Landscaping: tips for garden design and layout

Torben Schröder

Planning and designing a garden: this can be a challenging task, especially for a newly built property. This is because there are no guidelines from previous residents to follow. Countless questions come to mind: how big should the garden be? What shape? Where should the patio be located? What about the flowerbeds? Should I choose a particular style? Prudence and thoroughness are crucial in order to plan and implement everything properly right from the start. We give you advice on planning, preparation and specific ideas for garden design.

View of the back of a house and its garden.
© Getty Images / Stephan Zabel

In this article

Plan your garden

Garden planning starts in your head. Think about what’s important to you, look for inspiration in gardens in the neighborhood while you’re out walking. Make a list of your ideas and wishes – and put them down on paper. Use graph paper to plan everything carefully. Map out all the elements, paths and areas that should be included in as much detail as possible.

The nature of your property obviously also plays a role in these considerations. What shape is your land? Where does the sun rise and set? Which area is best protected? How is it bordered by neighboring properties?

Tip: the official plan of your property should form the basis for your drawing.

What to consider before you start landscaping

Regardless of the size, shape and orientation of the garden, there are other factors that you should keep in mind before you start the actual garden design. Here are a few important tips.

  • Decide on the purpose: do you have children who will use your garden? Adults usually have different ideas than their offspring. If your goal is to create a garden that will be suitable for children, then involve the entire family in the preparations. Or are you aiming for a kitchen garden with flowerbeds and a greenhouse? You can also use your garden as a cozy place of retreat for you and your partner, or as a convivial place for meeting up with friends and family.
  • Consider the budget: garden design and landscaping not only have their price – running costs for maintenance must also be taken into account. You should therefore draw up a precise budget of your garden design and maintenance costs.
  • Schedule time: looking after a garden can quickly become a full-time hobby. Think about how much time you want to spend on your garden – and more importantly, how much time you have available.
  • Look at the overall picture: the house and garden should form a single visual unit. A romantic farmhouse is not suited to chessboard paths and round trimmed bushes.
  • Ensure harmonious planting: to prevent your garden from looking too cluttered later on, it’s advisable to limit yourself to a few types of plants. (The exception to this rule is if you are trying to achieve an overgrown style in your garden). Your plants can then be arranged in lush beds to create an impressive overall picture.
View of a flowerbed planted on a low stone wall. A tidy lawn can be seen in front of it.

Every flowerbed becomes an eye-catching feature with plant species that go well together visually.

Garden design: patio, surfaces and paths

Trees, plants, flowerbeds and lawns obviously belong in a garden. But artificially created squares and paths can form an interesting contrast, serve as landmarks and structure the area.

Building and designing a patio

Creating a patio is probably the most complex landscaping project you can embark on. First of all, you should take a close look at your garden: where is the ideal location? How is your garden exposed to sunlight during the day? Where and when do nearby houses or trees cast shade on the potential location? A patio should face south if you want it to have as much sun as possible. You can find practical tips and tricks for building a patio in our article on “Patio construction: planning, implementation and costs”. As soon as the patio is ready, the design and furnishing stage can begin.

Create a seating area

If you want a cozy spot to relax, you can also install seating directly in your garden as an alternative to the patio. For example, in the form of a small, paved area with a table, two chairs and a bench. You can also add a fireplace for spending particularly cozy evenings out in the garden. To ensure a romantic atmosphere, a pavilion with climbing plants creeping up to the roof is a good choice.

It’s particularly important to ensure privacy for the area. Unlike a patio, the open expanse of the garden is not protected by the whole house. A simple garden fence that separates your property from your neighbor is not usually enough to guarantee the desired privacy. One solution: plan hedge plants from day one. Privet, for instance, grows very fast and keeps curious glances away with its dense branches and leaves. Artificial barriers, such as a privacy screen made of wood or metal, are not quite as natural, but are naturally very effective.

Design garden paths

The classic method for laying a garden path is with paving. Paving stones have the great advantage that they are firmly connected to the ground via a foundation. They offer a stable surface to walk on and can withstand heavy loads – such as full wheelbarrows.

But there are other ways to make garden paths. A wooden jetty is a particularly attractive option. However, it poses a security risk: there is a great danger of slipping in rain and snow. In addition, algae and moss can spread on the surface and form an unpleasant lubricating film.

Backfilling with loose material such as bark mulch, gravel, chippings or sand is an extremely natural and inexpensive alternative. But there are also disadvantages to this process: during heavy rainfall, this type of path loses its original shape. What’s more, animals like rabbits and voles like to dig in it.

A garden path made of pebbles winds its way past flowerbeds.

Something a bit different: a garden path made of pebbles looks very chic. Take care that it does not get out of shape during heavy rain.

Landscaping: different styles

It’s not only when designing the rooms inside your house that you can choose your preferred style. The same is possible in the garden. By selecting specific garden decorations, trees and shrubs, and arranging them in a certain way, you can transport yourself and visitors to distant lands. We present three styles in more detail below.

A Japanese garden

Designed for minimalism, planned down to the very last detail, resembling a work of art – these are the attributes of a Japanese garden. Two of the most important elements in the design are stones and water – albeit often only symbolically represented, for example by a gravel area. A small pond would also work. Stones are mainly used for shaping. In Japanese gardens colors play a minor role, colorful flowers are rather rare – generally peonies and lotus, for example. Trees such as pine, maple and cherry are more common. They are used as design elements, as are stone lanterns or bamboo fences.

An Italian garden

Balanced proportions and symmetry are characteristic of an Italian garden – also called a Renaissance garden. A central path fans out into perpendicular pathways or forms a kind of labyrinth with surrounding hedges. Pergolas, stone columns and terracotta flowerpots with oleanders or citrus trees underline the Mediterranean flair. Impressive fountains are also part of this style – and are real focal points. A patio with a natural stone surface adds the finishing touch to the garden.

A farmer’s garden

Colorful blossom, flowerbeds containing vegetables and aromatic herbs – a farmer's garden is all very down to earth. This paradise is a cross between a kitchen garden and an ornamental garden. The centerpiece could be a circular flowerbed in the middle, with four paths branching off it, leading to identical rectangular beds for growing tomatoes, cucumbers and herbs. The fencing is an equally important design element. A woven fence or wooden picket fence enhances the romantic farmhouse atmosphere.

Conclusion: you make all the decisions in your garden

A garden doesn’t always have to be just a lawn and a few flower beds – there are many more possibilities for garden design. How about a romantic seat at the back of the garden, or an imaginatively designed garden path? Bold garden owners can also choose an individual style of their own.

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