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From the team at Gardeners' World Magazine
Measuring an area in a new garden

How to start a new garden

Published: Friday, 2 August, 2019 at 10:17 am

Got a new garden but not sure where to start? Then follow our advice.

Starting a new garden can be exciting, but daunting too. Whether you have a blank canvas or have inherited an established garden from a previous owner, it can be difficult to know where to start.

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They key thing when planning your new garden is not to rush. Get to know your garden – where does the sun rise and set? Which areas are in shade at different times of the day? Is there anything you'd like to screen? Are you drawn to a particular place to sit?

If you've inherited an established garden, different plants will come up at different times of the year, some of which you might want to keep. It may not look that promising during the winter months as perennials will have died back and bulbs will not have appeared yet. So ideally, observe your garden for a year to see how it changes.

You also need to know what conditions you have before you grow anything – the type of soil you have, and the climate you are gardening in.

Getting to know your garden – and having a clear idea of what you want from it – will help you to plan your new garden more easily. Here are some key things to consider.


Climate

Well-stocked, mature flowers beds and a greenhouse in a garden
Well-stocked, mature flowers beds and a greenhouse in a garden

Is your garden windy, exposed, cold or sheltered? Are parts of it in a frost pocket? Is it coastal? Is it in an area of high or low rainfall? Is it in an urban environment, which may mean it has its own microclimate? Bear in mind that conditions can vary around the garden.


Orientation

A shady garden area beneath a tree
A shady garden area beneath a tree

The ‘aspect’ of your garden – north, south, east or west – affects which areas are sunny and those that are in shade, and therefore the plants you can grow. Find out more about working out your garden's aspect and the different types of garden shade.


Soil type

Assessing handfuls of soil
Assessing handfuls of soil

Knowing your soil is crucial so that you can choose plants that will thrive in it. Find out how to discover your soil texture –whether it's sandy, loam or clay – and how to find out your soil pH. You'll also need to consider drainage – very soggy or spongy areas imply that the soil drains poorly.


Existing features

A garden shed, patio, path and planted area
A garden shed, patio, path and planted area

Are there features that you'd like to keep – a building, or tree, for example? If you need to replace fences, find out which side you are responsible for and replace before working on the garden. Is there anything you want to conceal e.g. a neighbouring property? Also note any changes of level.


Existing plants

A garden table with books
A garden table with books

Try to look at the garden objectively. Decide which plants are worth keeping – even if you don't especially like something, it may serve a purpose in terms of structure or screening. Could some plants be rejuvenated by some judicious pruning?


What do you want from the garden?

Metal garden chairs and table
Metal garden chairs and table

Is the garden predominantly for kids to play in, entertaining, wildlife, or relaxing? Do you have a cat or dog? Make a list of the things you’d like to include and don’t forget necessities like bike storage, recycling and the barbecue. When are you there to enjoy it?


Budget

Potting-up aster cuttings
Potting-up aster cuttings

The budget governs everything and you'd be surprised how much gardens can cost. Plants can be relatively cheap but instant impact from bigger plants will be expensive; bare-root plants are an economical choice. Hard landscaping and changes of level will really impact on your budget. Save money by growing plants from seed and cuttings and reducing hard landscaping.


How are you able to garden?

A gravel path between borders and containers
A gravel path between borders and containers

Do you want a low maintenance garden, or are you a keen gardener who can handle a high-maintenance plot? If you are impatient, buy large plants or fast-growing perennials, shrubs, hedges and trees. If you have a disability you will need to plan the garden accordingly.


Design style

Jungle-style planting
Jungle-style planting

Take into account the type of property you have and its location – it's a good idea to take inspiration from you surroundings. Are you going for a traditional, cottage, urban, jungle or prairie look? Get inspiration from websites, social media and books.


Make a plan

Planning garden layout on paper
Planning garden layout on paper

If you feel confident, have a go at creating a plan yourself. Don’t be tempted to just add borders around the edge – like furniture around the edge of a room. Breaking up the space can make it feel larger and add to a sense of adventure as you don’t see the whole garden at once. Alternatively, employ a garden designer. Discover Joe Swift's three golden rules of garden design.


Hard landscaping

Wooden decking and planters
Wooden decking and planters

There are many hard landscaping options, including decking and many different types of paving. Bear in mind that changes of level, garden features and hard landscaping in general are the most expensive part of your garden, especially if you pay contractors to install it for you.


Planting

An elegant border of cream, blue and magenta flowers with beech hedges beyond
An elegant border of cream, blue and magenta flowers with beech hedges beyond

Include a mix of annuals, biennials, perennials, evergreens, shrubs and climbers for interest throughout the year. However small the garden is, you have room for a tree – read about our recommended trees for small gardens. Choose the right plants for your conditions and a mix of shapes – spiky, tall, rounded etc. Choose a limited palette of plants and repeat them throughout borders for a coherent look.


Further reading

Purple pompom flowerheads
Purple pompom flowerheads
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