Surveying the garden

Good garden design starts with putting your ideas down on paper.

Draw a rough shape of your garden on the notepaper, including the contour of your house. Don't worry too much about your artistic skills at this stage.

Measure the length, width and diagonals of the garden, using the house as a datum (starting reference point). If your tape measure isn't long enough then knock in a stake at an appropriate distance (3m, 5m etc.) and continue to measure until you reach the edge of you property. Note the measurements on your rough diagram. If you have used stakes, don't forget to add the distances together.

Measure any significant drops in the garden. With large gardens use a home made spirit level with smaller gardens a normal spirit level is fine. Make a note of these levels on the rough drawing.

Now measure, again from the datum point, any features that are too large or you do not want to remove, including trees*, ponds, patios, greenhouses, sheds etc.

Create a detailed drawing

Create a scale drawing on the graph paper using your notes, using as large a scale as possible. Photocopy this drawing so that you can try different ideas without having to redraw the garden.

If your garden slopes away or to the house, draw a side elevation using your height measurements.

Include the path of the sun on your plan, so that you can plant shade loving and sun worshiping plants accordingly.

If you have waterlogged/muddy areas or areas of the garden prone to frost, mark these on the plan. Muddy areas can be turned over to borders, you could site a pond here or incorporate some drainage. Frost pockets can be grassed over or planted with frost tolerant plants.


  • * Most mature trees can have Tree Preservation Orders (TPO) put on them by anyone asking the Tree Officer at the local council.
  • Typically preservation orders are applied to trees that have a trunk diameter of 15cm (6") or more at waist height. Your local authority will have a list of all TPOs in your area.
  • Get permission from your local tree officer before doing any work on or around a protected tree. You can be prosecuted and fined (up to a maximum of £20,000) for not complying.

Planning the Garden >>

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