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3 Common Garden Mistakes to Avoid - and a Few Design Fixes

Feeling frustrated with your garden?  Garden not quite what you were hoping it would be?   Thinking about changing your garden and want to avoid costly mistakes?

Here are a few of the common mistakes I find people make with their gardens, that often mean they don’t get the effect they are looking for – and a few ideas to fix them.


meadow in flower
whether you are hoping to evoke feelings of a lush meadow, or something more formal - planning the right plants with enough space, is essential

Forgetting about the plants!

Not thinking about the overall effect and planting style you want in your garden from the start of planning your new space.  The plants you include will make or break the look of a garden, perhaps more-so than hard landscaping such as paving.

Whether it’s a few architectural specimen plants against an incredible wall, an over-flowing cottage garden, or a naturalistic prairie style – different plants and planting styles have specific requirements in terms of minimum space, soil, garden climate and so on.

I often find that beds and borders in a garden are far too narrow to get the depth of planting (number of plants) included that give a nice lush and full look.

Similarly, narrow/ small, raised beds often need more support in terms of watering and feeding – not the low maintenance garden you might be hoping for.


There is nothing more annoying than finding out after you’ve had your hard landscape installed, that the planting you need won’t fit in easily. 

If you are at the start of your journey – think plants first, do your homework and make sure you are including enough space in your plan to include the types of plants you will need to achieve the look you are aiming for.


planting plan
Working out how many plants will fit in a space, or how big a space you need for the tree you need to give you some privacy, is key

If you are suffering from this right now in your garden, some options are to:

  • extend your beds if you can e.g., if they are bordered by grass, or

  • create more planting space in front with another bed (layer) or a few nice containers.

  • locally-grown annuals flowers, such as cosmos or lobelia, can be a good way of filling gaps, adding volume and colour.

 Alternatively, research other styles that might work in the space you have, and consider adding an attractive vertical backdrop such as a decorative screen, or climbing plants such as jasmine, ivy, clematis, to add depth and colour.


container garden
Containers can be a neat way to extend planting space


Gardens that not designed for the specific site conditions and for the household members

Not starting with a clear ‘wish list’ of all the practical things (as well as the fun things), can result in a garden that just doesn’t work as well as it could.   

It could be missing things that would be really handy and just make life easier – bin storage, washing lines, a place to wash the dog. 

Fortunately, for some of these issues there are attractive options that can be fitted in to any garden, such as bin stores with living roofs, and that you can grow attractive plants around. 

Make sure you've thought to include all the practical things that make life easier

If you are thinking about changing your garden, make sure you have all the practical things on your list, so you can integrate these from the start.


I also often see gardens with materials that don’t wear well in that particular site; make sure you know what your gardens climate is and choose materials and plants that will work well, with minimum maintenance.

For example – if you have a damp-shady area, avoid pale surfaces (e.g., light coloured stone) that will easily collect algae, becoming slippery and unattractive. Consider surfaces that drain more easily and ‘don’t show the dirt', and/ or plants that will enjoy the damp conditions and drink up excess water.

Surfaces and plants that work well in a shady space



Finally – the big one: wrong plant, wrong place

I regularly encounter gardens where either plants are not thriving, because they are not suited to the local conditions in that space (it’s microclimate), whether they want more/ less water, sun/ shade, or a different soil type.

I also frequently find shrubs and trees in gardens that are simply far too big for that space.

If you have plants that aren’t thriving – do your research to find out what they like, if possible, try moving them to another more suitable space or popping them into a container with the right conditions.

If you are thinking about planting a new space – make sure you’ve worked out:

  • how hot/cold, sunny/ shady, windy/ sheltered it will be,

  • the soil type you have, and importantly,

  • how well the soil drains (or does not drain) after it rains. 

Use a website such as the Royal Horticultural Society’s plant finder tool  and plants for places guides, to create a list of plants that will work well in your space, and will grow to an appropriate size.

Now - the hard part - try to stick to your list when choosing plants to include, and if you do see anything tempting at the garden centre, make sure you’ve read the label and know it's suitable for your space.

a plant list on a computer screen
Researching the right plants before you start will save you time, money and heartache later on.

Remember to check the mature size of a plant you are considering – small pots can become giants over a few years - plants I commonly find taking over smaller gardens are: 

  • Choisya ternata (grows to 2.5-3m), try its smaller cousins Choisya x dewitteana (Mexican orange blossom) instead,  which grow to 1-1.5m.

  • Eucalyptus – varieties that want to grow up to be 15-20m tall trees!     If you’re looking for silver foliage, consider instead – a dwarf eucalyptus variety (still vigorous, but grows to 4-5m), for a silver shrub – Elaeagnus 'Quicksilver', or for an attractive small tree that is easier to manage - Pyrus salicifolia pendula, (willow-leaved pear),



If you’re looking for garden inspiration – follow my blog for regular ideas and updates.
And if you need a helping hand, why not get in touch:
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