Get to know your garden

Spend some time getting to know your garden and you'll be able to make a design that's perfect for both plants and people

After you’ve had a think about what you want to get out of your garden and gathered your inspiration together, it’s time to assess the site. This will help you to find out what’s possible and pave the way for you to create your own garden plan.

Take as much time as you can to really get to know your plot; ideally over the course of a year, as gardens can change dramatically through the seasons. Make a note of where the sun is in the morning, afternoon and evening. Which way you’re facing has a big impact: east means morning sun, west means afternoon sun.

South-facing walls or fences are the hottest and north-facing ones the coolest. These 'microclimates' can make quite a difference: the extra heat of a south wall may allow you to grow exotic plants like peaches and passionflowers that would struggle elsewhere in the garden.

It's not just plants that are affected by aspect. Perhaps there’s a sheltered corner that gets morning sun – perfect for a small table and chair for an alfresco breakfast. That same spot will probably be in the shade in the evening, so consider adding another seating spot if you want sit out and enjoy your garden in the evening too.

Views are really important, including from inside the house. Remember they can change through the year as some plants lose their leaves in winter, which can mean less privacy but more light.

Privacy can be a big issue, especially in urban areas where you may feel overlooked from one or more directions. Conversely in rural areas you may want to make the most of views out, although this often needs to balanced by creating shelter from the wind.

There are a few main soil types – and plenty of plants that will grow well in each one, so it’s worth finding out which type you have, and observing which parts of the garden stay damp and which dry out quickly. This will help you find the right plant for the right place and get you better results for less effort.

The key is to work with what you’ve got, rather than to change it completely. So, if your soil is dry and chalky, grow plants that like these conditions and you’ll be sure to succeed. Soil can be ‘improved’ with soil conditioners like garden compost or well-rotted farmyard manure which will increase its fertility and help it drain well, making it a better environment for plants.

Temperatures, rainfall and wind make a lot of difference to both people and plants, and they’re another reason it’s a good idea to take as much time as you can to get to know your garden. That way you’ll have a good understanding of what plants will grow best for you, and how to get the most from your design.

Generally speaking, the climate is warmer and drier in the south east of the UK, and cooler and wetter in the north west, while cities are warmer and more sheltered than the open countryside.

If the site is windy, make a note of which direction wind comes from the most (prevailing winds) and consider planting a hedge or installing a windbreak to give you shelter. Wind can damage plants and dry out the soil. The wind direction can be important too – easterlies in winter can be bitterly cold, while westerlies are warmer and tend to bring rain.

Sometimes the style of the house can provide a visual cue for the garden design, as can your local area. For example, if your garden backs on to a piece of woodland, try making a woodland-themed design. This will blend seamlessly with its backdrop and make the garden seem infinitely bigger.

Once you’ve thoroughly got to know your garden, it’s time to take the next step on your design journey; get out the tape measure and start creating your own garden plan.


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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.