Choosing a garden style

Your garden should reflect your own interests and lifestyle. It is not a static object and can be changed from time to time, although you will need to allow time for it to mature. Don't forget, thought, that your garden surrounds your house and should complement the style of the building and the main material used.

There are so many different styles from which to choose. Looking at books and television programmes will generate some ideas, but it's often easier to see what you do and don't like by looking at other people's garden.

One of the main decisions is whether you prefer a formal or informal look. Formal gardens tend to be symmetrical and have clipped hedges, geometrically shaped beds and internal areas divided by neat paths. Gardeners with families often choose an informal style, as do people who want a contrast from their ordered, busy lives. Other, however, may prefer to have a more ordered, uncluttered garden in which lines are crisp and clear rather then indistinct and understated, as they frequently are in an informal garden. Many gardeners are not so clear cut and have small areas of each style within the overall garden. In many respect, the actual size of a garden is irrelevant. It is what you do with it that is important. Two people with similar, small town gardens may well treat them in totally different ways, one choosing a minimal approach, with elements sparely ordered and a few choice plants, while the other prefers to fill the space with hundreds of plants. It is surprising what can be done with even the smallest patch.

What features do you need?

One of the most important steps when you are planning a garden is to sit down and draw up a list of what you and everyone in your family needs from the garden. You should then try to rank these requirements in order of priority, because it's almost certain that there won't be a room for then all or that some uses conflict to with others. For example, making room for children's games, such as football, is likely to conflict with a desire to have a beautifully manicured lawn. Next, consider whether, realistically, you are going to have the time and money to achieve what you want. It is very easy to take a more then you can manage and end up with a part finished garden.

Making a plan

Determine your hardiness zone; this will narrow your choice of perennial plants. Then determine type of soil by sending samples to a local soil-testing laboratory.
Although it sounds dull, it is a good idea to draw up a scale plan, marking in the fixed features, such as trees, en existing pond or shed that you would like to retain. Also include areas of permanent shade and maximum sun, and any other relevant details, such as inspections covers. Then see if you can fit in what you want to achieve. When you have finished, go out and try to visualize whether it will work. Mark out areas with string or hosepipe and see what the finished design might look like on the ground. Live with the idea and the plans for a few weeks, looking at the garden in different light levels and weather to see how it will work. Only when you are satisfied it is time to start getting your hands dirty.

Choosing a style