Creating A Brief For Your Garden

May 13, 2020

Following on from our previous post, we continue the theme of ‘structure’ in the garden. Below we will strip the issue of structure right back to what we assume as a starting point for all our design projects. This is called ‘setting a design brief’. As designers this is a critical process to ensure a clear vision for the space is set and that the requirements and ideas for the space are met.

As garden designers we consult, advise and create ideas for your garden be it a small, large, irregular or complex space but there are some simple design principals which everyone can apply when looking at structuring or organising their garden to help form a brief.

There are a series of key design fundamentals, which should be considered and this list can become exhaustive, and depending on the particular site the demands can vary significantly. Below we have outlined a few key ideas to ensure you can start to make the most of your outdoor space and hopefully give you some new ideas and processes which can be applied to your garden in order to create a successful and enjoyable space. The headings below are also key elements that we set out in our design briefs at the start of any project.

We often ask clients the following; what do you want to use your space for? Who will use the space? When will the space be used?

When designing any garden or space it is important to clarify who will use the space and when those individuals or groups will use the space. Domestically this might not vary too much but adults, children, pets, visitors or groups are just some examples of who might want to enjoy the space and furthermore enjoy a certain aspect of that space. The different users of a space will all demand different outputs from a garden and whilst it might be hard to cater for all, a balance of activity and functionality should be planned out to ensure successful creation of a garden or space.

A small family courtyard garden GRDN designed in SW London that needed to function for different end users; adults, children and an electric car.

Its important when designing a garden, to look at what interventions you can incorporate into the space to give human scale? By this we mean elements, features or creating space which humans can relate to in terms of size, materiality and use.

Landscape elements within a garden or space such as trees, pergolas, sculptures and boundary treatments all represent possible interventions which when implemented correctly and sensitively will provide the required refuge, prospect and short views. Even down to the finer details of exact paving typologies, paving unit size and furniture specification. It is important there is a clear composition of landscape elements to ensure comfortable use of the space is achieved.


Pergola structure used to help define this external dining area, whilst providing height to the space.

Leading on nicely and relating closely to the previous heading of scale, context is another key component when designing any space. We often ask a client; if they have an overall theme in mind for the garden, which will weave the space together? Have they considered specific planting typologies? Do they have a preference on hard materials?

Its not easy to have all the answers immediately but there are certain considerations which can start to create your personalised checklist for creating and shaping your desired garden. This helps give your garden an identity and character but also a direction for the design process and then future implementation process.

Material choices, conceptual themes, light, bold, vibrant or soft colour palettes are often some key starting points of reference. We like to explore how vegetation can be used, is it architectural or passive planting? Evergreen and seasonal combinations? Mass and void throughout the space should be considered. The list could go on but defining and refining the landscape elements within your garden should be carefully planned to make sure a high quality and functional space is built and brought to life.


The client brief required GRDN to explore deep green and calming colours throughout the soft landscaping palette whilst considering a Kyoto inspired feel through textures and hard materials.


Bearing all the above points in mind, especially the three key headings, hopefully you can get a feel for just some of the key components, which should be put in place in order to create a successful garden and outdoor space. Writing these elements down in a design brief helps bring that much needed structure and framework to all garden spaces. We often like to visit gardens and external spaces for inspiration or read about iconic landscapes to help influence some of the decisions above and would advise this as a starting place for anyone. For us, a successful space is one that is interesting to be, which functions for its end users and is aesthetically pleasing and elegant.

GRDN tell each other, “It’s better to have a select few components doing well in a garden rather than too many components competing in the space”. So when it comes to writing your design brief, be concise and clear.