7 Tips For Planning A Garden With Lucy Roberts

Extract from Elizabeth and Her German Garden, Elizabeth Von Arnim, 1898

It is both thrilling and daunting to design a garden and with numerous overwhelming decisions to make, it’s important to devise a plan. To begin, analyse the size, shape and in which direction the garden faces: your sunniest walls, shadiest corners, borders and lawns. Consider your priorities: colour, scent, maintenance, outdoor dining, a place to recline. The style of garden you desire, whether it features formal planting or English cottage-style rambling roses: a vegetable patch, wildflowers, water features, height and structure, edible herbs, a pergola, hard landscaping and/or a lawn. Once you have decided on what is most important to you, a professional’s advice cannot be underestimated.

Lucy Roberts passion is creating gardens with atmosphere that are beautiful all year round and in tune with the natural world. We turn to Lucy for advice.

1. What are the first steps to planning a garden?

An invaluable first step is to gather images and create mood boards, both for the garden as a whole and for the various areas and elements you would like to consider; perhaps a seating area near the house, an eating area, a herbaceous border, a shade garden, container planting.

lucy roberts - design brief
Image: A mood board showing elements to be included in a garden.

2. How do you decide on a style for a garden?

A good rule of thumb when deciding on a style for a garden is to be guided by the surrounding landscape, the architecture of the house and the interior schemes.  Your personality and how you will use the garden will also play a large part.  A slick contemporary style of garden sits well with a modern extension to a house located in a city.  A more traditional style works well with a house that has retained its original features.

lucy roberts - style for a garden
Image: The use of materials and planting of yew hedging and box hedging in this traditional garden reflects the nature of the house. York stone and crushed gravel develop a patina as they age as the bricks, the lead work and the tiles on the house have over the years.

3. How do you select a planting scheme?

It’s helpful to choose some adjectives to describe the feel of a scheme: romantic, architectural, wild.  The soil, aspect, prevailing wind and general conditions of an area will help determine the plants that will thrive in a particular scheme.  Beth Chatto’s mantra of ‘right plant, right place’ is key to have in mind as plants that are happy where they are planted will require less intervention.

lucy roberts - select a planting scheme 1
Image: A sketch to illustrate a planting scheme for a city garden.
lucy roberts - select a planting scheme 2
Image: A south-facing romantic, ethereal scheme with roses, alliums, verbascum and valerian.
lucy roberts - select a planting scheme 3
Image: An architectural scheme with clipped Quercus Ilex echoing the chimney stacks.
lucy roberts - select a planting scheme
Image: A scheme including Centranthus Ruber ‘Albus,’ slightly wild in feel, loved by bees and butterflies.

4. What are your tips for planting a border?

If a border is near to a house a scheme of predominantly evergreen shrubs will ensure there is interest year-round.  The scent of shrubs like Daphne and Sarcococca, climbing roses and evergreen jasmine are wonderful to have near a house.  If a border is a distance from the house and not in close view, a more seasonal scheme, such as a herbaceous border might be considered. Contrasting forms and textures make a border sing as shown in the photographs below.

lucy roberts - border 1
Image: A sheltered shady border has year-round interest with the contrasting leaves of Camellia, Daphne and Sarcococca.  The jewel-like red berries of Viburnham Opulus Compactum and pale flowers of Hydrangea Anabelle add to the overall picture.  The Sarcococca and Daphne give wonderful scent in the winter months.
lucy roberts - border 2
Image: A traditional herbaceous border with the hot colours of late summer.  At the end of the season the border will be cut to the ground and through the winter months it’s hard to believe there is ever anything of interest to see.  This sort of planting is therefore best suited to areas not visible from a house.
lucy roberts - border 3
Image: The evergreen hedge in this scheme acts as a wonderful backdrop for the pale spires of white foxgloves giving early summer interest.  The baton of vertical accents will be passed to Verbascum Chaxii Album as the foxgloves fade.

5. When are containers a good option?

Containers work well at the front of a house providing seasonal colour from bulb planting and the gorgeous combinations of trailing verbenas and convolvulus in the summer months. A seating area near to a house surrounded by large pots filled with scented planting in the summer months is a joy.

lucy roberts - container 1
Image: Outside this Georgian house, square lead-coloured containers planted with Helichrysum Petiolare and Convolvulus Maritima soften the beautiful but quite austere facade of the house.
lucy roberts - container 2
Image: Scented sweet peas planted in large containers trained up obelisks surrounding a seating area offer a wonderful sense of scale and sense of being immersed in a green, leafy world.  Large containers planted with Nicotiana Sylvestris are also terrific, with the intoxicating scent filling the night air.

6. How do you decide on lawn vs paving?

Paving is the most practical option nearest a house where there is likely to be seating and eating areas so that there’s no worry of walking into the house with wet or muddy shoes.  Gravel is useful for areas like driveways to give a dry route from car parking to a house.  A little away from the house a lawn can look its best surrounded by planting and equally, generous planting tends to be set off well alongside an expanse of grass.

lucy roberts - lawn vs paving 2
Image: A paved area outside the house works well for entertaining.  Planting around a lawn sets both the lawn and planting off well.  Paving slabs laid in gravel give a dry route from the car parking area. 
lucy roberts - lawn vs paving
Image: A sweeping circular lawn is surrounded by undulating planting of green-greys, blues and whites to echo, rather than compete with, the seascape.  The planting reflects the seasons and ebbs and flows much as the tide does.

7. What is your advice for small gardens?

Limiting the number of materials used in a small garden creates a sense of unity and simplicity which makes it feel larger than it is.  In an enclosed small garden, paradoxically, larger pots and larger scale paving slabs give the illusion of space whereas lots of small pots and smaller paving slabs can make a small space feel cluttered and smaller than it is. A small garden in a countryside setting, open to the surrounding landscape, tends to sit well if elements in the surrounding landscape are brought into the garden.  All feels at one and as a result, the garden feels larger than it is.

Lucy Roberts Garden Design
Image: The cool calming colours of this contemporary courtyard garden reflect the interior scheme.
lucy roberts - small garden
Image: The low retaining wall in this garden in Somerset is built in the traditional local shale.  The slightly wild nature of the planting has a flavour of the surrounding countryside and as a result, the garden feels larger than it is.

Lucy Roberts is a Norfolk based garden designer creating atmospheric, abundant, pollinator-friendly gardens which are a response to a client’s brief and that sit comfortably with the property and surrounding landscape. Services include masterplans, planting and maintenance schemes and ongoing development of the garden as it grows and matures. Lucy’s work has been featured in House & Garden, Homes & Gardens and the London Evening Standard.

Tel: 07770 995 031

Email: lucy@lucyroberts.uk.com

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