Garden design advice

Garden designer, Matt James shares his tips to create a wow-factor garden.

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If you’re looking to create a well-designed space with wow-factor features, follow these easy solutions from expert garden designer, Matt James, to update your outdoor area.

Outdoor office

Add space and value to your home with an outdoor office, which may not need planning permission – check at Power, insulation and heating are essential for computer users and/or if you plan to use it as a guest room. A standard three-square-metre office costs around £8,000 to £14,000, depending on factors such as if foundations are needed. Some suppliers expect you to arrange all the sub-contractors to install power and water, so include this in your budget. Plus, check that a long guarantee comes as standard.

New patio

The hub of most outdoor areas, a patio is often the transition zone between house and garden, so it also affects our perception of both spaces. If it’s too small or made of dated concrete slabs, for example, then consider building a new one. Pick something that complements the house. York stone (or cheaper honey-coloured sandstone) looks good with red brick, while slate and granite go together perfectly.

The finish is important, especially for costly materials such as granite, porphyry and quartzite laid in strict geometric patterns, so always use an experienced landscape contractor. They will also make sure that drainage is considered carefully. To find one near you, try the British Association of Landscape Industries ( More often than not, it’s possible to lay new stone on an existing foundation to save money – your contractor can advise you here.

Introduce more colour

A couple of coats of paint can brighten up drab sheds, walls, trelliswork, old furniture and pots. Darker shades in small gardens will shrink the space still further. Brick and stonework are the only surfaces I’d avoid painting unless you’re sure you’ll be happy with the finished effect, as paint is very hard to remove from either without sandblasting, which is a very messy and expensive process. When it comes to adding bursts of colour to your outdoor space, vibrant annual and perennial plants are the obvious choice. They can be grown in groups of containers close to the house for maximum impact.

Hire a garden designer

A good garden designer will identify what will and won’t work with your budget, wishlist and the characteristics of the space in mind. A full design service – everything from the initial concept to detailed designs and appointing contractors – might be prohibitively expensive for some projects. It’s possible to pick and choose certain services, though, if you just require a garden plan or a planting scheme, for example. Most experienced designers also offer a consultancy service, spending time in your garden sketching out ideas and suggesting possible design solutions, which might be all the inspiration you need. Expect to pay anything from £200-£700 per day.

Outside lighting

There are many different creative effects you can achieve – uplighting, spotlighting and grazing, for example. The key is to keep it simple – you don’t need lots of light to make an impact. Low-voltage mains-powered lights are the cheapest and can be fitted yourself (once a waterproof socket has been installed outside by an electrician). For anything complicated, or for mains-powered lights, professional installation is essential.