Category Archives: Advice


Early in the planning of your garden you should determine how plants will fit in to the overall design. They can be used in a number of ways, for example for giving structure, adding height or even as a focal point in the garden to name but a few. Plants can also be used as barriers to define areas and create ‘rooms’ and you can highlight important points in the garden by using unique plants. Different sizes, textures, colours and contrasting shapes will help to capture your attention and direct it in a specific direction. All year round colour, structure and interest should be your aim and it will take thought, consideration and research to pull your plan together.

Floors Castle Gardens 010


So where do I start?

The place to start is with the ‘ backbone’ of the garden and by that I mean the structure. You need to get that in place before you get carried away with adding in the pretty flowers! It can be hard to be firm with yourself on this but it really will pay dividends in the end. I’d recommend starting with some evergreen shrubs and also any trees you may want. In my blog next week I’ll look at a selection of ornamental trees for your garden as ideally you should try to pick ones that will give you three seasons of interest.


Look for winter flowering evergreen shrubs or one that have leaves with interesting textures. If you’re wanting fairly quick coverage then check online the growth rates of various evergreens and choose the ones that say moderate to fast growth. Shrubs like Fatsia japonica, one of my personal favourites, is a quick growing shrub with tropical looking leaves and white flowers in September and October.

I usually add in some deciduous shrubs next and one I particularly like is Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’. Although it has leaves in the summer, its particular season of interest is the winter when beautiful pink/white flowers appear on its stems. Other great winter flowering evergreens are Viburnum tinus ‘Eve Price’ with pink winter flowers, Mahonia japonica with bold foliage and scented early spring flowers and Choisya ternata with glossy foliage.

Frosted Hydrangea Leaves

Ornamental grasses

After that, I tend to look at any ornamental grasses I might want to use. Not all my clients like grasses and quite often they are banished from my planting plans, however personally I think they are a fantastic addition to most gardens for a number of reasons. They allow movement in a garden and are perfect to harness the wind we get in Edinburgh and many other areas of Scotland. We can’t change the windy conditions we have so let’s utilise it!

There are ornamental grasses available in many sizes and colours. The great thing about grasses are the sounds they create from rustling to swishing and they give structure for about 11 months of the year. Many grasses only need to be cut back in February with the exception of grasses like Phormiums which have much stiffer leaves. Some of my personal favourites are Stipa tenuissima, a fantastic and versatile grass that can be planted in amongst herbaceous perennials to great effect. When the wind catches them they swirl around and look fantastic. Some of my favourite coloured grasses are Festuca glauca which is blue, Imperata rubra ‘Red Baron’ and Panicum ‘Squaw’ which changes colour from green to pink to wine red from spring through to autumn.

There are lots to choose from often changing colour through the seasons which gives a lot of variety and interest throughout the year. Phormiums also come in a variety of colours and look great as a focal point in the garden with their stiff leaves adding great texture to the border.

Do check the height and spread of all the plants you are thinking of using and make sure that they are planted in a way that one is not obscuring another. People often forget to check the final height and spread of plants which often means that they buy far too many. The plants then just try to out compete each other with the end result being an overcrowded messy border! It is such a waste of money too so it really pays to do your research.



‘The Pretties’

Last but not least are the herbaceous perennials, the fun bit that we all want to start with first but mustn’t! Unless you have a very large garden I’d recommend you go for perennials with long periods of interest. Choosing too many short flowering perennials will result in lots of green leaves and not much colour in large swathes of your garden. Try your best to pick perennials that say they last for 3-4 months, there are many that do.

Some perennials are deciduous and others are evergreen. Some good evergreens to include in your plan are the winter flowering Hellebores. They give year round evergreen structure and the prettiest flowers from February to April when we all need to see some colour in the garden. Other useful evergreens are Liriope muscari which flowers a pretty blue from August to October and Bergenia which flowers In March and April in lovely pinks and whites. Some of the Bergenia have leaves that turn coppery in winter which adds a lovely touch of colour to the borders at that time of year.

When you are choosing your perennials look for deciduous ones that will give lovely seed heads in the winter if left to dry out and not cut down and cleared away. Achillea, Monarda, Sedum and Echinops are to name but a few. You’ll find ideas of what to plant to give this effect in many books and on the internet. Using a carefully chosen selection of evergreen perennials, ornamental grasses, winter flowering shrubs, and perennials that fade to lovely seed heads you will have the palette to create year round colour, structure and interest in your garden.



Last but not least….

Remember that spring bulbs can fill in areas of the garden where you may be short of colour at the start of the year, until things get going in March/April time. I have previously blogged on bulbs so have a look at that and those spring bulbs that need to be planted between October and December will be all you need to finish off your planting design!


Once you have measured up your garden and you know what and where your different levels are, then you are almost ready to begin. The other crucial piece of the jigsaw is having thought carefully about the following:

– Who will be using the garden, when and what for?
– Entertaining, family meals, children’s play area, area for growing vegetables? Be sure of what you  want before you begin.
– Do you know where the sun falls in the garden and when?
– Do you know where you have any drainage problems that may need to be taken into account?
– Would you like atmospheric lighting or a water feature put in the garden?
– How much time and money do you have for maintenance?
– What is your budget for the project?

Make sure you have a comprehensive list of these things and refer to it while you are working on the design.

Remember, a sloping garden, drainage problems or the taking down and removal of such things as walls or old outbuildings will cost more to redesign, as the initial outlay for the preparatory works will be higher that if your garden was an empty flat site.


Be aware that demolition and site clearance is pretty expensive. Try and reuse existing materials in the garden wherever you can, it’s better for the environment and better for your pocket.


All designers will draw a design to scale, something most people with no design experience will not be able to do themselves. I suggest that for example when you have decided where to put a seating area for 6 people, that you go out to the space and either put 6 chairs and a table in that space to see if it fits or find out the measurements and mark  out the area required. It is crucial when designing, that you have enough space to fit in the things you want!



Remember the more patios, walls, and structures you put in to the design the more expensive it will be. The more lawn and borders you have the more you’ll see the price coming down. Less is more with hard landscaping and it should be elegant, simple and functional. If you’d like things such as a shed or water feature in your garden, find out the costs of these before you add them in so you can keep tabs on your budget. If you’d like some structures in the garden but your budget is tight, look to more traditional materials like woven hazel or willow to help keep costs down.


When it comes to materials such as pavers and gravel, speak to your local builders merchants to find out the costs of different materials so that you can pick the ones that suit your budget as well as the garden. You will be able to get bulk bags of various materials, so that may be a more economical way to buy them. Using environmentally friendly materials, non-toxic preservatives, stains, paints and cleaners helps protect the environment too.


Remember that once you have the design done you don’t need to have all the work done in one go. You can split the cost by doing it in stages and over two or three years if you’d like. As long as you have a cohesive design then that’s your blueprint to work from as and when, time and money allows.


Take a good look at the style of your house and the materials used to build it. If your garden is to be a seamless extension of your house then you need to make sure that it looks the part. The style or theme you choose for your garden, along with the materials used to construct it need to blend.

Do you want a soft organic flowing garden or do you prefer more orderly geometric shapes? In order to get the most out of your garden you should look at it as another room in your house and plan accordingly. Within this garden room you can create different, smaller ‘rooms’ in your landscape, for example, perhaps one for entertaining, one for children to play and so on.


Many people decide they want their garden to reflect a particular theme, for example, a Japanese garden or a contemporary, modern garden or a wildlife friendly garden. This can give you a focus for both your design and also planting ideas.

Remember you will need to ‘link’ these rooms whatever style you choose, so think about how people will move from one space to another. Create openings to encourage exploration of the garden space so that people can move around it. Using materials wisely allows you to create different ‘ rooms’ in your landscape.


Using plants is a great way to define areas in the garden too, so don’t underestimate the importance of these. Early in your planning you should think about how plants will function in your landscape. For example, low growing plants can be used to create implied barriers, blocking access but without blocking the views.

Shady ColourWhen it comes to planting, repeating similar shapes and structures in your garden to give you a unified view throughout your space. I will look at planting and planting plans in my next blog to help you with this important area of design.

Looking at good examples of design is a create way to get ideas. Note what works well and incorporate that into your design. Don’t be frightened to pinch ideas from different places. Looking at what others have done is a natural way to find inspiration.

Remember that most garden design deals with finding aesthetically pleasing and functional solutions to problems within a garden. Creativity is dealing with these problems and trying to find the best solution faced with a lot of possible options.

Feeling unsure which one to choose is normal. Just do your best and remember if you get stuck you can always call upon a garden designer to give you some advice and get you over that hurdle and back on course!


Not everyone can afford to have their garden designed and built and people often ask how to do some or all of it themselves. That’s fair enough, so I’ve put together some hints and tips to help you ‘go it alone’.



Find out more about your garden:-

• Does your garden face north, south, east or west?
• Is your garden battered by northerly or westerly winds?
• Do you have any frost pockets in the garden?
• Is your garden on a new-build estate and does it have poor soil or indeed any topsoil?
• Check the pH of your soil to see if you have any areas of acid or alkaline soil .You can buy soil testing kits from any garden centre. Remember that different parts of your garden can have different pH levels and this will affect your plant choice.
• If there are particularly dry, damp or boggy areas, then that again will affect your plant choice
• Do you have beautiful loamy soil? Most people don’t, so be sure you know what you’ve got! Plants that will thrive in sandy soils will be different from those suited to a clay one. The same applies to the location of the garden. Seaside gardens and town gardens will require the same thought and consideration when it comes to planting.
• Where does the sun fall and at what time of the day? Do you have any areas in the garden where drainage is bad and you notice pools of water?
• Is your garden on a slope? Do you need to think about retaining the soil in places?
• How do you want to use the space and who will be using it? Do you have pets? Small children? Do you plan to entertain outdoors or have family meals outside?


– Know your garden conditions – soil, microclimates and drainage
– Work out who will be using the garden – when and what for
– Consider how much time you will have to maintain your garden or if you are going to take someone on to do it
– Allocate a budget to the project – work out how much you can realistically afford to spend and seek advice if necessary, on how to maximise it.

Yellow tape measure in meters and inches in a spiral


The next step is to measure up you garden so that you know exactly the amount of space there is. If you want to add or change levels to the garden and you don’t know how to do that then try and find a friend or colleague who does know and enlist their help!
Try your hand at a design. In my next blog I’m going to cover how to tackle this. To make sure you’re on the right track though, why not contact a Garden Designer once you’ve finished it and run it by them. Most will charge a consultancy fee of £45-£75 per hour but you’ll probably only need one or one and a half hours with them. It is a much cheaper option than getting a design done and will ensure that any ’mistakes’ you have made are corrected before you spend any real money!


You may want to appoint a contractor to do the hard-landscaping but if you’re pretty competent and want to do it yourself or with friends then a website I would recommend to give help and support is:

This website will give you incredible tips and instructions on the vast majority of tasks that anyone would need to undertake building their own garden.


Once you garden is built the planting plan is the final stage. Do think this out carefully and again use  library resources and the internet to get advice on how to put together a planting plan well. Local plant nurseries will be able to give you really good advice so do take the opportunity and ask. If you are buying your plants from them you will get plenty of help with what to choose. People waste a lot of money on plants that fail quickly for a number of reasons.

If you put a planting plan together yourself, here are some key guidelines to follow:

How much do you want to spend on plants? Be firm with yourself as this is the easiest
place to get carried away and spend more money than you intend!

Do you want a Chelsea Flower Show look or are you prepared to wait? If your budget is
small and you are prepared to be patient buy ‘small’ fast –growing shrubs and 9cm
herbaceous plants.

If you have a bit more money to spend then I’d buy larger shrubs and the 9cm herbaceous. Plant in spring so they get as much growth on as possible before the winter.


Next price bracket up – larger shrubs and 1 litre herbaceous

Finally, larger shrubs and 2 litre herbaceous for a more instant impact. Remember some shrubs will go quickly and others won’t. If you do some research you can find out which ones will give you more impact more quickly!

With regards to trees and deciduous shrubs and hedging plants e.g. Birch, why not wait and order them bare-root (without soil) and plant them between November and March. This will reduce your costs, but the garden needs to be snow and frost free when planting them.

You may feel having read this blog that you don’t feel comfortable doing the whole project on your own. Remember, you can always get a garden designer in for bits of the project or just for an hour or two of consultancy if you need to.

Hints and Tips of how to find the right Garden Designer, Landscape Contractor or Design and Build Company for you

Great, so now you’ve decided whether it’s a garden designer, landscape contractor or design and build company that’s right for you. So how do you go about finding ‘The One’ and when you do, what should you ask them? These are good questions and ones most people ask me. Here are some ways to find people, things you should ask them when you meet and some things you should be aware of.

Man Working Laptop Connecting Networking Concept

So how do you actually go about finding these people?

– The best way ideally is a personal recommendation from someone. It could be a friend, relative, neighbour or even someone you chat to at the school gate. Ask them about their experience of the person they used and crucially, if they were starting their project from the beginning again, would they use the same person.

– Often neighbours or someone in your street is having work done and this is an ideal opportunity to take a look. You may not want the kind of design that they are having done but you will be able to see the quality of the designer or contractor’s work first hand.

– Often you can find a designer or contractor by spotting their car or van with their logo and details parked outside someone’s house. Feel free to ring the doorbell where the work is being done and ask the owners about the service they’re receiving and experience they’ve had.

– The internet now is one of the key ways to find these people. Often previous clients have posted reviews on google or other websites. Reading these gives you a quick and easy way to find out what some of their previous clients thought about them. Most designers and contractors have websites now, showing the work they have done. Have a good look at this prior to meeting them.

Word Garden written in search bar

So,once you picked some of these people to meet,what should you ask them?

– How long have they been in this line of business?

– Are they affiliated to any professional bodies or have they undertaken any formal training in the case of garden designers or design and build companies? Where and for how long?

– Are they happy to give you references that you can contact?

– How far ahead are they booked up? Ideally, autumn is the best time to get in touch as all the design work can be done at this time of year followed by a winter build and planting in the spring. See if their commitments fit with what you would like.

So, what else?

At that meeting a tight brief of what you are looking for should be taken by the professional. They should also bring up the question of your budget at this stage. This is not a question designed to trick you into parting with more cash than you want to. It’s essential for the professional to have the opportunity to see if you have a realistic budget to match your brief. They should be able if your budget is not realistic to explain why not and how much roughly you would need to  get what you want. Speak to two or three professionals and you will hopefully be told a consistent story. A good professional will be able to help you align your budget with what you want from your garden. This may be advising that you need a landscape contractor rather than a garden designer or managing your choice of materials and hard-landscaping versus soft landscaping to reduce your costs.

– Always have a contract with whoever you engage. I cannot stress enough the importance of this. I always have a contract with my clients, not because I think they won’t pay but rather for absolute clarity in terms of what they have asked for and my fees and terms and conditions. It is easy for miscommunication to happen and this is a straightforward solution to prevent that.

Regardless of how impressive someone’s portfolio is, there are some other things you should consider before engaging anyone:

– Do you get a good feeling about the person you may be engaging when you first meet them?
– You may, like many of my clients be out all day at work. This may mean you give a set of your house keys to a contractor while they are working on the garden build. It is paramount that you feel the contractors are trustworthy and that you know that you can do this without worry.
– When you ask for references, are they willing to give you names & contact details of previous clients or do they appear reluctant?
– Could you stand having them around your property for the time it takes to do the work?   Some projects run on for months.
– Do they have professional insurance if anything were to go wrong?

There may be other questions that come to mind and in your initial conversation with anyone you should feel free to ask them. Often who you end up choosing is not solely based on price but whether or not you ’get on’ and feel that not only are you on same wavelength as that person but that they will deliver the end result that you are looking for. You know then that you have found ‘The One’.