Gathering inspiration for your garden

Before you even set foot in a garden centre, it pays dividends to start thinking about what you want from your space

It might sound surprising, but for most people the first step towards getting your dream garden is probably putting the kettle on. Get out a pen and paper and take time to write down all your wants and needs – this will help you to prioritise and visualise what the garden is going to be about, and give you focus when gathering inspirational ideas.

It might seem frustrating when all you want to do is get out and get gardening, but a little prior planning will save you lots of time and money in the long run.

Here are six questions to ask yourself and tips to help focus your search for gardening inspiration.

1. Who’s the garden for?

First of all, who are you designing a garden for? Is it just for adults – or are there children and pets to be considered? And not just the inhabitants of the house, take your regular visitors into account too. Wildlife can love our gardens just as much as we do, and will hugely repay any efforts you make to attract it.

2. What do you want from your garden?

Perhaps you want to grow an abundance of flowers and veg with all the family – or perhaps you just mainly want something that looks smart from indoors and doesn’t take too much looking after. The beauty of designing a space from scratch is that you can tailor it to suit your needs perfectly. If you enjoy eating outside, ensure there’s at least one set of table and chairs, if not two, so you can be in the sunshine both morning and evening.

Privacy can be important too – screening off the neighbours as well as noise from busy roads. There are lots of ways to increase your garden’s privacy including trees, shrubs, fences, hedges and climbers. 

3. What type of garden have you got?

Different situations can present you with a variety of challenges and opportunities. Have a look at our guides to help you make the most of a range of different types of garden. Whether it's a small urban garden, mature, or a newly-built space, you can create whatever style you like and put your personal stamp on the space. But certain factors, such as if you have a family, will influence what's possible. For example, if the children need space to play, it might make sense not to aim for something very neat and contemporary.

4. What style or styles do you like?

How would you like your garden to make you feel? Maybe you’d like a calm green oasis, far from the stresses of the outside world? Or what about a zingy, colourful outdoor space that’s energizing and perfect for parties?

Don’t worry – it’s not a straightjacket! There’s no need to conform to any set style, but having a few ideas of preferred styles or themes can be a useful way of helping focus things you like into actual design ideas.

5. Gathering your inspiration together

Make mood boards of styles, features and garden ideas you love. Online pinboards such as Pinterest are great for collecting inspirational images. For pieces cut from magazines, use a cork board and drawing pins.

6. Keeping it real – how much time can you devote to your garden?

It’s worth being realistic from the start to help you get the best garden for you. If you have plenty of time to devote to your garden, or lead a hectic life with little free time, this will have an effect on the types of features that will work for you.

Fruit and vegetables, pots, window boxes and hanging baskets all need regular attention – if no-one’s around to water them it’s much better to stick to flowers, shrubs and trees planted in the ground instead.

It’s all about tailoring your design to suit your needs and how much time you can give it. With a bit of forward planning, a simple, low-maintenance garden can be just as beautiful as something much more complicated.
Once you’ve got your inspirations and ideas together, it’s time to assess your garden to see which of the ideas can be put into practice, and where.

Design inspiration

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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.