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How to Design Your Garden

How to Design Your Garden

Every garden is unique because it reflects the personality and taste of the garden designer. You can study books, read magazines, take classes, and your final result will be a compilation of everything that’s ever struck a chord! The following design principles and elements are intended to help you put it all together into a cohesive and beautiful plant haven, but rules are made to be broken. If something is on your heart, be bold! Nothing is set in stone.


The first step for composition is to determine an overall colour scheme that you like. You will want something that ties in with your house so the gardens become an extension of your home.

  • If you’re working with shade, keep in mind that pale colours really jump out from a darker background. Light pink, soft yellow, peach, and white will be noticed more than dark red, burgundy, blue, or purple.
  • “Hot” colours like red, yellow, and orange advance toward the viewer. “Cool” colours such as green, blue, and purple recede. If you blend the hot and cool colours you’ll create a wonderful energy between the two. You can also create a soft, pastel effect or a monochromatic garden that is all white, silver, and green.

color design flowers poppyPlant Material

  • The choice of plant material is determined by existing sun/shade conditions and mature height and spread.
  • This last tip concerning size can’t be overemphasized. If you have an 80 cm (30″) space for one plant and put a Beautybush there that gets 3 m (10′) high and 250 cm (8′) wide you’ll be doing a lot of pruning to keep it in bounds. Always research and read the plant tags to see what the mature size will be!

Form & Texture

  • Be aware of the natural shape/form of the plants you are considering.
  • Blend pyramidal forms (Blue Colorado Spruce, Upright Japanese Yew) with round (Goldflame Spirea, Dwarf Mugho Pine), spiky (Yucca, Ornamental Grasses), Columnar (Hicks Yew, Pyramidal English Oak), weeping (Weeping European Larch, Weeping Japanese Cherry), or irregular outlines (False Cypress, Ginkgo) to name a few.
  • Consider the shape and texture of the leaves. You’ll notice this best when you plant a large leaf (like a Hosta) with a small leaf (such as Astilbe). Or plant velvety, felted Silver Brocade Artemisia or Lamb’s Ears under a shiny Mahonia. The contrast is dramatic.

lambs ears plant


Balance in garden design can be formally symmetrical where the two halves are the same/almost the same, or asymmetrical and informal where components are balanced but not symmetrical. Determine whether you want a wild, natural look or a refined, precise one.

  • You need to balance off vertical elements with horizontal. You don’t want too much of either or your plan will look very static.
  • Deciduous and evergreen plant materials also require balance in order to have winter interest. This is especially important for the front where a minimum of 50% of the planting should be evergreens. They will provide structure and colour for 12 months of the year.
  • To further create balance, repeat the actual plant, the form of it, or the colour in several parts of your design. Your eye will link these areas of similarity from one part of a garden to another.

If nothing ties together because you have too many unrelated hard landscape materials and plants, your eye will jump all over the place and there won’t be any continuity to the design.


  • This part of composition is about the size relationship of plants to each other as well as the relationship of mature plant size to the architecture. In the former case, if you have one huge Maple at the front of your property and all the other plant material is 1 m (39″) or less, there’s a huge gap between the two.
  • You need to incorporate several other sizes to bridge the gap from short to very tall. In the latter case, plant material that anchors the corner of the house needs to be in proportion to the height of that wall whether it’s a 1-storey or full 2-storey structure. A Weeping Peashrub, for example, that’s only 175 cm (6′) high isn’t in scale, but a Laburnum at 6 m (20′) is.


These are just a few guidelines to help you plan and design your garden.

  • Drive around residential neighbourhoods to get ideas. You’ll quickly determine what you like and don’t like.
  • Take notes and/or pictures- Pinterest boards can be enormously helpful for this.
  • Visit our Garden Centre to look at a variety of plants as well as get advice from friendly experts.
  • Talk to people who love to garden.
  • Subscribe to a gardening magazine.
  • Tune into programs on radio or television.
  • Join a horticultural club.
  • Go on a garden tour, or visit a Botanical Garden.

Take some time to evaluate your needs as well as your dreams and don’t jump in unprepared. Lastly, if you’re a keen do-it-yourselfer, draw up a 3-5 year plan to stretch your budget over several years and to allow you time to evaluate and finalize your ideas. Lastly, don’t feel overwhelmed! It’s a lot to think about at the beginning, but with some effort and planning it will be worth it in the end.

If you have it in your budget, you can always hire our landscaping and design crew! Our team can do everything from the initial assessment and sketch-up to the planting and installation (depending on the size). Find out more here.