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Starting to design from scratch - what shoudl I do?

alexemmersonukalexemmersonuk Norwich, Norfolk, UKPosts: 150
Hello all - complete beginner here, about to buy a home and finally have free reign for garden design. 

I've recently got into gardening, but let's be honest, I don't really know what I'm doing. Happy to learn and get my hands dirty, but right now I need to learn the basics of garden design. I know what I want it to look like, I just don't know where to start. 

I'd love to create a sort of romantic cottage garden, mostly around pinks, blues and purples. Think some tall lupins, gladioli, delphinium, alliums etc... with plenty of heather and lavender etc. 

Where I get lost is the planning element. I tend to go to the garden centre, see something pretty and buy it, without much thought for where it's going to go, what it's going to look like in a few years or whether it'll even be there next year at all! 

I feel like I need to sit down and plan out all the flowers amd plants I want there but I am not sure how to do this.

 How many of the same plant do I need for repetition? Is it the doe thing to put taller plants at the back? Do I have to know whether the sun will be in my new house before I can know for sure what will survive or thrive there? Do I really need to know about the soil or is that something I can fix when I get there? 

Are there any apps or pieces of software that I can plan this out on a screen and see what it's going to look like before I start planting it all out? 

Any advice very much appreciated. Real beginner at this and rather excited! 



  • UffUff SW Scotland but born in DerbyshirePosts: 3,031
    How exciting @alexemmersonuk
    You'll get lots of advice on here about planting, where and when. Colour and texture. Perennials and annuals. Soil type and which way the garden faces.

    My advice to start with though is to take your time, don't rush, get to know your new garden and don't get bogged down with too many things at once or you will get so confused you won't know which way to turn. 
  • AnniDAnniD South West UKPosts: 10,999
    edited March 2022
    The most popular mantra is "right plant, right place", eg.planting sun lovers in sun, shade lovers in shade etc.
    The type of soil you have will also have a bearing on what you can plant, so before you rush out and buy plants, buy a soil testing kit and use it in more than one area.
    Remember, you need to factor in seating areas, bin stores, washing lines etc.

    I can really appreciate your excitement, l've been in your situation (as have many other forum members) and l can relate to why you want to do it all "NOW !!", but l'm assuming that this will be, if not your forever home, at least home for a while. Breathe !
    Also have a look to see what your new neighbours are growing (assuming it's not a new build),  that will give you some idea of what does well in the area.

    Planning is the key. Take your time with it and it will save you time in the long run. Enjoy it  :)
  • FireFire North LondonPosts: 17,116
    Very exciting. Where abouts are you? What apsect is your garden (N,S,E,W?) what kind soil /ground do you have? Are there any big trees, drainage issues, children in the home, mobility challenges?
  • alexemmersonukalexemmersonuk Norwich, Norfolk, UKPosts: 150
    Hi @Uff
    Yes you're right. I can be quite impatient, and on this project, I need to make sure I don't rush! THank you for the valuable reminder! :)
  • alexemmersonukalexemmersonuk Norwich, Norfolk, UKPosts: 150
    Right plant, right spot. Makes sense. I'll make sure I remember that :)
  • alexemmersonukalexemmersonuk Norwich, Norfolk, UKPosts: 150
    We're in Norwich, Norfolk, UK. 
    We have not yet bought the house! We are going on viewings at the moment and we hope to be in our new home within a few months if all goes well. 
    So I really don't know anything about where the garden will face, or what kind of soil is there (although I imagine soil can easily be changed)?
    I do know one thing for sure, with 4 kids, the garden is really important and we will be going somewhere with a decent size garden. We also like to entertain, so lots of barbeques in the summer, so I'll have to leave room for that :) 

    Are there any apps or pieces of software you can recommend for planning? I quite like to do things on my laptop rather than on paper..... on thought there might be something out there that would show me what different plants would look like together or how tall they would get he next year etc, but I can't find anything.....

  • FireFire North LondonPosts: 17,116
    Good to put function first and build the garden with kids and entertaining in mind. There is a bit of a gap in the market around easy, cheap garden planning apps at the moment.
  • PlantmindedPlantminded Wirral (free draining sandy soil)Posts: 1,741
    There's some really good information in this Gardeners' World article and all the associated links on how to set about designing your garden: How to Design a Garden - BBC Gardeners World Magazine.  In addition to this I'd recommend that you are realistic about the amount of time you will have to maintain your garden and that you take that into account with your planning.  Lots of exciting projects in store - lots of help available here!
  • FireFire North LondonPosts: 17,116
    edited March 2022
    I'd recommend visiting lots of gardens this summer - National Open Gardens,  RHS gardens, find ones that are open near you. NGS are usually open on a Sunday afternoon mainly between May and Sept each year. You can learn tonnes and the hosts are happy to answer for questions. Great cake too and plants for sale, often.

    Also, raid your local charity shops for books on cottage gardens to get an idea of potential designs, heights, wildness, historical period of interest and colours. I bought a load for a couple of quid them just to look at the pictures and to find what I like. And what I don't like.

    I personally spend a lot of time swooning over Sarah Raven's gardens at Perch Hill - full of roses, foxgloves and dahlias. Bunny Guiness also. They both have aspects of cottage garden in their home plots with elements of formality and elements of wild, blousy, more pastelly elements. Both have great channels on Youtube to hunt through.

  • I’m in a similar situation to you and have found this forum and it’s members so helpful. I definitely think it’s best to wait till you’ve started using the garden to see what you want from it. By the summer you’ll know what’s growing there already (if anything) and you can work around that. I would also consider some easy to grow vegetables and fruits that the children will enjoy helping with. 
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