With a thirst for knowledge and a desire to help our readers achieve a garden they can be proud of, we decided to seek some expert advice for anyone looking to give their outdoor space an upgrade. Every month we speak to an industry professional to bring our readers exclusive tips and advice they can use in the garden.
Spring is upon us and as the mercury steadily climbs, some of you may be considering giving your garden a makeover just in time for summer. But before you go diving into any major new project ill-equipped and under-prepared, you need to make sure you’ve done that all-important homework first.
When it comes to garden design, without a doubt the single biggest reason people end up with disappointing results is poor planning and preparation. Many people build up a head of steam, jump right in and end up with a garden they’re simply not happy with. While this can be nothing short of heart-breaking, it’s also completely avoidable. With just a little know-how and some adequate planning, we can avoid this nightmare scenario and create the garden of our dreams.
In this installment of Ask an Expert, we speak to owner of DK Garden Design David Keegan, a distinguished garden designer with over 20 years experience in the industry. Collector of countless awards including International Landscape Design 2018 and Northern Design Awards winner 2016, 2013, 2011 & 2010, David has been continually recognised for his excellence in garden design and when he’s not collecting accolades he can be found showcasing his work on notable TV programmes such as BBC 2’s Open House and North West Tonight.
After reaching out to David, we were delighted he could find time in his busy schedule to speak to us, and after discussing a range of topics here are David’s top 9 tips for anyone thinking about designing their garden this year.
Draw up a plan of the plot
Before anyone should think about designing or redesigning a garden the first thing they need to do is go out and draw up a plan of the plot and mark any existing details onto that plan. You need to include things like drain covers, existing trees and any other elements of the garden you wish to keep. You can’t really start your project until you know what that actual plot looks like on paper, so that should be the starting point for anyone looking to design a garden.
You also need to look at how you divide the space up. It might depend on the garden and the space, but usually the rule of thumb is to divide your space into thirds to make the garden more interesting. A common mistake people make is they do what’s essentially a 2-dimensional design where they have just a lawn and a small, scraggy border which doesn’t create any depth or interest in the space, so try to avoid this when planning your garden.
Get the Designer on Board from the Off
If you’re considering re-designing your garden and you think you’ll end up employing the services of a garden designer then get them in right at the start. Don’t make a start, then get frustrated and then bring them in; ideally, you need to get them in at the beginning. Not only will they help you plan the garden properly but they can help you with the budget and costing of the project, so the earlier the better.
Understand the Type of Garden You Want
You need to understand what kind of garden you want to create. Is it going to be a contemporary garden? Perhaps you’d prefer a cottage garden; maybe a wild garden - before you begin, you need to have an idea about what kind of aesthetic you want to end up with once the garden is finished. Having a clear idea of what you’re looking to achieve will help you make the correct choices along the way.
Get Out and Find Inspiration
Knowing the kind of garden you want and achieving it is all about research. Websites like Pinterest and Instagram are great platforms to look at for ideas, but if you’re looking for inspiration you can’t beat getting out there and going looking at gardens. The UK is absolutely stuffed full of gardens you can visit, whether they be RHS or National Trust, so if you’re interested in creating a really good design then you should get out and look at real gardens.
Another way to find inspiration is to go and take a look at some of the gardens in your area as there might be elements that you like, which can be incorporated into your design. This is also a great way of finding out what plants will thrive in your garden, as plants that do well in your locality will do well in your garden also.
Know Your Soil
This is absolutely crucial. One of the biggest mistakes that amateurs (and even some professionals) make is not understanding the soil. By not knowing the type of soil they’re working with, often people end up with the wrong plants so it’s absolutely essential that you make sure you have the right plant for the right location. For example, a heavy clay soil will hold a lot of moisture in the winter and may be prone to waterlogging, whereas in the summer it might bake and crack, so it’s important to know what you’re working with as this will dictate the plants you can use in your garden.
The other important element to knowing your soil is testing its pH level. You need to know whether you have an alkaline or acid soil because again there are quite a number of plants that like alkaline and won’t tolerate an acid soil, and vice versa. Many people fail to consider these important factors, then they go to the garden centre to buy a load of plants and when they die in a few months they wonder why. This is why.
Research Your Plants
As with soil, you need to know about the plants you’re wanting to put into your garden so do some research rather than just putting any old plants down. An excellent place to find information is the RHS website as there’s so much helpful material on there. There’s advice on the right types of plants to use for the right locations, as well as information on how to look after plants and where to position them in the garden. RHS is a wonderful resource for enthusiastic amateurs so make good use of it.
Have a Clear and Realistic Budget
It’s not uncommon for people to start off with a low and unrealistic budget, and in the end they’re left with a garden that they don’t really want. To be honest, knowing exactly how much designing a garden will cost is not easy. When you’re buying a kitchen, the salesman can give you a very accurate idea of what you can get for your budget. However, when it comes to the garden, a lot of people are totally unaware of what they’re looking to do will actually cost. I blame garden makeover TV shows for this as they give people a very false impression of what they can achieve, so a lot of the time people’s budget and aspirations don’t match at all. Doing some detailed research beforehand will help you avoid any unrealistic expectations.
Manage your Budget Properly
It’s amazing how much money I see people waste, but you can avoid this by simply planning your budget properly from the get-go. When starting off, a lot of people get excited and start to spend money without having a proper plan in place. Often, this money is being spent in the wrong areas, using up a proportion of the budget, which can quickly spiral if they’re not careful.
I’ll then get a call from them and they’ll say they’ve already spent a lot of money and they don’t know what to do with the garden. Unfortunately, a lot of the time, I’ll then have to break the painful news that they’ll have to rip out what they’ve put in if they want me to work with them and they’re left disappointed as the money has been completely wasted. So the message I’d put across to people is spend your money once, and you do that by taking your time and planning your project properly.
Use Reclaimed/Recycled Materials
Sourcing and buying the cheapest materials isn’t always the best strategy and often this approach leads to choices you’ll later regret. One way of making sure you buy good quality at a reduced cost is buying reclaimed or recycled materials. Not only is this a great way of saving money but it also fits in well with the eco movement that we’re seeing at the moment. You can source all sorts of materials from reclamation yards so if you want to get your hands on quality materials and a good price then this is a great way of doing so.
As the weather starts to improve, some of you may be thinking about redesigning your garden for the summer. But although it may be tempting to dive in and tackle the project head on, as David points out you need to conduct some thorough, in-depth research and plan your project meticulously. Redesigning your garden is a sizable job and there’s a lot of hard work involved, but following the advice laid out here can help you iron out some of the creases, ensuring the project is more manageable and some of the potential hurdles are avoided.