This month I am answering a frequently asked question, what is garden design? It’s not about having the latest trends like plants, paving or pergolas; it’s about people. Your garden space is about you and as garden designers, it is up to us to figure out how we can make this outdoor space work for you and your life. 

-Anne Byrne

Supposing you build a house and want to install a kitchen. How would you figure out where exactly the sink, oven and hob should go, how high the counters should be and what the suitable dimensions are for the cupboards? Most of us will probably hire a kitchen designer and fitter to figure that out for us. We can choose colours and finishes but we wouldn’t be expected to know the inner workings and technical elements involved in the installation of our kitchen. If we buy a fridge or microwave, we can reasonably expect it to be the same size and shape in three to five years’ time, unlike something you might plant in the garden.

Most gardens feature plants, in one form or another, but thinking about plants first is like looking down a telescope the wrong way.  They’re the icing on the cake, the thing that brings your garden to life and makes it magical – but they are the last thing a good designer thinks about.

You have to look at the overall space and figure out how best to make it work, whether that’s a tiny, sheltered courtyard or a windswept couple of acres.  It could be flat and featureless or carved out of a hillside, but it’s nearly always attached to a home, and the garden has to fulfil whoever lives in that home.

The number of people in your home will also dictate your wish list from seating space, playing space, being quiet with a book space and being sociable with friends’ space to impressing the neighbours, screening out the neighbours, making the most of the view or sheltering from the wind. The addition of garden furniture, BBQ’s or fire pits may be on your wish list but practical elements like bins, gas tanks and firewood also need to be considered in your overall design. While your garden needs to look pleasing to you as you look out your window through the seasons, it also needs to look good to certain wildlife, (things with pretty wings and feathers) and look less attractive to others (things that munch, suck, bite and disfigure!).


Garden design is a bit like solving a puzzle that has lots of potential answers and garden designers are there to offer solutions until it all clicks into place and feels right to you.