“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” – Audrey Hepburn.
Gardening is all about optimism and, contrary to popular belief, creating a garden to suit your personal style is much easier than it looks: all you need is lots of imagination and some elbow grease.
And let’s not forget that active gardening releases the happy hormone serotonin, so it’s guaranteed to lift your mood whilst you go about creating your perfect outdoor space.
1. Cottage Garden Ideas
Who can resist the rough and tumble charm of a cottage garden? It’s one of the easiest garden styles to achieve because you can throw away the rule book and just about anything goes.
Cottage garden design ideas are especially inspiring for short-of-space gardeners and you’ll be thrilled to learn a riot of colour, wide-ranging plants and even growing fruit or vegetables all help create that special chocolate box charm.
Hard landscaping is best achieved by using more traditional materials like brick-edged paths, slate and reclaimed wood – and don’t stint on the accessories.
Painted fencing, furniture and planters in subtle shades can transform even a modest courtyard or suburban garden.
Plantwise, go for abundance! Climbing roses and colourful climbers such as clematis and honeysuckle look delightful clambering up fences, trellis or draped over arbours and are invaluable in helping small gardens maximise vertical planting spaces.
Mix up perennials such as lady’s mantle, lavender, hollyhocks, foxgloves and salvia with breezy annuals like marigolds, nasturtiums or wallflowers that add a sense of careless rapture.
Flowering herbs are a must in pots or the ground, and if you want to add a touch of formality, you can always enclose your produce and flowering areas with low hedging. Whether you’ve decided to grow strawberries amongst your wallflowers, currants or step-over apples, box hedging always adds a classic touch.
2. Traditional Garden Ideas
We tend to think of traditional or classic gardens as being largely formal, and naturally, your ideas will be influenced by the amount of space and your budget, but truly, there are no hard and fast rules.
Traditional gardens often have clean lines with clear-cut areas arranged symmetrically and formal flower borders can be sweeping or enclosed in neat parterres. A bespoke seating area is essential and if you have the space, a rill or rectangular pond can help blend all these elements seamlessly together.
Grey-toned paving, york stone and brick paving are all typically found in traditional gardens, and it may be useful to remember that the kind of materials you choose can influence how we use the garden. For instance, did you know that larger paving slabs tend to make us walk through the garden more slowly than intricate brick paths?
Modern garden ideas can be easily adapted to fit the traditional look, so don’t shy away from using contemporary pots, outdoor furniture and accessories to mix with more traditional styling. You might even consider adding a pair of large urns to help achieve instant maturity.
Plants too, are normally planted in even numbers to achieve that traditional look. If you have the room, don’t discount planting ornamental small garden trees to create dramatic focal points.
Hedging plants offer invaluable year-round structure, so when it comes to planting hedges or creating formal garden divisions, choose plants such as evergreen yew, pleached hornbeam, box or pruned privet that all add to that classic charm.
3. English Country Garden Ideas
Getting started with creating can seem daunting. One of the easiest ways to get inspiration is by looking through magazines or garden styles online to help you focus on English country garden design ideas to get the look you want.
The sky’s the limit when it comes to hard landscaping materials. You may want curving walkways or straight-edged paths, pavers, sandstone, gravel and even resin are all excellent choices. If your budget doesn’t run to hard paving, mown paths through rough grass always look inviting. Use reclaimed scaffold boards for edging large flower borders or make them into raised planters.
Ornamental trees bring your landscape to life by adding height, structure, beautiful blossoms and vivid autumnal foliage, so if you have the space, try to include some in your design.
English country gardens rely on abundance and layering. Larger gardens can opt for billowing flowering shrubs such as hydrangeas, shrub roses or elegant viburnums, and timeless hedging including hornbeam, photinia and holly all create that distinctive British look.
But don’t be put off if your garden is tiny, you can still create that classic English garden look by choosing some of the dwarf plant varieties including lavender ‘Little Lady,’ or the blushing red-pink hues of photinia.
4. Modern Garden Ideas
Contemporary gardens are never out of fashion and if you yearn for a distinctive, uncluttered outdoor space, then a modern garden is for you.
Modern small garden ideas usually include sharp-edged hard landscaping: think clean-cut lines with light-coloured paving and consider using modern timber panels or cedar fencing, panels and screens.
Corten steel, zinc or polished galvanised planters create uber-modern styling. They offer the opportunity to add larger plants such as black or golden bamboo that are incredibly useful, especially in town gardens for adding height and privacy.
Less is always more in a modern garden, so if you’re short of space, try using accent plants that can be planted in isolation or contemporary-style pots.
Contemporary garden ideas include grasses that are the height of modernity and make bold statements; plant evergreen Japanese sedge or elegant zebra grass to add natural movement as well as retain structure throughout the year.
5. Mediterranean Garden Ideas
Mediterranean gardens never go out of fashion despite our English weather!
Achieving that simmering Mediterranean style is more about creating shade, where hard landscaping is more important than lush greenery and planting schemes are muted and invariably low maintenance.
Shade is less of an issue in the UK, so like any garden design, Mediterranean garden ideas can be mixed and matched to suit your style and space.
Landscaping materials might include terracotta or limestone paving, gravel and pea shingle work brilliantly as well as being cost-effective. If you’re up for some art and crafts, you might use inlaid cobbles and pebbles laid in patterns to create distinctive al fresco seating areas.
Don’t overlook boundaries either. Walls can be painted in tonal colours, including pale or bright blue, blush pink, faded rose or saffron yellow. Alternatively, you might source glazed patterned tiles for that Moorish influence.
So many of our commonly grown garden plants are actually Mediterranean in origin, so can be planted to create sun-warmed harmony. Plus, as long as they have a sunny spot, most are hardy, drought tolerant and need no special care through winter. It’s a perfect opportunity to grow some of the more tender plants too, nothing says Mediterranean gardens like a pot of vibrant red pelargoniums.
Agapanthus, aromatic lavender and rosemary (both trailing and shrubby varieties), work exceptionally well. As do the dazzling blue blossoms of California lilacs or splashy white flowers and the bubble-gum scent of rock roses.
Climbing roses and honeysuckle are all perfect for Mediterranean planting themes, and if you’re feeling inspired, why not plant unusual perfumed garden divisions? Jasmine hedges are unusual and seductive, wafting dreamy fragrance on warm summer evenings.
6. Japanese Garden Ideas
Zen garden design philosophy focuses on nurturing the garden rather than achieving perfection, so that’s good news for most of us. Think of a restrained green palette with occasional pops of colour and you can’t go wrong.
The wonderful thing about Japanese garden ideas is they can encompass both formal, modern or informal designs and work spectacularly well for shady town gardens.
Common elements might include stone, water, bridges and paths, container planting, lanterns and naturally, trees and flowers that all converge to create a tranquil, natural landscape.
However, you don’t have to go the whole nine yards with your Japanese garden style, it’s easy enough to just choose the elements that fit your space and mood.
When it comes to creating terraces, patios or paths, you’re best choosing materials such as gravel, slate, sand and aged or modern timber to create walkways or stepping stones.
Water doesn’t have to be on a large scale: a trickling water feature or fountain, a small ornamental or wildlife pond, or a contemporary stainless steel water screen are all equally at home in the zen zone.
Go for grasses, plants, trees and shrubs such as azaleas that offer intriguing silhouettes and movement when stirred by gentle breezes.
Deschampia (tufted hair grass) is ideal for getting that oriental look in pots or borders, sedges are perfect and weeping sedge hits the mark every time, or try for airy drifts of Mexican feather grass.
7. Coastal Garden Ideas
If you love the fun of the seaside, imagine it right outside your door!
It’s better to work with coastal elements than fight them and creating a seaside garden style is easier and much cheaper than you might imagine.
First up – hard landscaping. You’re spoiled for choice; you can use shingle, pebbles or timber decking. Cockle and oyster shells are inexpensive materials to use too and make an attractive change from stone, and hang lanterns and wind chimes for good measure.
Making raised planters using old railway sleepers helps create that authentic seaside look, as well as providing decent soil so you can grow a wider range of plants.
Hedges make ideal windbreaks for coastal gardens offering plants (and you!) shelter from strong winds: go for oleasters that have smart grey-green foliage and scented creamy white flowers from autumn, or sea buckthorn with its attractive silvery undersides and dazzling orange autumn berries.
You’ll rarely see a stretch of beach crowded with lush, green plants, so choose tough perennials including Senecio with reflective foliage in seductive shades of grey and silver, or drifting grasses to reflect the surrounding landscape.
Tough grasses such as steely-blue Festuca and sturdy perennials including seakale, thrift or sea holly add fabulous structure as well as intriguing flowers.
Architectural palms, phormium or cordylines add instant height and impact to any coastal garden. As for accessories, the world’s your lobster!
Rummage through junk shops for old rope, iron planters, galvanised pots and troughs. Go mud larking or beachcombing for shells, bleached driftwood and let your imagination run wild.
8. Wildlife Garden Ideas
Many of us dream of a wildlife garden and if the idea of gentle, droning bees, dragonflies and whirling butterflies appeals to you, then a wildlife garden is guaranteed to bring hours of pleasure.
There’s less emphasis on hard landscaping, so focus your wildlife garden ideas on soft, natural planting and hidden hideaways that encourage pollinators, birds and insect life.
Instead of formal evergreen hedges or bland fencing, you might opt to plant native hedging that provides perfect nesting habitats. Flowering shrubs such as the butterfly bush (buddleja) and hebes are loved by bees and butterflies.
Nectar-rich perennials are a natural choice. Choose from penstemons, lavender, sedums, verbena and tickseeds to create a natural planting style and don’t forget shrubs that add height and seasonal interest as well as provide wildlife habitats.
Ivy is not only a rich source of food for visiting birds and bees, but it also provides a perfect apartment when they begin nesting in early spring. Learn more about bird nesting season with our guide.
If space is limited, plump for one of the less rampant varieties, there are plenty to choose from or you can even create an instant ivy hedge hotel.
A small pond if you have the space is the icing on the cake. If you can’t manage an inground pond, think about using shallow wooden half-barrels or containers sunk in the ground that encourage toads, frogs and newts that also do a heroic job of eating all those pesky slugs and snails.
9. Formal Garden Ideas
If you’ve always longed for restrained outdoor elegance, here’s some inspiration to get those formal garden ideas popping.
Formal gardens are all about balance, symmetry, geometric lines and most importantly, good bone structure to ensure your garden looks fabulous throughout the year.
Brick paths, reclaimed stone and even gravel or decorative shingle can all be used to give that timeless restraint.
As for plants, it’s less about the plants you choose and more about the way you use them. Evergreen topiary is a must, adding instant maturity and stylish focal points to your formal garden design, providing architectural highlights that look great 365 days a year.
Hedging or evergreen divisions play a major part in creating a formal look. Although box hedging, balls, pyramids or spirals are an obvious choice, even lavender, bay and photinia can be sculpted into elegant shapes or used to create restrained hedging and garden screens.
And don’t forget the humble spindle; there are many seductive varieties to choose from that provide classy foliage and appealing flowers too.
If you’re mad for climbing plants, clematis, perfumed jasmine and even edible quince can all be wall-trained to create a formal elegance.
Don’t overlook the invaluable herringbone-patterned cotoneasters either. They look great year-round and provide colourful autumn leaves and berries for birds – because even formal gardens need their fair share of wildlife to promote a healthy balance.
For more garden design inspiration and advice, head to our blog.