How To Plan Your Dream Garden – Tips For Designing The Perfect Garden

How To Plan Your Dream Garden – Tips For Designing The Perfect Garden

By: Tonya Barnett, (Author of FRESHCUTKY)

Creating the perfect garden means different things todifferent people. When it comes to planning the garden of your dreams, there isdefinitely a lot to consider. By taking into account a few basic design principles,as well as maintaining focus on the purpose of the growing space, even novicegardeners can create beautiful green spaces that are vibrant and inviting.

How to Plan Your Dream Garden

In order to make your dream garden a reality, it isimportant to first decide what type of growing space you would like to create.While many growers choose to focus solely on ornamental and flowering plants, othersmay wish to design spaces for vegetables. Regardless of the type that youintend to plant, knowing how to use the space is essential.

Consider aspects like plant spacing, plant height, and/orany leftover space that can be used for relaxation or for entertaining guests.

When it comes to creating a dream garden, designis key. Well-planned growing spaces can offer gardeners their desiredaesthetic. The implementation of focal points is an excellent way to increase appeal and improve theoverall flow throughout the garden. Popular focal points include:

  • garden statues
  • water fountains
  • ponds
  • pools
  • pergolas
  • furnished seating areas

Raised bedsor container plantings are also space efficient options to create useful focalpoints throughout the green space.

To make your dream garden a reality, consider selecting awide range of plants. Diverse plant types and foliage will not only offerappeal throughout the growing season, but will also be beneficial to nativewildlife. Choosing plants of various heights and textures will add additionalmovement and dynamics to the space. For the best results, try to implement bothevergreen and herbaceous plants. By planting different types of plants, growersare able to craft gardens which change and evolve throughout the year.

After careful planning and planting, it will be important tomaintain a routine consistent with keeping up the appearance of the space. Formany, this will mean cleaning and weeding around seating areas, as well as regularirrigation of plants. This, in tandem with a schedule of pruning and fertilization,will help to keep your dream garden looking luxurious and peaceful for manyseasons to come.

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How to apply for Garden Rescue 2021 - everything you need to know!

Garden Rescue currently airs repeat episodes on BBC One, airing every weekday at 3.45 pm.

The BBC series always makes viewers envious of the garden transformations who wonder how they can get a garden like those on the telly in their own home!

So are they taking applications for Garden Rescue 2021?

Here’s everything you need to know about joining Charlie Dimmock and the Rich brothers!

Garden transformation, S4 E2.

Garden Rescue 2021: Applications

Sadly, Garden Rescue is not taking applications for 2021 just yet.

BBC stopped filming and production of the series earlier this year following the Covid-19 outbreak. In a Twitter post, the show explained:

MasterChef 2021 | Trailer - BBC Trailers

“Like many TV productions, Garden Rescue is currently on hold. We are hoping to resume production later in the year. In the meantime, applications are currently closed. We are however hoping to make a couple of exciting announcements over the coming weeks so watch this space!”

In June, Garden Rescue said that applications should open later this year, though a date is yet to be confirmed.

Make sure you follow the BBC show on Twitter (@GardenRescueBBC) as this will be one of the first places when they announce the 2021 application process.

Hi there, we hope applications will reopen later in the year. We don't have a date yet but watch this space!

— BBC Garden Rescue (@GardenRescueBBC) June 24, 2020

How do you normally apply for Garden Rescue?

Normally, the application process is through the programme’s website on BBC and we are confident that Charlie Dimmock and the team will be making a return next year for more garden transformations.

To make sure you’re one of the first applicants, keep an eye on BBC Take Part.

When applications are open, people can also write to the Garden Rescue team at the address below:

Garden Rescue
PO Box 74250

Are you enjoying our new show that features some of our favourite gardens?

We're on BBC1 at 3.45pm each day.

Also, we're particularly proud of the title!!

— BBC Garden Rescue (@GardenRescueBBC) August 6, 2020

Garden Rescue: Requirements

As the previous application process has already closed, we can’t say the exact requirements for next year’s series.

We can confirm you’ll have to be over the age of eighteen and a permanent UK resident to apply.

And sadly, the garden transformation will have to be done out of your own pocket… So only apply if you’ve been saving up for your dream garden!

Has Charlie Dimmock left the series?

Charlie has not been sacked from the BBC and her absence from any Garden Rescue episode has no deeper meaning than the simple fact that she was away at the time of filming.

Arit Anderson will stand in for Charlie at times and she joins the Garden Rescue team from BBC Two’s Gardeners’ World.

The new presenter is an award-winning garden designer, writer and TV presenter and you can follow her on Instagram under @diamondhill2012.


How to design your dream garden (regardless of space) with help from an expert

For Ula Maria, a childhood in Lithuania steeped in nature was the launch-pad for youthful success

Ula Maria, who is 27, lives in the kind of shared flat one might expect of someone her age. A sprawling mass of corridors and bedrooms above a shop, on a busy thoroughfare in South London, the dimly lit living room (no television, but several house plants) looks out at an ­artisanal burger restaurant.

It has no outdoor space, but the coffee table books – well-loved tomes on taxonomy and Piet Oudolf – belie her profession as a garden designer. “I feel a bit of a fraud, designing all these spaces without a plot of my own,” she tells me. “I’d love to see something actually evolve all the time myself. I’m desperate for a garden.”

Having won RHS Young Designer of the Year before tucking two award-winning RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show gardens under her belt, she is now speaking to the crowd she knows best in her first book, Green: Simple Ideas for Small Outdoor Spaces.

Urban garden design has inspired books ever since the Victorians started to green their sprawling new neighbourhoods. But where Maria’s Green differs is that it focuses on the possibilities of growing in small spaces, rather than the restrictions.

The 22 gardens she has brought together (by various designers), erupt with potential: rare tropical specimens smother patios in Clapham, a horde of hydrangeas swoon in a studio garden and wispy grasses make a rooftop ­retreat. In Green, urban gardens, so ­often prone to a twinge of pity from those who tend larger, more rural spaces, become deeply aspirational.

“I always tell my designer friends, ‘It’s not for you, it’s for people starting out or who have an outdoor space and don’t know what to do with it,” Maria says of the book, which also includes practical tips on how to achieve these looks without a designer. “It shows you don’t have to know a lot about gardens to be able to actually create one if you’re willing.”

As someone who considered her prize-winning first RHS show – at ­Tatton in 2017 – “a quick crash course in garden design”, Maria would know. She trained as a landscape architect (working on far larger, often more ­municipal spaces) and was writing her MA thesis on the subject when she applied for the competition: “I’d say my plant knowledge was basic. I knew about design and the feel I wanted to create, rather than the exact plants.”

That garden, Studio Unwired, was inspired by the idyllic landscape of her Lithuanian childhood: a Baltic haven of Scots pine, feather reed grass, echinaceas, red hot pokers and sea kale.

She admits to “literally looking up what grew there, then picking others that looked nice to add to the mix”. It worked: the garden, a transportative blend of wild planting against bleached wood and a minimalist gazebo, caught the eye of the gardening world. At 24, Maria’s had become a name in the design industry.

It also encapsulated the spirit of an Ula Maria garden. Her designs play immaculately with balance – between bold, sometimes industrial hard landscaping and almost surreally naturalistic planting. In that gulf between the two, something dreamlike can emerge Maria’s work looks almost too good to be true.

She says her greatest inspiration comes from natural landscapes. “I pick what I find most fascinating about them, then highlight and lift it, make it more special, so it’s like nature on drugs,” she explains, adding that she loves to have “simple, clear architectural lines overtaken by nature”.

Maria says her goal is for her work to seem imperceptible. “So that people arrive in a garden and think it’s always been like that, when in fact, there’s a lot of design but it seems invisible ­because it feels like it belongs to the place. For me, that’s a big thing: to ­create something that looks effortless but is actually very beautiful.”

Her appreciation for both architecture and wilderness can be neatly traced back to her upbringing. The middle child of an English language teacher and a biologist-turned-developer, Maria grew up informed by both the great outdoors and an ambition to make things.

“I used to swim in the nearby river every single day,” she remembers. “In the summer, we’d be outdoors from morning until evening, when our parents would shout at us to come in and eat something.” Everything on the table was grown at home. She recalls the strange delicacy of a shop-bought tomato at a friend’s house. “I got an insight into design from my dad,” she says. “We spent so much time outdoors, building stuff.”

Maria nurtured ambitions to be an architect from the age of 12, and these took her through a bumpy move to the UK as a teenager, where she ended up – with “very broken English” – studying 3D design at Milton Keynes College. From there, a fortuitous browse through the Ucas website landed her on a landscape architecture course at Birmingham City University, where she now returns as a visiting tutor.

During her degrees, she did internships, then paid work, in landscape ­architecture practices. “The dream was always there – to set up my own garden design practice – but it was always a very distant future,” she says. “I didn’t think it was going to happen until I was at least 45.” Instead, the flurry of inquiries that came her way in the wake of Tatton saw her become her own boss 20 years earlier than expected.

“A colleague asked when I might be going freelance, and I said, ‘Erm, tomorrow?’” she recalls. “I just wrote my resignation and handed it in. I had nothing to lose.” She immediately ­approached designer Tom Stuart-Smith, thinking he wouldn’t reply to her email. But she ended up working in his studio two days a week, gaining crucial training: “I learned about how important plants are, the attention to detail,” she says. “How to do something that’s at one with the landscape, rather than just coming in and projecting your ego on the site.”

We talk a little about the RHS. With three other female designers under 30 – Anca Panait, Lilly Gomm and Alexandra Noble – Maria formed a quartet that brought a younger approach to Hampton Court in 2018.

She’s steadfast in the opportunity and platform that exhibiting at such established shows has given her, calling it a “shortcut” to what she has achieved. But Maria admits that garden shows are problematic when it comes to sustainability: “It would be great if people would really recycle these gardens, but you see things being taken away in skips. When people spend 400 grand building something and it all goes to waste, it’s crazy.”

After exhibiting at three RHS shows in as many years, Maria has turned down invitations to design for more. Instead, she’s working on projects in Skye and Somerset, among a range of gardens for private clients, and warding off that particularly millennial affliction: burnout. “I need a year off shows to focus on me, have some more time, and do what I always wanted to do: to delay things, to paint, to read.”

These are mindful activities, that Maria sees alongside “sticking your ­fingers into soil” to encourage a slowing-down in an accelerated world. “I think our generation is hungry for something grounded, raw and real,” she says. “We were becoming more deprived of tangible things – now we want to go back to enjoying the simple ones more.”

That’s not to say, however, that Maria isn’t a fan of Instagram, where she shares her design plans alongside holiday snaps with 6,400 followers. “It’s incredible for connecting like-minded people,” she says. “There have been times when television personalities and famous designers ask me for advice through Instagram.”

But nothing, she claims, feels better than being outdoors. “I walk in the forest and I feel happy,” she says, simply. “I genuinely do feel so much better.” Along with her partner, who is also a landscape architect, she plans to move to Bristol this summer for some much-needed outdoor space of her own.

“I have no idea what my garden would look like, because there’s so many different options,” she says. “But it’s going to be so amazing to actually experiment. It’s sad, in a way, that your clients don’t expect you to be hands-on. If you started digging, they’d find it a bit odd it’s like if an architect started laying bricks for the house. But I love it.”

Green: Simple Ideas for Small Outdoor Spaces by Ula Maria (Octopus, £20). Order your copy from £16.99 at

Ula’s best design tips for small spaces

  • Consider using the same paving materials outside as flooring inside to make the space seem bigger.
  • Wall-mounted water features are brilliant for gardeners with limited space – reflective surfaces will create the illusion of size.
  • Use multifunctional furniture, such as chairs that double up as storage space.
  • If you can, incorporate lighting right at the beginning of the design process to make the most of features.

Ula’s best plants for year-round interest

Amelanchier lamarckii (Snowy mespilus)

From white flowers in the spring, berries in the summer and bright red foliage, this is great all year round

The new way to design and create your dream country garden

Designing a country garden? Tom Stuart-Smith didn’t have to travel far to find an example to use for his new online course

When leading landscape architect Tom Stuart-Smith, master planner of the new 156-acre gardens at RHS Bridgewater, was asked, during lockdown, to devise an online course on designing your own country garden he suggested the only way he could do it, given the travel restrictions, was through the lens of his own 15-acre garden.

For Tom, and for the purposes of the course, a country garden is not defined by its size but by its setting. It’s a garden that has a relationship to the countryside around it, he explains, one that “mediates between the hearth and the horizon”.

Unlike most city gardens which, in Tom’s view, are about exclusion and isolation, country gardens are about inclusion and connection. “Of course,” he adds, “some people design their country gardens as isolated spaces and those are less interesting, I think.”

Those who have been lucky enough to visit the garden that Tom and his wife Sue have created at The Barn which perches above farmland at Serge Hill in Hertfordshire (they open regularly for the NGS) will know that the garden is a tapestry of interlocking spaces that flow around the house and are bound by sweeping wildflower meadows that connect with the fields and woods beyond.

But when the couple first moved into the rebuilt 17th-century barn, there was no garden to speak of, just a yard at the front and a 10-metre-wide strip of arable land at the back. “If you’d come here 35 years ago you’d have thought ‘what a bleak, empty spot’. It was 50 acres of tilled soil, wheat sprayed with everything you can imagine, two dying walnut trees, an elder tree at the gate and not a wildflower for 200 yards.

For a young designer that was a pretty amazing start.” For most garden owners, I point out, that blank canvas could well be panic-inducing. Where to start?

What Tom did first, and it’s what he urges all makers of country gardens to do, was to explore the cultural and topographical history of his home. “All landscapes are historic,” he insists, “all of them carry some amazing history.”

To build up this picture, he suggests finding the answers to questions such as who lived here before, what did they do, why were these buildings built here and what were they made of, why these materials and are they still made?

Then, Tom says, you need to look at the soil and answer more questions: why is it there, what is growing naturally around your property and, if the answer is very little, what would have been there before it was stripped out or disappeared?

In Tom’s case his researches, which included studying Ordnance Survey maps and a chance finding of a family album with some drawings of the farm from 1837, showed that there had been trees behind the barn and small enclosures around it, such as drying yards and pig yards, and that the two huge fields that they could see from their back windows were once divided into 16 smaller ones, each with its own evocative name, such as Botany Bay Meadow (what had his crime been?) and Dead Woman’s Field (did she die in the field, and if so of what?).

These discoveries helped him to visualise the garden as “a sort of re-enactment of these enclosures.” The hedges, which were among the first structural plantings he made, create a historical and visual link to the landscape when the barn was first built – a patchwork of ­orchards, meadows and arable fields defined by hedges.

Closest to the barn, the garden relates strongly to the building. The yew hedges – which were the first to go in – are cloud-pruned, their bulky undulating forms complementing the “wonky” profile of the barn.

The entrance courtyard, which started life in a more Arts and Crafts style with low clipped box hedging enclosing roses, is now the most obviously designed and contemporary part of the garden.

It tones with the clay roof tiles and the black weatherboarding through Tom’s choice of paving, corten steel water tanks (repurposed from his 2006 RHS Chelsea Flower Show Garden for this newspaper) and his carefully edited planting.

Five years after moving into The Barn with their baby daughter Rose, Tom and Sue were able to buy the five-acre field beyond the yew hedges and create the remaining framework, this time using clipped hornbeam hedges which provided a sheltered environment for the children to grow up in (sons Ben and Harry complete the family) and created two axes that frame views to the wider landscape.

The wildflower meadows, sown by hand, border the flower garden and make another transition to the landscape, though a boundary of native hedging clearly marks them as part of the garden. The addition of hundreds of trees, mostly varieties of oak, creates a link to the woodlands in the distance.

Tom is not offering his garden as a template for designing a country ­garden. “I would never make another garden like this anywhere else because each place is unique and each place needs a unique response – which is a coming together of who you are as a person and the things you love and the intrinsic qualities of the place itself.”

But he does show how to make a country garden your own, changing and adding to it as your gardening skills and interests develop, while still making it relate to its setting.

Sticking to your main theme is important to achieve this, Tom explains, and although he has introduced an area of exotic meadow, using predominantly North American species with zingy colours, it has the same looseness and airiness of planting seen in the borders closest to the barn.

If you do have a passion for particular plants which are not in any way connected to the landscape, either in terms of mood or botany, then you should create a separate place for it. “Say I had a passion for bamboos, I would have to make a place in the corner and create an environment for them using material of the place, in our case perhaps oak trees with some other big trees, and then have a boundary so that it has no connection with the landscape and you discover it in a journey.’

In terms of choice of planting, he warns against stuffing too much in: the garden can end up looking like a sofa showroom.

“Look at how nature avoids being bitty by having dominant and subdominant and occasional species. Then you’ll see that it’s important to use a lot of some things to hold a planting together, and not a lot of a lot of things.” Tom has shed many of the plants he started off with as he’s moved towards species with a more naturalistic feel.

His most recent creation, a meandering, dreamy mass of Ammi majus, eupatoriums, salvias and thalictrums known as the Chicken Bank, is an alternative approach to the Prairie that enables you to see its bold colours sympathetically lit by the evening sun.

But it’s also planting that makes the most of the heavier, more moisture-­retentive soil found here. Working more attentively with the varied soils is something Tom would embrace if he were to start over again, thereby avoiding hours of soil improving, staking and extra watering in certain areas.

He also admits that he wouldn’t have such a strong vista (created by the wide grassy path framed by the buttressed clipped hornbeams) up the middle of the garden. “I tend to think that overly didactic things like that are quite constraining, even a little portentous.”

The more country gardens Tom designs the more he is convinced that garden makers have a duty to build on what is there rather than impose their stamp on the land. There couldn’t be a better example of “relating to the traditions of the place” than The Barn.

Design and create your dream country garden with Tom Stuart-Smith,

Seek out the genius of the place: before you get started, know the history of your site via its records

Research your landscape

To understand the history, heritage and topography of your place, Tom suggests starting with your County Record office or Heritage Centre where you should be able to see the tithe records and maps drawn up from the Tithe Survey of England and Wales which reveal the setting of your house, who lived there, field names and what they were used for. The archivist may also be able to point you to photographic records of your house.

You can also view the tithe records and maps online, for a fee, at

Early editions of hand-drawn Ordnance Survey maps are also very detailed, showing features such as hedgerow trees and field boundaries. Go to for a list of historic map libraries and for maps and surveys in Scotland.

Nailing the structure

It’s not essential to sketch out a plan of the main structure of the garden if your proposed layout is entirely loose (it can then be drawn on the ground with hose pipes, which are great for making smooth curves, or spray paint).

However, if you are planning an architectural framework of more or less straight lines, then a measured drawing is essential in order to get the proportion and geometry right.

Watch the video: How to Plan a Vegetable Garden: Design Your Best Garden Layout