Real gardens banner

Garden landscaping ideas: 12 ways to plan the perfect yard space from scratch

You can landscape a garden and still stay on budget. Create a stunning outdoor space that works for you using the best materials, planting schemes and landscaping methods to enhance your yard in all seasons

garden landscaping ideas
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Our guide to garden landscaping is a sound starting point when transforming your outdoor space from scratch – whether you're a pro or a total novice. Because creating a garden that is beautiful and satisfying, is more than a haphazard process. And anyone who has successfully landscaped a garden in their time is sure to agree. If you've come this far, you are likely to be working on a garden in your forever home, or at least, in the place that you happily call home for now. 

To really feel the benefits of your yard space, it goes beyond tidying your lawn with the best lawn mower, and you'll need to follow some ground rules (pun intended) to ensure the most successful results.

November 2019: Sayu Sinha seamlessly integrated tech into his extended period home

(Image credit: Chris Snook)

How big you go with your landscaping ideas depends on your taste, how many acres you have and of course, your budget. Jeremy Yamaguchi, CEO of Lawn Love (opens in new tab) shares some helpful tips for staying on budget and reducing garden landscaping costs where possible: 

'To save money while landscaping your garden, while simultaneously creating a garden that will actually thrive, choose plants that are native to your area. Non-native plants are always going to be more expensive, and they will often require much more water and attention (assuming that they actually stay alive in the climate that they are not meant for). You’ll also want to pay attention to where your garden is going to be located and how much sun it will get. Knowing the amount of sun that plants will be getting will help you choose specific, native plants that thrive with that exact amount of sunlight.'

It's a case of working with your foundations so that your planting and other cosmetic finishes can fall into place far more attractively. From weeding, to ground leveling, the best landscaping plants to use and which trees to consider, these garden landscaping ideas and tips will set you up for success. 

1. Assess your site and your garden design

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp Photography)

This is a crucial area that you should largely have covered when creating your garden design to understand the space you're working with. The main reason for this part of the garden landscaping process is that you'll be looking to identify any issues so that you can prepare your efforts and materials accordingly – which will save you time and money in the long run. 

This is what to consider:

  • Clear up: Is there any rubbish to remove?
  • Ground condition: Will you need to level a bumpy lawn
  • Any awkwardly situated trees: Are they likely to obstruct walkways or get in the way of groundwork?
  • Any existing planting: hedges, Consider garden flower beds and so on.
  • Any existing structures or features in place to remove/work with: Think decks, a patio, fencing, garden rooms, water features, garden paths,
  • Drainage: Understand the state of the space after a downpour, noting any particular areas that become waterlogged.
  • Topsoil: Analyze the current state of any existing and whether any more will be required.

2. Decide whether to DIY or hire a garden landscaper

The key here is to know your limits and your budget. Planting, installing off-the-peg water features, adding a new gravel path or lawn, laying decking and garden fencing are within the scope of the keen amateur; however, walling, laying expensive stone pavers, concrete rendering and electrical work should be carried out by professionals for a quality, safe finish, even if you do have a small plot. Contractors that are affiliated to either the British Association of Landscape Industries (opens in new tab) (BALI) or the Association of Professional Landscapers (opens in new tab) (APL) should be your first choice, Checktrade (opens in new tab) is also a good place to find reputed garden landscapers that are UK-based.

cottage garden plants in front of pretty cottage

(Image credit: Joe Wainwright)

3. Clear the site

Disturbing top soil

(Image credit: Shutterstock )

This means getting rid of weeds naturally (everyone's favorite job) or using one of the best weed killers, as well as any overgrowth and removing any garden waste. Visible rubbish is easy to remove, but using a pick (if the soil is compacted), or a garden rake (if you're lucky!) and disturbing the soil can help release any rubble to be removed below. 

This can be a tough job but it is completely necessary, especially if you're planning for lots of planting and want to start a kitchen garden. Big chunks of rubble make it harder for plants to establish and can potentially block drainage access also.

Determine whether this will be a light job and easy to do yourself, or if you need to hire a skip. 

4. Level the ground

This is a vital task as without a level ground, any landscaping materials such as patio and decking can't go down. 

If you have a small garden space then you may be able to level the ground yourself using a heavy-duty garden rake from Amazon (opens in new tab) or a local hardware store. Use the teeth to break up large chunks of soil, while the back can also be used to smooth the surface by running it in a forward and backward motion to evenly distribute the soil.

Millboard Composite Decking Weathered Vintage Garden House Design

Millboard composite decking, Garden House Design (opens in new tab)

(Image credit: Garden House Design)

If you have a big space where the soil is very compacted, or if you are working with a very sloped garden, then you may need to consider calling in a professional.  A subtle change in level can help make a smaller yard or garden feel larger, but sloped grass is a no no as it can become slippy and unsightly very quickly. Terracing is probably the best way to work with a sloped garden, and it will allow you to have different levels of interest in your space.

Do bear in mind, however, that significant excavations are expensive. There’s the soil to remove and retaining walls are needed (to stop soil washing away), so you'll usually need to call in help from a professional structural engineer which can mean costs will add up.

5. Select hard landscaping materials that will stand the test of time

landscaping materials

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Identifying and exploring potential materials is one of the more enjoyable parts of landscaping a garden. 

Sarah Jameson of Green Building Elements (opens in new tab) notes how your choice of landscaping materials can have a big effect on the overall cost of your project, so it's worth being conscious of what you're using: 'Repurposing goes a long way when it comes to landscaping with a budget. Find existing stones, wood, and plants that can be moved around instead of replacing everything altogether. When it comes to stone and wood, go to local salvage yards and warehouses to ask for excess pallets of bricks and boards for the fraction of their original price. Meanwhile, wait for clearance sales at plant nurseries and opt for plants that can be divided and transplanted. Another option is to exchange plants or other materials with your neighbor for free.'

While performance, durability and ease of maintenance are key with all materials used in a garden setting, you should choose natural-looking surfaces that complement your home and design style. Earthy greys, deep honey browns and rustic dull reds suit both period and new houses. 

To successfully link your indoor and outdoor spaces, choose a similar material to that used in the room linked to the garden – just make sure it’s weatherproof. And, otherwise, garden designers will usually keep things simple by sticking with four different materials max. Here are some options:

  • Patio paving: There are lots of options available – from expensive York stone to concrete imitations, brick and granite.
  • Decking: Can be a good choice where wooden flooring is used inside the house – very well suited in contemporary homes. Timber, oak and even teak make perfect decking ideas for a busy garden area as they are durable and stable materials that can deal with heavy footfall. Your decking will need a good pressure wash every once in a while to keep algae and any slipperiness at bay, but it's sure to keep your garden looking fine for years to come.
  • Garden gravel: This is an ideal material to use in both modern and period garden settings. It's versatile and can be used to edge a patio, create more of a themed space or you could even lay a gravel path which is a cost-effect garden path idea
  • Concrete flooring: Concrete give you a great, contemporary finish and is a brilliant way to create uniformity between the outside and inside of your home.
  • Granite sets: Can make an impact, and as they are typically used in driveway design so they will last for years to come. They make an especially good option if you're landscaping a font yard without plants...

6. Plan for wet ground and control damp

garden lounge chair in a small garden

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

Simply working the ground will increase drainage, and if you're installing patio paving, this will help disperse water furthermore.

An important point to note is that your topsoil level shouldn't surpass the damp-course of your home or other garden outbuildings to avoid running the risk of damp in any interior spaces. Six inches below is the recommended top level, including any materials on top like gravel etc.

If your land does have waterlogging issues, then you may need to consider adding drains.

7. Plan your planting

garden landscaping with planting

(Image credit: Shutterstock )

This is the fun part, and plants, trees and any shrubbery should come next on the list, ahead of adding any garden lawns. The type of garden plants you choose, of course, depends on your taste, the climate and the overall feel that you want to create in your outdoor space, but it also depends on the type of soil you have and on your garden's aspect. Generally, a mixture of trees, flowers and evergreen shrubs will work well, creating year-round interest, ideal for wildlife also. 

8. Consider xeriscaping and your climate

Xeriscaping garden scheme in mixed sand bed

(Image credit: RM Floral / Alamy Stock Photo)

Working with your garden's aspect, soil type and climate is a must and if you live in a dryer climate or want to plant in a more low-maintenance and eco-friendly manner, you can look to incorporate xeriscaping into your landscaping for less irrigation and stunning results. What's beautiful about this landscaping method is that you don't need a ton of plants to make a difference, and it's not reserved only for dry climates.

9. Define different areas in your yard

Yard from above, areas of neat lawn, a water feature and outdoor wooden sunroom

(Image credit: Henry Scott - Pehrsson Scott)

Defining different sections of your outdoor space proves super rewarding. And landscaping a yard with this in mind will help you make the most of your space also, leaving room for an outdoor kitchen addition next to a vegetable plot or for family outdoor living space and so on. Here is how to go about it like a professional:

  • Choose different hard landscaping and floor surfaces: To differentiate between the dining, lounging and play areas. Obvious options include a stone material for the dining space, decking for the lounging area, and bark or grass for the play area.
  • Use different colors on fencing or walls: This will help create separate areas. White is a good backdrop for lounging areas that you want to feel bright and sunny, deep greens are good for making play areas blend into the background, while deep shades, such as blue or aubergine make dining areas feel atmospheric during long summer evenings and is one of our favorite garden fence ideas around.
  • Let planters do the talking: Plants can help define areas too, especially if you go for a strong color theme by area. So, if your lounging space has a white wall behind it and light-colored decking, choose white flowers. If your dining space has dark-colored decking and eggplant walls, go for deep purple plants.
  • Architectural planting: Can be used to divide up spaces. A line of shapely box plants, set into a low wall, takes up very little space but creates a strong visual divide between the lounging and dining areas. Or, group tall, tropical-looking plants at the far end of a dining space to disguise a play area beyond. Consider growing a vertical garden
  • Don’t neglect vertical space: Living walls, arbors, pergolas and trellis all provide somewhere to train flowering climbers for visual interest. Paint them to match your scheme; or, if you want your planting to do the talking, choose a neutral, natural paint shade for them, such as olive green or pale grey.

10. Consider privacy 

Wooden slat sun recliners in yard with pergola and simple planting scheme

(Image credit: Henry Scott - Pehrsson Scott)

No one wants eyes on them pruning their roses or planting out tomatoes so be sure to consider backyard privacy when defining your garden's landscape. Garden screening such as trellis, DIY living walls and strategically planted trees can all help create a more intimate and protected setting. While if you're sure to be swinging in your favorite hammock or snoozing on a deck chair, putting up a bigger structure like a pergola to hedge neighbors' views may be more effective.

Getting creative with cheaper fence ideas, color pops and more can also enhance privacy and the beauty of your landscape. Jameson continues 'One effective way to spruce up your garden landscape is to add colors to your fence walls to elevate the overall look without having to purchase new outdoor decors. You can also make use of old tires for pots, use old wine bottles as chimes and hang them on tree branches or fences to add visuals. If you have a little more to spend, head to junk shops to find vintage items that you can use as decor on your patio.' 

11. Dress your landscape

Decked bath with hammock chair, long grasses and greenery around border

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

This is when you should start finalizing elements like water features, ponds and swimming pools, filling them if needed. This is also when you can start to fill raised beds for veggie planting and more. At which point you'll be able to sow and prepare a lawn, or lay any turf around it (if you want one that is!) to let it establish.

12. Neaten up borders

Curated yard space with neat garden, surrounding planting, decking space and slat patio furniture

(Image credit: Henry Scott - Pehrsson Scott)

Or rather trim up, as once your grass has established you can mow it to your desired shape and make a start on your lawn edges. If you don't have a lawn then move on to other decorative aspects of backyard design to fulfill all of your outdoor space needs.

How can I landscape my garden cheaply? 

Ahead of work starting, with all garden landscaping ideas, it's important to find out about costs. You'll need information on materials, so do use manufacturers’ price lists. Builders’ merchants and plant nurseries are also useful sources. You can usually negotiate good prices direct from the supplier or manufacturer, depending on the quantities. 

Jameson advises to 'Keep in mind to focus on elements you will be using often when crafting your landscape master plan and always work in phases to prevent being overwhelmed about starting your project and from going over the budget. It's equally as important to incorporate maintenance costs when you design your garden. Do research on which hardscape materials require more maintenance and which plants are appropriate for your weather and those that can cut down on your water bill.'

Lindsey Hyland, a gardening expert and founder of Urban Organic Yield (opens in new tab) says: 'Make the most of your budget with low-cost, high-impact projects, like a rock wall or cedar privacy fence.' These will give instant results without costing the earth. 'Upgrade existing structures to make them better looking and sustainable: re-landscape abandoned containers; add benches or trellises; paint, stain or decorate weathered wood to enliven it.' Continues Hayland. Here are some more pointers:

  • Protect your topsoil: if you have good quality topsoil, take care to keep it out of harms way, and, if you need to order more, make sure you are there to take the delivery to not ensue any further costs. If this is coming via a digger, when you're dealing with a lot of soil for your whole plot, be sure to take a look at the quality – checking for any clay or weeds – ahead of letting the driver tip it. It's easier and more cost-effective to reject topsoil, than to re-load a truck and order it again.
  • Protect your plants: if when finalizing your garden design you decided to keep certain trees, shrubs and hedges, be sure to keep them well taken care of. A main point is to not let them rot by adding any soil to their stems or trunks, that wasn't there before.
  • Choose sustainable landscaping materials: opting for timber and other hardwoods for your space is not only cost-efficient but also creates a rustic and quality finish. Note that softwood decking may be cheaper, but doesn’t weather as well or last nearly as long as hardwoods, such as ipe and balau.

Spon’s External Works and Landscape Price Book (opens in new tab) is helpful to consult, and is the most common guide used in the trade. 

deck with seat under a pergola

When choosing materials, rustic timber complement both contemporary and period houses. Decking is a good choice where there is wooden flooring inside. Blogger Dear Designer (opens in new tab) has created this wonderful shaded space with decking and a pergola

(Image credit: Carole King)

You're on your way to garden greatness!

Hey there! I’m Cam, Deputy Editor of Realhomes.com. I’ve been here since early 2020 and I have the best job of working with a ton of different talented writers and creators to bring you the most inspiring home design content! As a renter myself, sharing a home with two friends (and my cat) in London, I know all too well the challenges that this can pose when it comes to creating your perfect setup. As someone who has always loved everything interior design-related, I cannot rest until a home feels right and I am really passionate about helping others get there too, no matter what their living situation, style, or budget may be. It’s not always the easiest to figure out, but the journey is fun and the results are so worth it.

After interior design, travel, art, and photography are my next big passions. When I’m not writing or editing homes content, I’m usually tapping into other creative outlets, exploring galleries in London or further afield, taking photos, scribbling, or drawing! 

SPONSORS