Revealing The garden design process

 In Garden Design

Believe it or not, garden design involves science as well as art. Here’s how Dan from SilverBirch Gardens approaches the garden design process in order to transform unloved outdoor spaces into create beautiful, practical and usable gardens.

When you watch garden makeover programs on TV it’s easy to think that somehow, garden design is all about drawing a picture on a piece of paper, pointing out features to the client and waiting for the “yes”. It’s not. TV is edited and really doesn’t reflect the amount of communication, thought, knowledge and time needed to design a beautiful outdoor space. The garden design process at SilverBirch Gardens involves 7 main stages with various tweaks in between.

  1. Consultation
  2. Site Survey
  3. Designing the Concept
  4. Filling in the details and suggesting suitable materials
  5. Creating a 3D image of the design
  6. Gathering feedback from the client
  7. Tweaking and finalising

What happens at a garden design consultation?

That first garden design consultation always excites me. It’s where I get to see the garden, meet the clients and get an idea of their aspirations, their dreams and their tastes.

The client’s personal style probably the most important thing I take away from the consultation. It will set the tone for the whole garden.

A modern garden design with geometric lines and neutral colours

This client asked for a truly original design with strong lines and a neutral colour palette

decking design with inbuilt planters

The colours, materials and shapes in this garden design blend seamlessly with the client’s property, adding usability AND value

traditional garden design with circular lawn and bee friendly planting

Here we have a more traditional style garden with bee-friendly planting and a natural grass lawn


Typically, garden design clients feel overwhelmed with the choices for garden features and materials. They have thought long and hard but are still confused about what to place where and what surfaces go with which furniture. That’s not a problem. My job is to break the design process down into bite-sized pieces.

What is the garden for?

I always base a garden design around its function. What do the clients want to achieve with their new garden, how do they want to use it? We discuss such things as

  • How much maintenance will be feasible for the finished garden?
  • What are the age groups of the most frequent garden users?
  • Will pets be using the garden?
  • Are there any mobility issues to think about?
  • Favourite ways to spend time in the garden – Reading? Cooking? Eating? Entertaining? Growing veggies? Working? Crafts? Hobbies?
  • What utilitarian uses will the garden have? Car parking? Bin store? Garden office? Shed?
  • Which times of the day and/or night is the garden most likely to be used?

Garden style

Next we think about styling.  The style of the garden needs to compliment the property but also the personalities of its owners. Knowing a little bit about client’s personal taste is helpful here and it’s surprising how much can be garnered just by things like the coffee cups they use, the car they drive and clothes they wear. However, it’s good to know about places they have enjoyed visiting, the artwork that inspires them and the colours they love. I also need to know what they hate.

Just through relaxed conversation, the garden designer and the client can inspire each other to come up with themes and ideas.

The next stage is to find out what the garden itself has to offer in terms of inspiration.

Site Survey

Most of the gardens and properties that I am asked to redesign are just bursting with character and potential.  As a garden designer, my job is to accentuate the good points and solve the problems.

My first thought when I visit the garden is “what can I use?”

Partially neglected garden ripe for redesign


Take this garden in Rodney Stoke for example. The laurel hedge is in fine fettle and those two funny little pieces of wall are really interesting. I made a point of incorporating both into the design. I wanted to preserve part of the garden’s history and I hate destroying beautiful plants.

partially built garden in Rodney Stoke incorporating existing laurel hedge

The same garden with the landscaping in progress. That Laurel hedge provided an instant backdrop and the wall has been repaired. Hard landscaping materials have been chosen to co-ordinate with the original wall as well as with the property.

Another example: back garden in Taunton before landscaping begins

In this garden, the client wanted a garden that looked more loved and felt more inviting but didn’t know how to tackle the tricky contours.

newly landscaped sloping garden

The same Taunton garden after its makeover.

I embraced the slope, creating terraces and contoured planting beds. The design also takes advantage of the beautiful views across farmland. By changing the fence in this way, the whole garden feels larger and more open.

A site survey looks at much more than just aesthetics. It’s where the science comes in. As a garden designer I need to understand how the soil type, aspect, drainage and local microclimate could affect the way the garden is used. I also need to know about any obstacles such as buried cables and pipes, slopes, boundary lines, tree preservation orders, planning restrictions and anything else that may influence the way a garden can be built and/or used.

Designing the Concept

Once I have gathered as much information as I can about the client’s needs and wants, the site, the surrounding area and the overall budget for the build, I retire to the studio and begin to sketch out designs.

I’ll begin by programming the garden dimensions into my computer. In my mind, every stage of the design process should be as eco-friendly as possible, so I prefer to be paperless.

With a “before” picture on my screen I can start using the software to change contours and add features. I will move features and make changes several times before I’m happy to start filling in the details.

From time to time I will chat with the clients just to clarify points and check that they’re happy with my suggestions. I don’t want to see any disappointed or horrified expressions when the final design is revealed!

The 3D Master Plan

Depending on the size of the garden and its complexity it can take anything from a couple of days to a couple of weeks before I’m ready to present the master plan to the clients.

When I’m happy with my work, I prefer to present my garden designs as a 3D image. 3D allows clients to really imagine themselves in the space.

3d garden design for sloping back garden


This is the design for a contemporary garden in Templecombe. In this format you can see where the levels change and how the planting might look.


Here’s the same garden design, this time in video format. High quality graphics mean you can virtally place yourself anywhere in the garden and imagine how the finished project will look and feel from anywhere within the space.

The final stage of the garden design process

The final stage of the garden design process is to present the design to the clients and see what they think. Communication is key at this stage and I like to hope that I have developed a strong enough relationship with the clients that they feel able to give honest (but tactful) feedback.  With the feedback on board and any design tweaks made we can move on to the next stage – organising the landscaping works.

More on that in a future blog.

You might also find these articles helpful

Case studies for garden makeovers designed and built by SilverBirch Gardens

My tips for creating a stylish contemporary garden 

More about Garden Design Services from SilverBirch Gardens

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early stages of garden landscaping with mini digger clearing site