Now is the perfect time to renovate your garden

If you’re ever thought about redesigning your garden now is the perfect time. Here’s some tips and advice to turn it into a simple, beautiful extension of your living space.

If you’re ever thought about redesigning your garden now is the perfect time. Here’s some tips and advice to turn it into a simple, beautiful extension of your living space.

With space at a premium we now demand our outdoor spaces to fulfil a whole range of functions: year-round outside entertaining space, vegetable patch, space for the kids to play in, compost heaps, rubbish bin area, space for trees and wildlife friendly planting, the list goes on. But all this needs to look stylish and inviting as well as being practical and not literally cost the Earth.

Can you really have it all?

Well…yes you can, if you plan ahead and consider the function and appearance of your garden, all is possible. What will it be used for? Make a list. Entertaining or relaxing? Kids football training? What are your ‘must haves’? A vegetable planting area? Do you have pets? What style do you like? - a contemporary garden design or perhaps a more traditional layout to enhance your older property? Think about the hard landscaping features you need and want such as paths, patios, buildings and the style of planting you like – informal, formal, cottage, wildlife. When will it be used and where is the sun at those times?

Hiring a garden designer can help turn your ideas and wish list into achievable and workable reality within your budget. They can also give you ideas about layout and even introduce you to things you may not have previously considered, such as a water feature, covered walkways or even sculpture. Working out a plan on paper before starting out is always a good time and money saving exercise. This is the garden designer’s first stage as they go through all the design permutations that may appeal to you. They will also cost it out as well as help with finding a suitable contractor to do the work.

As well as measuring up accurately, if you are doing the design yourself remember to consider soil pH and which way your garden faces to ensure you select the right plants for your garden. Improving your garden is within everyone’s reach whether you pay someone to help you or you do it yourself - it just need as little planning.

One more thing. There is no such thing as a maintenance-free garden! Many clients ask me for this but there is no point in kidding yourself or them - this does not exist. Careful choice of plants and good planting design will go a long way to minimising maintenance, but other than covering the whole area in Tarmac (not much of a garden! Banish the thought…) you will have to do some weeding and tidying up at some point.

More often than not gardens in built up areas need to be flexible and multi-functional as well as being sustainable. A flexible space will add value to your property. Make the space work really hard for you. One feature might also fulfil another requirement. For example, a deck might conceal a sand pit for children or even a pool! Good storage space allows children’s toys to be put away easily when the adults need an entertaining area without clutter. Shade sails are great for sunny days to keep the children protected from the sun’s rays as well as doubling up as a shady eating area. In winter you just take it down, fold it and store it away until next summer.

If you do a lot of entertaining try making your furniture as flexible as well, with extending tables and chairs that fold and stack away. Consider weatherproof furniture so you don’t need to store it in a shed throughout winter. Making the most of the limited space you may have is what it is all about. Keep kids play areas away from entertaining areas if possible. Just like a house, have separate “rooms” but ensure you can still keep an eye on them. After all, you don’t really want footballs flying around whilst trying to enjoy a nice glass of wine with friends! If you are installing a BBQ make sure you are near the kitchen door to make the movement of food from kitchen to table easy. Keep the BBQ near the eating area so the cook does not get left out of the conversation.


  • A level patio outside the back of the house near the kitchen, big enough to place a table and chairs and even a BBQ on!
  • A green area for the kids to play in if you have smaller children, not so important for teenagers – they might want a special area for them and their friends
  • Enough area for some clever planting that will add interest and furnish your outside room for most of the year
  • A path to connect all the functional areas of the garden, such as from the patio to the herbaceous borders to the shed. This will link your whole garden together but also make it easier to navigate wheel barrows or indeed wheelchairs from one end to the other.


  • A vegetable and fruit garden. No space? Use containers!
  • An area for pets to roam in
  • An area where you can hang your washing?
  • An outdoor kitchen! Why not? If you have the space and the budget and love cooking, this is a real addition to any larger garden.


A meandering path is always a good way of making the eye wander around the garden rather than just along its length. Features like an arbour or an arch act as vertical counterpoints and will create interest, as will low walls. Structures such as these combined with a mix of low, mid-level and higher planting will give the garden a sense of mystery and encourage visitors to go and investigate.


The key here is to ensure it is usable and depending on the steepness of the slope you may have to terrace it, cutting and filling as you go along. This saves money on taking away soil. If you terrace you must link the different spaces, otherwise it can easily look disjointed. Using the same hard landscaping materials such as paving slabs for both hard standing areas and paths will help to unify the garden. Use a limited plant palette and don’t plant too many varieties or colours. Use a mix of texture, soft leaves with spikier ones, and taller plants with low mounds.

The steps to the different levels need to feel comfortable and a good contractor can ensure that they are built solidly. Of course if the slope is not too steep you can build a ramp, but this only works for the gentlest of slopes.


If your garden is only a few square metres you can still enjoy the outdoors and is one of the few instances where 100% paving or shingle is best, but ensure the paving stones are permeable so that water can seep through and not cause flooding. Containers and pots are the way to go here. You can move them around where you want and when you want. The style is up to you but it is best to minimise the different types of plant used and add colour and texture with your pots. A mixture of tall and short plants will give a sense of depth to the courtyard and make it appear larger than it really is.


This is often a problem in urban areas. The closeness of other buildings often shades the garden. But this need not mean that you cannot enjoy a lush garden full of exciting plants – you just need to choose wisely. Choose plants that thrive in shady conditions, there is a wide variety available for you to chose from and there are also some grasses that do well in shade. If in doubt speak to your local garden centre or the garden designer you have hired; the right mix can make all the difference.


If you have small children, ponds are probably not a good idea until they are older. A sandpit is always fun, but these will need a cover and will need to be kept clean.

Smaller children do need some kind of green grass to play in but this need not be real, you can use fake turf. These days they are made the finest artificial fibres, makes different types for all kinds of uses.

Ensure that if you are building a BBQ and eating area it is away from the children’s play area. As for the plants, there are some that are poisonous so check with your supplier; if you have hired a garden designer they will ensure that all plants are safe.


If you have low fencing between you and your neighbours, why not extend the panels with trellising of some kind, plant climbing plants to screen further from prying eyes.

Why not plant some trees and pleach them? You can trim them to the height and shape you want. Hornbeam is good for town gardens as it lends itself to all kinds of forms and can look both traditional and contemporary. Perfect!

Permanent structures will require planning permissions so make sure you check with the local planning office first.

A mix of fencing and planting judiciously placed can provide an excellent screen from others and can greatly increase your enjoyment of your garden.


If there is builders’ rubble because you moved in to a new house, you need to clear that completely or as much as is physically feasible. You can always use it as hard core if you are building a patio or need to put in a concrete slab for the shed or garden room.

Plants will struggle on bad soil and rubble, the cost of clearing and replacing with good top soil will be repaid many times over by not having to buy plants every year because they fail! Try to avoid changing the soil from acid to alkaline or vice-versa – you should garden with what you have. It’s too costly and is both time and labour intensive.


Definitely possible although his does require some expertise in gardening. For winter greenery use box, privet or laurel. These are evergreens (some privet is not) and will give your garden structure. If you have space of course you can plant some trees, make sure they are not too near the house and well away from the foundations. Plant flowering shrubs which give interest in leaf colour and texture. Plant flowers for the spring and summer, and sometimes they may even flower in the autumn. Finally fill in with annuals, so that you can change the scheme as the mood takes you each year. If you are not a gardener the staff at most garden centres will have lots of advice on what to plant.

Most of all though, remember - less is more and keep it simple!


Françoise Murat & Associates specialise in interior, garden & landscape design. For more garden and interior design ideas visit us at