Garden design 101: top tips from a landscape designer

By Orla McGoldrick
6 min read

We recently sat down to chat with Vanessa Drew, a qualified landscape designer who has been designing gardens for Tobermore for over 20 years. Thanks to her passion for horticulture, Vanessa is often asked to contribute to lifestyle magazines and is a guest speaker on local radio.

Pictured: Vanessa Drew, Landscape Designer for Tobermore

We asked Vanessa to share her top, fail-safe garden design advice – the kind of things she returns to time and time again when advising clients on their garden design. Here’s what she said.

Getting started

When I visit a garden client, I have two duties. The first is to create a garden of their dreams. The second is to ensure that their dream garden is easy to maintain and looks good for a long time.

When it comes to getting started, my advice is to always first think about finding a balance between hard and soft landscaping. This will ensure your garden combines practicality with year-round colour and interest.

Products used: Textured flags Natural, Secura Lite walling Slate

Then it’s all about the planning. The more you prepare in advance, the better your garden will be for your needs.

It’s important at the outset to consider where the sun rises and sets over your garden. If you would like a paved patio area, make sure you position it to get the most from morning and evening sunshine. This might not be next to the doors of your house, so you may need a path to the area.

Most houses need to screen off unsightly items such as bins, water butts and compost heaps, so be sure to consider this in your planning as well. For example, a lot of clients need a shed but often there is nowhere to hide it. You could consider painting it, or fitting window boxes to make it look like a summer house and turn it into an attractive garden feature.

From the very start of the design process, it’s useful if you can find inspiration for the style of garden you would like. Peruse lifestyle magazines and social media – resources such as Pinterest will provide a wealth of ideas.

Gardens with children in mind

Kids grow up fast. Once they’re older and no longer want to play in the garden, you’ll be left with spaces you’ll want to repurpose. I always recommend planning for the longer term, with easy-to-adapt features to keep kids happy in the short term.

With a zoned approach, you can define areas close to and further away from your house. For example, make the area closest to your house a ‘safe space’ where younger children can play independently, but where you can still see them if you go inside.

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With that in mind, make the area closest to your house the most hard-wearing space. Put your prize planting and delicate shrubbery further into your garden – as well as any fragile structures, such as a greenhouse!

It’s likely you’ll want a patio area close to your house for dining and entertaining, so when the children have grown up, the space won’t need to be changed too much.

Getting started with growing your own

Don’t go overboard. That’s the key to creating your own veggie patch. Plan how many of each item you normally use and grow accordingly. In a packet of salad seeds, there is more than enough to keep you going for years. Sow little and often for a continuous supply.

Think small, too. Your vegetables don’t need to be grown in a separate space. Integrate your vegetable crop into your flower borders and garden pots if space is at a premium.

And don’t take it too seriously. Not everything goes to plan, so enjoy whatever turns out well. Even a small amount of home-produced veg is a good start.

Planting tips

It’s important to get the balance between hard and soft landscaping in your garden. Hard landscaping is your paving and walling. This is then complimented with soft landscaping: your planting, grass, hedges and trees. Be sure to do plenty of research into the best plants for your garden – taking into consideration things like soil type, aspect, hardiness, and the plants’ ultimate height and spread.

On that note, be sure to choose varieties of plants which only reach a size suitable for your garden. This means you will not have to do a lot of cutting back every year. In a small garden, you may decide to replace the lawn with artificial grass for the ultimate low-maintenance space.

Don’t rule out the winter months

Winter is the best time to do your planning for next year. By getting things started when it’s frosty outside, you’ll have plenty of time to think about your options. And if you’re really on the ball, you could even have everything ready for y

ou to enjoy from the beginning of spring.

The benefit of getting your garden project started over winter is that during the colder months landscape designers and paving contractors have more free time to visit new clients. It’s much easier to book someone for a visit than during the busy period, which tends to be from April onwards.

Furniture and lighting

In recent years there has been a definite shift in the style of outdoor furnishings. Patio furniture is sumptuous and more akin to living room furniture. Instead of a foldable rickety deckchair, your barbecue guests will expect to see a sofa and some armchairs!

Most new wicker patio furniture is actually plastic-based and can stay outside all year round. This makes life much easier as it doesn’t have to be stored in the shed for the winter months. Another advantage is that you don’t have to paint it every year, unlike wooden garden furniture.

Products used: Textured flags Golden

To extend the time you can spend outside, lighting is a functional and attractive feature. In most cases, it’s better to see the effect of the light, rather than the light itself. For example, a light shining up into a tree or bamboo will add interest to the garden and really enhance the look of the plant. Spike lights look good set among shrub beds, while strings of outdoor fairy lights bring a magical glow your outdoor space when hung around the patio area.

Products used: Mayfair Silver & Sienna Setts Graphite

Why work with a landscape designer?

A well-thought out garden design will add value to any home, and give pleasure and enjoyment for many years to come. There’s a lot to think about when it comes to garden design and you want to get it right first time, so you can sit back and enjoy your space for many years to come.

A good landscape designer will help you find the best way to achieve what you’re looking for and importantly, help you avoid any mistakes.

Read more garden advice from Vanessa – sign up to receive our free digital magazine, Step Outside.

If you’d like to hear more of Vanessa’s advice, watch the Design Corner vlog series.

Need help with landscape design?

Our landscape design consultation service is available in a range of packages to suit all projects and budgets.

Orla McGoldrick

Orla is the Consumer Marketing Manager at Tobermore. Her role involves developing and delivering marketing campaigns for the retail market across NI/ROI and GB.

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