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Garden Design and Landscaping Concepts

Here at Aussie green thumb we’re always trying to help you get the most out of your garden. We want you to have the best possible backyard you can, really!

One of the most fundamental ways you can get the most out of your backyard garden is to have a sensible and effective garden design.

You don’t need to be a qualified landscape architect, but knowing some basics will definitely set you on the right path.


Garden Design 101 - What is Garden Design? 

To put it simply, garden design is the style and way the ‘pieces’ in your garden are laid out and presented to a viewer. The ‘pieces’ obviously include your plants, but they can also be things like pots, or feature points like a water fountain.

Following a certain garden design style or theme will influence the way these pieces are set out, but also influence the type of pieces you might want to use.

A cottage garden design theme like this uses plants with lots of colours and flowers

A cottage garden design theme like this uses plants with lots of colours and flowers so that there is always something happening in it. Using a plant that doesn’t match that style would just look out of place.

Certain plants lend themselves to certain garden design themes, as do a lot of feature points commonly used.

Sticking to a certain theme doesn’t necessarily mean that all other plants wont work, but it does mean you might need to refine a planting list if you’re chasing a specific look.

For example, imagine a cottage garden in your head…now, can you picture a 6 foot tall cactus matching? Probably not… There are a lot of different design themes and concepts out there, and it’s not a one size fits all direction you’re following.

You want what is right for you, and your garden design should fit your style and maintenance preferences, and also match your gardening skill level as well as allow you to get what you want out of your garden.

Different Types of Gardening Styles

The default setting for most beginner gardeners is to find some plants that you like and try and find places for each in your garden beds (I’ve done this too). We take a trip to our favourite nursery and pack a plant trolley with that we like. Maybe it’s the flower, the foliage, and the perfume or even its bird-attracting qualities.

Unfortunately, we take little consideration as to how they will interact with plants we already have. We just thought that they were nice plants and they might look good in our garden.

There’s nothing wrong with this approach unless you are trying to construct a garden design that oozes beauty, order and desirability. If you want these things then the next step to take is to think through what style of garden you would like to have.

Here are highlights of some key themes of gardening styles in the hope that they may inspire you to be creative with your own home garden design.

Cottage Garden  

is a style that is open to rambling plantings and informal design. Vibrant colours, especially through spring and early summer, make this a winner for many gardeners as does the low-maintenance aspect.

Many plants that make up this type of garden style are flowering annuals and self-seed prolifically. Picket fences, arbours, and garden whimsy are some of the structures and bling you would find in this style of garden.

Formal Garden  

structure and order are the keys to this garden style. Hedges, topiary and bold statues and ornaments symbolise this design and portray its steeped history in European culture. Paths are clean and wide and garden beds are ordered and usually symmetrical.

Conifers, lawns and hedging plants feature prominently in this style.Not for the faint-hearted, this garden style is high-maintenance to keep everything in its place.

Woodland Garden  

if you want to keep a grove of mature trees that provide a wonderful canopy over your garden beds then this garden style might be what you’re looking for. Shade loving plants and bulbs are the main plantings for this style and decorations should be restricted to purely natural materials – stones, pebbles, moss covered rocks.

Container Garden  

if you’re limited for space or live a transient lifestyle, then container gardening may be a good option. The use of containers, pots, urns, and recycled wheelbarrows are all great ways to keep your garden from becoming staid and the option to move them like a piece of furniture means that you can change your garden instantly. This style lends itself well to apartment living as well.

Native Garden  

many gardeners opt to have a garden style that reflects their local flora. The benefit of this style is that plants are usually easy to come by and they will handle the conditions of your climate and soil type more readily than other exotics.

They are more widely attractive to local fauna as well and so you may see more birds enter this style of garden.

Japanese Garden  

Japanese garden could also be called the Oriental Garden but most of the features that depict this style originate from Japanese gardeners. Dry riverbeds made with single coloured pebbles, low ornamental foliage shrubs offset with distinct flowering trees characterise this style.

It is the Orient’s version of the European formal garden and has very bold decorations. These include teahouses, bamboo water features and zen style paths and focal points.

Rainforest Garden  

these can be created in many areas by choosing plants that are synonymous to rainforest areas. Palms, bamboos, bromeliads, cycads and a host of other tropical plants grow well together in a similar style as the Woodland Garden.

High levels of organic mulch help create the dampness and retain moisture for this garden style.

Xeriscape Garden  

this style is becoming very chic as gardeners are growing in their awareness of water resource limitations. This style uses cactus and succulent plantings as well as indigenous species to contrast the ever important foliage of many plants.

Irrigation is never used, as the plants are required to sustain themselves on annual rainfall. This garden style is fairly low maintenance especially as lawns don’t feature in them at all.

These are just a few of the main garden styles that can be easily transferred to your own garden. The key to doing these well is to remain true to the original idea of the style but also be creative in how you express that style.

Don’t try to incorporate opposing styles or add plantings that could never work together such as roses in a xeriscape garden or cacti in a cottage garden. Apart from that, test the boundaries and see what works. Try something and if it doesn’t work then try something else. After all, it is only gardening.

Garden Design or Landscape Design?

This might sound like a confusing question, but it is important that we clarify the difference here. Firstly, think about the term ‘Garden’ and what it means. 

A plot of land worked and planted with flowers, herbs or fruit and veg? A garden indicates a gardeners involvement and continued work to keep it in a certain style.

Now, lets think about the word ‘Landscape’. A landscape is an area as a whole, and encompasses everything within it’s boundaries, including gardens.

So then garden design involves the individual garden aspects, whereas landscape design involves the aspects and components of an entire area, including gardens!

landscape design involves the aspects and components of an entire area, including gardens

The landscape design here includes the rolling hills, meandering track, and the lake to draw the viewers eyes down towards the focal point of the bridge.

The wooded garden area on the right provides a slight break so the eyes movement is more gentle, as well as acting as a ‘halfway’ destination for a visitor on the track.

A bright elaborate garden here would have clashed with the theme and taken away from the landscape as a whole. Why point out the difference though? 

It’s important to keep in mind the overall idea of your landscape design when planning out your individual gardens, because the two need to work together in the overall scheme.

Your landscape may only be a small backyard, but the gardens within it need to compliment each other and the whole space. An uncomplimentary garden in landscape can leave your area looking disjointed and patchy.

Basic Design Concepts 

The gardens in front of this house are mirror images, and create balance when we look

The gardens in front of this house are mirror images, and create balance when we look. We’re drawn into taking in the whole facade of this house by a contrast of green and orange, which begins with the topiary balls in front of terracotta pots, which is repeated and moved upwards by the thin pines contrasting against the orange house.

The most basic concept of any garden design is this – To draw our attention.
Designing our gardens draws the attention of anyone who visits it to whatever we want them to see.

In whatever style we choose and whatever complementary pieces we use to do it…our design is trying to highlight something. It can be multiple things at the one time, but we’re always trying to highlight what we feel are the best aspects of our garden.

This isn’t as confusing as it might seem, and if you think about it, you’re probably doing it already anyway.

The obscured end of the path makes us want to walk further in and see whats around the bend

This walkway is highlighted by the designed gardens beside it. The obscured end of the path makes us want to walk further in and see whats around the bend. 

It’s why we plant our smaller flowering plants in the front and bigger shrubs such as the Grevillea Nudiflora at the back; so that nothing is hidden from sight. 

We plant dead straight hedges leading up to the front door of our house to lead the visitors eyes in, and we plant big feature trees in the front yard all on their own for everyone to see.

It is essential to be equipped with the right hedge trimmer for the job. That’s the best bit of garden design! You can tweak it to suit what you want to highlight.

Basic Garden Concepts

Most fundamental ways you can get the most out of your backyard garden is to have a sensible and effective garden design

One of the most fundamental ways you can get the most out of your backyard garden is to have a sensible and effective garden design. You don’t need to be a qualified landscape architect, but knowing some basics will definitely set you on the right path. When it comes to garden design, things can get complicated very quickly. 

Trying to bite off more than you can chew is a common problem for novice garden designers, but here’s a couple of concepts that might simplify things a bit, starting off with formal and informal design.

Formal Garden Design

A formal design revolves around what the word formal implies. These gardens follow very strict rules surrounding the aspects of the theme trying to be achieved.

This generally means following a very strict plant species list, having a well planned out planting design, and usually requires some intense maintenance to keep hedges, borders and other issues in check.

Formal gardens can come in any garden style and use most design concepts, it really just comes down to that really precise, proper and methodical presentation.

Formal design is great if you’re into gardening or showing off the area and can dedicate the resources needed to achieve it, but if you can’t keep them looking top notch, then a formal design will fall flat and probably isn’t for you.

This is an example of formal garden design. The tidy topiary hedges and dead straight line of the footpath set the tone.

The radiating pattern of the mown turf accentuate the fountain as the centre piece. 

Informal Garden Design

For every formal garden design out there, there can technically be an informal counterpart you can achieve. An informal design is a lot more relaxed in the plant choices, and puts less focus on rigid presentation.

We should stress here that it isn’t so much a miss match of plants all thrown together, there is serious thought and planning behind the plantings, and other design concepts still need to be considered.

Plus, you’ll still need to work on the garden to keep it neat and tidy, but you achieve your theme with a softer touch and a more relaxed approach.

This is a good example of an informal design. There’s definite intent to the plantings and the placement of features like the pots and chairs.

There are also some rough shaped hedges in the background, but lacks the rigid structure and high maintenance of an informal garden, without appearing unkempt.

An informal design is a lot more relaxed in the plant choices, and puts less focus on rigid presentation

“Garden” – Akuppa John Wigham

Balance Design

Whether you’re going for a formal or informal design style, balance is vital in a garden design. Balance is all about equality in your garden, and creating an image that doesn’t come across as cluttered or skewed.

It can be a tricky concept for beginners, but here are two ways to think about it; Symmetrical and Asymmetrical.

Symmetrical balance

This involves having a garden that is a mirror image on either side of itself. Hedges, rows, plants and features are duplicated without exception throughout the garden.

Nothing is just a ‘one off’, or if it is, it is used as a featured centre piece and either side of it is a mirror. This was a really popular style in French and Italian garden design around the 17th century and is used to build a sense of order and neatness to an area.

It is also a very powerful design concept, illustrating a lot of authority through an unnatural manipulation of a garden. Formal gardens generally always utilise this concept, but symmetry can also be used in informal designs, just to a lesser extent.

The symmetrical design in this garden shows off how well balance can work in a design.

Along the line of sight, we can see an almost identical image on either side, starting from the very first white flowering plant, all the way to the end door.

The archway wall frames this image well, and really makes us want to enter that ‘room’ of the landscape. 

Asymmetrical balance 

Asymmetrical balance is harder to explain and harder to put into practice. Basically, this involves the placement of all the different pieces of your garden in a way that creates a feeling of stability.

Japanese and Chinese garden designs execute this really well, and in doing so create a calming area that doesn’t overwhelm us with bits and pieces all over the place.

An incredibly simple way to picture this is having taller trees at the back near a fence and smaller shrubs in the front, or taller trees close to the side of the house, moving down to smaller plants the further away.

These layouts are pleasing to the eye and let our vision flow without the area feeling disjointed. You will definitely know when a garden doesn’t feel balanced!

Where we place things in gardens is really important, but this is more of a personal perception concept than anything straight out of a text book.

This is a picture of an incredibly well designed and balanced Japanese garden.

The flow from the building down to the sand area doesn’t feel cluttered or disjointed, and we could happily sit and feel calm in this landscape.

This garden on the other hand doesn’t feel balanced to me. There’s a mismatch of plants, colours and textures, and the heights on the plants don’t interconnect very well.

Whilst it looks very neat and colourful, balance is severely lacking, and it just looks too ‘busy’.

Keeping it Simple Stupid (KISS) Concept

The validity of this concept can be argued, but if you’ve ever heard of the KISS policy (not the band), then you should know what I’m talking about. Keep It Simple Stupid.

In art and photography we don’t want our image cluttered with too many things that detract from the overall image. By focusing on quality over quantity, we can have a few stunning features, rather than a lot of mediocre ones.

This idea translates really well to garden design. Sticking with same or complimentary colours, using only a few plant species, and using minimal feature pieces like pots or vases is a good way to start, and make your features ‘pop’ by keeping them irregular and few.

If you’re still a bit unsure about this, imagine going to a florist and having the choice of 100 different flowers.

It’s going to be tough finding the best one, but if you reduce it to 5 choices, the best one will most definitely stick out to you.

Simple formal design. Repeated shapes, colours and species.

Complicated Design Concepts

One of the most fundamental ways you can get the most out of your backyard garden is to have a sensible and effective garden design. You don’t need to be a qualified landscape architect, but knowing some basics will definitely set you on the right path.

Line Concept

Line isn’t an overly complicated concept to grasp because it’s very physical, and this makes it actually quite easy to work with. We’ve talked in previous issues about the way designs draw our eyes through a landscape, and this all really falls back to the concept of line.

It gets complicated in the way that it needs to be used with other concepts like balance to compliment them.

There’s the obvious line of garden beds, footpaths, tree rows and the like, and these are the easier ones to master, but line can also be achieved by subtler features like tree branches or shape pointing upwards or in the desired direction, or even through the heights of shrubs, say for example a gradual decrease of height across a landscape towards our focal point.

Straight lines are the most obvious lines we see in landscapes, through features like footpaths or a stairway. Our eyes are forced down a certain direction towards a certain point.

This is a very strict and efficient feeling design feature, and needs to be matched to an equally structured and formal theme. If it’s not, straight lines can make a relaxing garden setting feel restrained and out of whack.

Perfect example of a dead straight lines impact our vision – we are forced to look straight through the landscape without wavering. Curved lines on the other hand are more natural and as opposed to straight lines, and they tend to invite you down a certain line rather than force. 

These are great for creating intrigue in your garden, particularly if the destination of the curved line is hidden from sight. When used in a broader landscape, curved gentle lines can be used to gradually direct us to a focal point, creating a tranquil feel.

You can still use curved lines in a formal setting, and it’s actually a pretty impressive (and equally tricky) way to create juxtaposition in a design, as well as exhibiting absolute control of nature in a formal garden.

This curved line makes us want to enter this garden and follow that bridge.

We don’t know where it goes, but I sure do want to find out!

Repetition Design Concept

As you’ve probably guessed, repetition involves repeating certain aspects or features throughout a garden. Now it’s important to realise that you don’t just do this because you like something so much you want more of it. 

You use repetition to achieve other aspects of design, like balance and line, to accentuate a formal or informal style, as well as highlight a single feature. It is also absolutely essential for maintaining continuity, but more on that later.

When repeating features in your garden, you need to keep in mind how much is too much. Like I said, this isn’t about putting your favourite thing in over and over, it is about using the same feature for a greater purpose and addressing the other concepts.

Too much of a good thing cheapens it, and make it less appealing. When repeating a base feature, like a grass clump, tree line or hedge, we can get away with more than when we repeat a more prominent feature like a vibrant flower or water feature.

It’s also good to consider clumping vs stand alone when repeating features. When we clump plants together, they can be considered as 1 whole feature rather than separate individuals.

Clumping is planting close enough where they look like they’re all together, opposed to spacing them out where they then become single features.

This works well for smaller ground covers, grasses an shrubs, but is not good for trees or hard features (imagine a garden with 20 different water features and nothing else…yeah exactly).

Numbers wise, here is the general rule of thumb using a basic garden design to help you understand. 

  • 1 is a feature, so make it stand out. In this picture, the fountain in the middle is a single feature. More would look strange.
  • 2 are to be exact opposites, as a frame for a feature. The green trees in the front here are 2’s and frame our setting.
  • 3 can be used to add weight to a side for balance and creating line,  or evenly spread to add formality. This is the both the red trees formalising the setting, as well as the flower groupings in the front.
  • 4+ can be spread throughout the landscape, used in close groupings either side in a formal setting, or spread out evenly. You can also used 4+ plants to create larger groupings like the green trees in the rear, or for a structure like a hedge or tree lined avenue.

A really basic garden design to show how repetition can be used to achieve balance and continuity in a design.

 Made by yours truly using this super nifty online design tool.

Repetition involves repeating certain aspects or features throughout a garden

Continuity Concept

This is the hardest, but most important feature of a garden or landscape design. It refers to the overall fell of the garden feeling finished, and correct, and not disjointed and confused.

This concept draws in all the other and how they work together in a design, and each need to be working in harmony for true continuity to occur.

If a garden has no balance continuity is instantly out, but it also comes down to the types of plants, design themes and features we use.

Packing a garden full of herbs and vegetables in raised garden beds, and then including a landscaped pool in the middle is going to feel off. Just like using small succulents in your English cottage garden design.

Even having tall plants in the front with smaller feature plants hidden behind can make a garden feel wrong. I’m not saying you can’t pull these off, but doing say would just feel off, and that is because the garden design lacks continuity.

The final say to sum this concept up, is to remember the keep it simple idea…don’t lose focus, and stick to your theme. Over complicating your ideas, usually makes for a poor garden design.

Over complicating your ideas, usually makes for a poor garden design

This garden lacks continuity. Different heights in the shrubs, different foliage textures, and even different sized mulch rings. You can clearly see a lack of obvious theme or intent in the design. Lee Ruk, Flikr.

Australia have different climates and calls the need for different landscaping approach, here is how to design a garden for Sydney's climate

5 Backyard Landscaping Secrets

Landscaping a backyard can be as easy or complex as the homeowner wants to make it, but there are some landscaping rules of thumb that help to create masterpieces in a backyard of any size.

Include the house as part of the design

The house and backyard should complement each other in terms of style, scale, colours and materials. For example, use trees to frame a house rather than barricade it.

Plant flowers such as the royal bluebell and chrysanthemum, and shrubs to line the approach to your front door, and in garden beds create layers of plants to give the garden a more three-dimensional feel. 

Install garden lights

Make lighting an integral feature of your paths, deck, patio, garden beds, and along your outdoor kitchen. Lights enhance the value of your garden by bringing it to life at night. There’s almost an infinite variety of lighting available and there is sure to be something that matches your style. 

Some can even be installed without an electrician, such as the solar-powered LED lights that store power during the day and release it at night to light your garden. (Here is our review on the best solar lights available in Australia.)

Make an impressive entrance

The landscape begins at the edge of your property, not the edge of your house.

Professionals and some keen amateur gardeners often use a supportive design element such as a gate, an arch, a hedge or a border garden to create an impressive sense of entrance to the property.

While not cheap, the effect can be stunning if designed and maintained with care.

Diagnose and treat problems quickly

When problems such as weeds, spots and holes suddenly appear on your lawn or plants, waste no time in identifying the source of the problem.

Examining soil conditions, amount and intensity of sunlight, watering frequency, fertilisation, mowing, pests and diseases will likely shed light on the problem.

If you’re unsure of the problem, contact your local nursery or gardening expert for advice, and don’t leave the problem to fester. It might cost you a key element of your beautiful landscape.

Make the most of your space

If you look at your yard at different times of day and from different angles and in different weather conditions, you might notice vast variations in your garden’s appearance.

Take pictures to help you remember what it looks like. Keep track of where the sunlight strikes from hour to hour and as the seasons change. Also, make sure to keep note of shaded areas and where rain pools. 

While a balanced mix of plants is good and looks impressive, selecting plants adapted to your yard’s conditions, such as natives, will help your landscape to thrive. You may also look into growing succulents which is quite adaptable to most gardens. 

This strategy will work no matter how large or small your garden is. That’s all from our garden design guide. We hope you’ve enjoyed it and learnt some new tips and ideas to help you on your way to designing the best possible garden you can!

Eco-Friendly Garden Design Australia

Eco-Friendly Garden Design Australia

Just as eco-friendly home design, buying and eating local foods and green cleaning are hot right now, so is smart and simple, eco-friendly garden design.

Having the perfect yard doesn’t have to be a chore: Design a garden that works with your environment and requires minimal care, and you will have it all.

Remember that no matter how you choose to design your garden, the best gardens are always well maintained, from mowing the lawn to trimming the trees and bushes to watering the plants.

Growing Your Own Food 

Environmentally friendly eating and organic produce extend from your table right to your home design and shopping strategies. If eating local means that you get the freshest produce at the lowest prices, then why not eat from your own backyard? 

Gardens of the future include the produce that you want serve on your family’s table, and the future has arrived. Choose plants that grow well in your environment, whether you’re close to a water supply or wetlands, or your garden gets a lot of sun.

Apple or plum trees provide shade, while cucumbers or tomatoes are great at growing up a fence or a trellis. The best way to know that your family is eating organic is to grow your own food. Using organic fertilisers is also a big trend.

Create a Garden that Fits Your Environment

Part of being an eco friendly garden is building a garden that works with the environment

We know that native plants have adapted to the existing environment, and they support the ecosystem. Part of being green is building a garden that works with the environment, rather than trying to maintain plants that prefer what your neighbourhood may not have to offer.

Which kinds of butterflies, birds and furry animals are native to your area? Consider building birdhouses, or butterfly feeders to help the local species.

Are the critters eating your produce before you get a chance to? Choose plants that either attract or repel certain animals by smell or colour.

How much sunlight and water does your garden have if you do nothing to it? Selecting plants and backyard art that works with what you have rather than against it means that your plants will require less maintenance, and they’ll look great.

Consider How You Will Use Your Garden

A child learning in the garden

Home and garden design should both reflect your personal preferences, from style to activities you enjoy. Do you like to relax in the garden? Will you throw parties for friends and family? Will children be playing in the garden? Or is your garden for getting down in the dirt and spending time with nature?

Your new garden should be about you. If you like relaxing in the shade, maybe hang a macrame hammock between two trees. If you have children, tie a swing from a high up branch, add a playset or DIY cubby house in your garden.

Use paths or plants to section off different areas for different purposes. If you are likely to have parties, consider adding a shade sail that can be used on sunny or rainy days.

No matter how you plan to use your garden, it should express your personality.

Lighting Your Garden

Gardens will be well lit for the occasion. During the day and in the summer, the sun is high in the sky and Australian gardens will be hot. But if you’ll be spending time in your garden, it should be comfortable.

A shade sail can protect you from some of that Australian summer sun, and leave the view of the stars open at night. A tree might be shady during the day, but can be scary or too dark at night. 

Hang lanterns, strings of lights, or add a fire pit to your backyard for night-time gatherings.

Author Bio: Paul Beacon is the General Manager of the family-owned Beacon Equipment Garden Superstores in Perth which supply Western Australia with outdoor power tools and lawn equipment.

Last Updated on December 20, 2023

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About the author 

Clinton Anderson

Professional horticulturalist from NSW. Be sure to follow us on Instagram as well! Aussie_green_thumb.

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