture should relate to the style, shape, color and texture of the garden’s structure and the interior of any rooms that adjoin the garden. 

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