Garden design: sources of information

Whether you are giving the garden a complete make-over, creating a new area or just giving a facelift to existing borders, it is best to design the area first before undertaking the work. Knowing where to turn for information and inspiration will help get you started.

Garden design - sources of information
Garden design - sources of information

Quick facts

Prepare a plan before making changes
Plans can save time and money
Try a short garden design course
Browse garden design books
Consider hiring a designer, but give them a precise brief

Why use sources of information?

Though making your own plan may seem daunting, you can draw useful information from numerous sources that can help with preparing a plan of the chosen area. Having a plan allows you to consider carefully what you want to achieve. Likewise, consider the features you want to accommodate include: hard landscaping (e.g. patio, paths, pergolas, raised beds, fences and building), soft landscaping (e.g. lawns, trees, shrubs and herbaceous beds) and dedicated productive areas such as vegetable or cut flower beds. It is much easier to change the design on a piece of paper than in situ.

Alternatively, seek help from professional garden designer. However, even then you need to consider the criteria that the designer should fulfil (see seeking professional help below).

Studying design yourself

If you would like to try your hand at garden design, you can:

  • Attend a garden design course. Many horticultural and garden design colleges offer short garden design courses and workshops. There is no need to study for years, unless you feel enthusiastic about the subject or you aim to become a professional
  • Improve your technical and freehand drawing. Colleges offering garden design courses usually offer such training
  • Try one of the numerous garden design software programs on the market. They vary in price and require various degrees of computer literacy. Professionals usually use CAD (Computer Aided Design) programmes as they are the most flexible, but they can be very expensive (running into thousands of pounds once you include the palettes); conversely, cheaper garden-design programmes have limited functionality and so paper is often easier
  • Many books have been devoted to various styles of garden design, some being more technical than others. Consider the following publications that are available through the RHS Lindley Library

The garden designer by Robin Williams (Frances Lincoln 2007, ISBN 0711226326)

Encyclopedia of garden design ed. Chris Young (DK 2009, ISBN 9781405329057)

Essential garden planning and construction ed. Christopher Brickell (Mitchell Beazley 2006, ISBN 987845330590) 

Encyclopedia of planting combinations by Tony Lord and Andrew Lawson (Mitchell Beazley/Royal Horticultural Society 2008, ISBN 9781845333263)

Seeking professional help

Here is how to turn to others for help with designing your garden:

  • Many garden centres offer design service or can point you to a local company
  • Contact the Society of Garden Designers for a list of their members (available on their website)
  • If you would like to have the groundwork done by professionals, some landscaping companies also offer garden a design service

To make sure that the garden designer or landscaper fulfils your wishes and the contract runs smoothly, you need to consider number things. See our advice pages on hiring contractors.

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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.