Getting started with a new-build garden

A new-build garden might seem daunting, but it’s the perfect place to find your inner gardener and put your creativity into practice

New-build gardens present a unique set of challenges and opportunities. A plot which has been laid entirely to lawn can often look a bit uninspiring  – don’t be put off – there’s a lot you can do to get the best from your space.

Where to begin...

The best way to get started is to spend some time gathering inspiration, assessing your garden and creating a plan. Then you can do it bit by bit as time and money allow; don’t feel you have to do it all at once.

Top tip

Make mood boards of styles, features and garden ideas you love. Magazines, books and websites can be a treasure trove of information, and online pinboards such as Pinterest are great for collecting inspirational images.

Sorting out your soil

If you can afford it, adding paths before planting can save you getting bogged down every time you go outdoors

One of the most common problems people face with new-build gardens is the soil. It can be compacted, poor quality, and full of rubble and rubbish. Don’t panic! There are lots of things you can do to improve the soil around new-build houses.

The best place to start is to sort out your design and put in any paths, stepping stones and other hard landscaping first. That way you can avoid getting bogged down every time you step outdoors. It’s also much easier to get it done before you’ve added plants as you won’t be having to avoid damaging precious new specimens.

Dig over soil that is going to be used for plants or lawns, removing any rubble and buried rubbish as you go. Digging is important as it will help break up compaction and allow plants to put down decent roots. Add soil conditioner such as farmyard manure (not multipurpose compost) and fork it into the soil – at least a bucketful per square metre. This will help improve drainage and fertility and help your plants get established.

If there are areas you’re not going to get round to planting immediately,

mulch them to cover the soil surface and prevent weeds from growing. Chipped bark is ideal because as it breaks down it will gradually improve soil structure.

Pick your plants

Adding trellis with climbers to a new wall creates instant vertical greenery and a feeling of enclosure. Raised beds and pots can give quick results.

Once you’ve got your design together, it’s time to start thinking about the plants – check out our plant selector for more help. Include some fast-growing, tough plants to give you some quick-fire flower power – buddleias, mallows (Lavatera), hardy

annuals like poppies and cornflowers are all good choices. They will give you quick, colourful results for not much money. Some patio pots and windowboxes will provide instant colour too, but beware having too many pots as they can be time-consuming to look after.

One of the most noticeable things about a new-build garden can be the feeling of being boxed in by walls and fences.  It can be worth painting or staining fences a darker colour to make them less visually overwhelming. Darker colours can also help highlight the plants in front of the fence. To make your garden feel established quickly, use trellis panels covered in climbers, along with a few larger plants to break up the visual impact of its boundaries.

Top tip

It pays to decide on the long-term plants first, such as trees and hedges. They can then grow away happily while you get everything else together. Soon enough you’ll have privacy and birds will begin visiting.

Get planting

Planting in spring or autumn will help plants establish more easily – summer planting will mean lots of watering

Autumn and spring are the best times for planting, although it can be done at any time of year, as long as the soil isn’t frozen. However, be aware that if you plant in the summer you’ll need to spend a lot more time watering. See our Get growing guides for more information on how to plant your plants.

Top tip

Beware the curse of the flowerpot graveyard! Inevitably with the stresses of moving house, pots can be neglected. If you’ve bought lots of plants with you, it’s well worth spending an afternoon planting as many of them as possible into the ground. If you can’t get them into the ground, group them in large pots, as they won’t dry out nearly as fast.

Provide privacy

Pergolas and trees block views into the garden and create privacy

Lack of privacy is a common problem in new-build gardens, and there are various ways to tackle it. Planting trees is one of the best solutions – there are many trees suitable for small gardens.  It’s generally best to buy young-ish plants and let them get established – they’ll soon romp away.

Other garden features such as trellises and pergolas can be useful for adding visual interest and privacy to gardens. New gardens can lack height so they’re a useful way of getting it quickly, especially when planted with climbers – see our ideas for screening an area and which plants to grow for screening.

Lawns and turf

You don’t have to have a lawn – there are lots of alternatives – but many of us covet a beautifully turfed garden surrounded by flower borders

If you would like to grow a lawn, the best months for either laying turf or sowing grass seed are April and October. It’s really important to make sure the soil is well prepared for either. If the developer has left you with a lawn, it may well need repairing. One of the quickest and most satisfying ways to stamp your identity on a new garden is to re-shape the lawn – circles and gentle curves can work really well in small plots.

It’s worth considering whether you need a lawn at all. Depending on the size and shape of your garden, and whether you need somewhere for children to play, a lawn may or not be a good idea. In small or awkwardly-shaped gardens, and if you don’t really have space to store a lawnmower, then consider alternatives such as extending flower borders and patio areas, or using gravel instead.

An alternative to having a lawn –  gravel with edged borders gives a low-maintenance space that looks good all year

And finally ...accessorise

Adding accessories – lighting, seating, cushions and candles – gives you a chance to brighten up your space and make the garden look dressed

Having a comfortable seat and table to eat and drink at can make a huge difference to your enjoyment of your outdoor space. A few comfy cushions, a parasol and some outdoor lighting can transform the feel of a garden too. See our handy guide: how to get your patio party ready.

Top tip

There are often garden furniture and accessories bargains to be had in late summer and autumn as garden centres look to clear out their stock ready for Christmas.

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Read next

Check out our step-by-step guides for straightforward advice on key gardening tasks

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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.