Step 1 - Aspect
Figure out your aspect, ie. light/sun levels in all parts of your garden. You will have 3 or 4 different aspects in your garden, even a south facing garden if it has boundaries like fences or hedges will have a shady north facing border. Work out where your sunniest and shadiest parts are and choose plants accordingly. See our blog posts on Aspect for more information regarding working out your aspect.
Step 2 - Soil
Analyse your soil. If its dark brown, smells earthy and peaty and feels crumbly and moist you have the gardening nirvana of soil called loam and your work here is done. Add plants, water occasionally and enjoy!
If it's dry and dusty or you're able to throw pots with it then check out our forthcoming blog posts on Soil for how to transform your soil and also how to work with it during the transformation stage.
If your plants are turning their toes up and dying for no obvious reason, get a soil Ph tester. Available online or in big DIY stores. You may have extremely acidic or alkaline soil and need to choose plants that can be happy in those conditions.
Step 3 - Design
Don't worry. This is not one of those 'draw a grid to recreate the scale of your garden' suggestions. Design is not a buzzword for a theme or a look. To design a garden is simply just to create something that works for you. So start thinking about what you want from your garden in terms of actual functionality. Ie.
This is where I want to sunbathe topless on sunny days - how do I screen it for more privacy?
This is where I get the evening sun and want to sit with friends drinking wine, how do I get power for lighting and music up this end of the garden?
Do you want to keep your grass? If you don't have pets or kids you might choose to replace it if you hate cutting it. Think about where you want to dump your grass trimmings or where you create a compost heap, or where you hide your wheelie bins, etc, etc. Designing your garden is less about creating Japanese moon gates and more about 'placing your furniture in zones' just like you do inside. Read more on design with our blog posts exploring different aspects of design.
Step 4 - Seasonal Interest
Anyone can have an interesting garden for a few months in summer. Simply go to the garden centre, spend £100+ buying things that are in flower, plant them, forget the names, feel unsure how to look after them. Repeat next May Bank Holiday. Or...... the longer term and cheaper option. Learn to layer your plants. This means planting spring flowering bulbs in late autumn/early winter. Planting a good variety of different height perennials for structure and interest for the summer which lasts to first frosts and beyond, and come back every year. Using direct sow annuals to create diversity and abundance.
Step 5 - Evolve with your garden
This is the fun bit, when it all starts to knit together. Enjoy it. There are too many people who will try and convince you that having a garden is nothing but sheer hard work. Don't listen. Let things get a bit overgrown or untidy, it really doesn't matter. Just pay attention to what is doing well and what's not working so good. Even professional gardeners have some failures and need to tweak things. Just keep adding more plants, more bulbs, sowing more seeds year upon year, extending and varying the interest as your confidence and knowledge builds. Keep improving that soil each winter if you need to. Stick to using plants that like the aspect you are planting them into and remember, nature is amazing, things actually want to grow. Just give them as good a start as you can and a bit of help now and then and stand back and be amazed.