Garden Design Masterclass By Award Winning Garden Designer David Keegan Part 2

Published by David Keegan 4 years ago

Garden Design Masterclass Part 2 by Award Winning Garden Designer, David Keegan.

In part one of the garden design masterclass, we looked at a number of preliminary stages required prior to designing the garden spaces. As part of this garden design masterclass, we also covered a number of areas for the preparatory stages required for garden design. This included headings such as planning your garden. It also included advice on surveying your plot/garden, testing the soil, noting soil conditions. Finally preparing us to put pencil to paper to design a garden. Part 1 of the design masterclass also dealt with preparing for the future and the importance of creating a mood book.

In this part 2 of my garden design masterclass, we will begin to look at the next stages in setting out to create your designs for the perfect garden.

Existing features and elements of the garden you may wish to keep.

Before deciding on what will be included in the new designs for the garden we must first throw a critical eye on existing elements. This could include things such as garden sheds, existing paving, trees, shrubs, bulbs and pots. These are elements we may wish to include in the new designs for the garden. It’s best at this point to make an inventory of what’s staying and what’s to go. For example, there may be an established tree which can easily be adapted into a plan for a large garden. The same tree would, however, prove too overpowering in a new scheme for a smaller garden.


Prior to cutting down existing established trees, it is important to ensure they are not protected by a TPO. A TPO is more commonly known as a Tree Preservation Order. If in doubt this information can be easily obtained from the tree officer at the local council. Tree and conservation officers are generally more than happy to help. A simple phone call or email to your local council’s horticultural department should help with this one. In situations where a TPO exists on a tree, or trees, where you believe the tree/s to be diseased or a danger to public safety you will require the services of an Arboriculturist.  An Arboriculturist will survey the tree and draw up a report. This can then be used in any submissions to the tree officer. It is important to choose a fully registered professional Arboriculturist for this job.

Hard landscaping materials, paving the way

The next stage of the design process should focus on the materials you plan to use for hard landscaping. This will include elements such as paving, terracing, decking and such like. It is always a good idea to look to recycle as many existing garden materials where possible. Those that don’t fit the designs for the new gardens can either be donated via the likes of Gumtree or sold to a reclamation yard. I am a great fan of reclamation yards which can prove a treasure trove of useful hard landscaping materials.

Reclaiming old ground

Reclaimed York stone paving and reclaimed street cobble can add elements of patina and rustic charm to many designs. Also a great way of being more environmentally friendly and helping reduce your carbon footprint. You may even get some valuable currency to add to the budget for your new garden. If you intend to include reclaimed hard landscaping materials in your designs a good practical step is to find out what materials are available. Be sure to request quantities in square meters prior to designing your garden. This way you can adapt your garden designs to work with what can be readily sourced.

Setting out and planning your new garden/landscape

As we set pen to paper to begin the process of designing our garden,/landscape the mood book now comes into its own. Coupled with visits to inspirational gardens, it will have helped to consolidate a style of garden to design. A contemporary garden will require a very different approach than let’s say a traditional or cottage garden. This applies equally a formal garden where the landscape is tightly controlled and uniform in line and shape. You may wish to create a wildflower meadow if space allows. For those with larger plots and available land, an orchard is a wonderful thing to include in your designs.  Perhaps your aim is to create a wildlife haven.

The aesthetics of a designed garden

A clear idea of an aesthetic we wish to achieve in the finished designs and therefore gardens will determine the types of materials we use. It will also include the layouts of elements such as paving for example. To judge further whilst a crazy-paving pattern may look good in an informal or cottage garden it would look completely out of context in a contemporary garden. In a contemporary or formal garden, it is more likely to include uniform paving slabs ranging in size from 500 x 500 to 600 x 900. The size of the paving slabs chosen will be determined by the size of the plot you are designing. In a small garden, it is more likely you will use a 500 x 500 or a 600 x 600 paving slab. This helps to create the illusion of a bigger space. In larger plots, a 600 x 900 paving slab adds visual dynamic and a sense of proportion to paved and terraced areas of the garden.

In this garden, I used a combination of reclaimed walling stone contrasted with diamond sawn York stone coping and paving. Polished black pebble was used to mimic the effects of a water rill. This combination creates a contemporary feel to this sunken garden area.

Pretty as a picture

Once you have decided on the aesthetic of the new gardens or landscape the next step, using our survey as set out in the garden design masterclass part 1. Draw a 1-meter square grid on our basic survey plan. This will make it easier to divide the space proportionally.  With this simple grid plan, we can also draw important sightlines from windows and opening in either walls hedges or gates. Using this line of sight will assist in determining possible focal points. Focal points in any garden or landscape are essential to design elements which draw your focus on a view or feature. This important design tool helps us control how we view an overall garden or landscape.

This picture a small and unused area of lawn to the rear of a house is transformed into an enchanted forest garden. Created changes in level allowed for steps to be installed. These lead to a quiet and hidden seating area in the far corner of the garden. The stone table and cube seats are used as a central focal point from which to sit and view all parts of this enchanted garden space..

Who’s looking at you?

Another essential factor for consideration at this point is the garden or landscape overlooked by neighbouring houses? This will apply whether your garden is on the back of a suburban semi or in rolling agricultural farmland. In today’s modern environment it is almost impossible not to be overlooked in some form. At a project that I am currently working on the location of a new orchard was determined by the need to screen a distant property. Set in over two acres of land it was still a necessary design consideration.

Hedging your bets

Attempting to soften background noise may dictate the type of trees used Standard pleached trees on a clear stem will either have been trained on a bamboo cane panel or a box frame, giving a 3D hedge. Standard dimensions will usually be a 1-meter clear stem with a 1 to 1.5 meter head at 2 meters wide. Not generally available to the public you will most likely require the input of a garden/landscape designer in sourcing these types of trees.  Raised beds to the perimeter of a small garden can also raise the height of planting. This has the added benefits of making planting beds easier to access and therefore maintain. Inset seats further enhance usable space for entertaining in a garden too.

A small suburban garden

Pictures of a small suburban garden I designed for a retired couple a few years ago. This is a low maintenance garden where we make use of all the available space. Another tip in a small space a lawn can be more trouble in terms of maintenance than worth. Consider carefully whether you actually need, or want, a lawn in your new designs. For many a lawn is chosen more out of tradition rather than desire. In this particular example, the garden suffered badly from poor drainage as can be seen in before picture 1. Using raised beds and doing away with the lawn we eliminated the problem with drainage by installing a hidden soak-away.

The division of space using shape and form.

It is now time to consider what shape and form our garden will take. This could be combinations of simple rectangles, squares, circles or ellipses. How we use these shapes will to some extent be determined by the size and shape of the plot. A large long garden, for example, allows for division within the plot into smaller satellite garden rooms, or areas. Subdivision of the plot helps create greater interest and a sense of journey in the landscape.

The plot thickens

An equally important consideration when designing larger gardens is the use of the entire plot. Endeavour to create a sense of movement and purpose drawing you to the furthest reaches of the garden. Far better use of space than only focusing on areas closest to the house. This is where the division of the garden and good use of focal points, or even surrounding landscapes, can prove invaluable. In formal gardens I designed for a client some years ago I designed a folly of a falling-down tower. This was visible along the central axis within the garden and situated in a small area of dense trees. This allowed me to create a sense of curiosity in the landscape. It also draws both the eye and the visitor to want to explore the space further.

Throwing shapes in the landscape

Whatever shapes you decide to use they should be used in a series of interconnected patterns in any garden design. Working with a smaller garden plot does not mean you cannot subdivide a small space. In smaller gardens changes in level, coupled with well-located planting beds and planting, allows the designer to create visual breaks. This adds dynamic interest in the garden. The real aim in every garden design should be to create a sense of wonder and curiosity. You want to excite the eye and stimulate the senses. In a garden where everything is immediately visible that sense of wonder is potentially lost.

Hey sunshine, over here

At this important point in the design of our garden, we should also locate any seating, terracing and decking areas. Their location determined according to where the sun will fall when you most likely to want to use the garden. The sun may well be on the back of the house in the morning. Later it could well be on the back, or side areas, of the garden in the evening.  It’s most likely after work on a warm summers evening you’ll want to use the outdoor space. Spend a day watching the trajectory of the sun before deciding on the critical location of any hard landscaping. This information should also inform the design of the planting plan for the garden too. The old motto of ‘right place right plant’ still rings true.

A garden view

In pictures below a much larger project. This required a different approach both in terms of materials and dynamic use of focal points. The large lawns are not only dull but offers little to capture the imagination or excitement. The stone terracing at the foot of the steps looks like an afterthought pushed to one side of the garden.

In picture 2 we see the finished gardens following the redesign. Here I have divided the lawn in quarter section. The designed pergola doubles up as a densely planted walkway to break up space. A new terrace was designed to sit in the breakpoint of the two pergolas and surrounded by planting beds. This creates a sense of enclosure and intimacy to the seating areas of the gardens.

That’s it for part 2 of the design masterclass. 3 of this garden design masterclass, series to be published in March. In this, we will begin to explore the use of plants in the garden.

Author & Garden Designer Bio:

David Keegan is a multi-award winning internationally recognised garden and landscape designer. He is the only UK designer to have been awarded the prestigious Northern Design Award for best landscape designer four times, winning the award in 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2016. He has also received international recognition for this landscape design work with recognition in the International Landscape Design Awards in the USA winning awards in both 2012 and 2018. His Eco garden also won national UK recognition winning BALI (British Association of Landscape Industry) awards in 2017 Principle Award Winner for domestic garden construction. A self-confessed plant-a-holic his personal motto is ‘It’s All About The Plants’ He regularly appears as a speaker on trade panel shows. His work has also featured in numerous magazines and books on landscape design. Based in Manchester he is currently working on a variety of projects across North West England, the UK, and Europe.

To view his portfolio of work simply click this link

To contact David Keegan Garden Design click this link

For reclamation materials in the North West click this link

© David Keegan Garden Design February 2020 all rights reserved. Do not copy or use any or all of the materials of this blog post without prior permission and authorisation of the author.

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