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'Too much blank space': 7 garden design mistakes everyone makes (and how to get it right)

Avoid these common pitfalls to make sure you end up with a bloomin’ gorgeous outdoor space.

EVEN THOSE OF us who fill our homes with plants and greenery tend to sometimes ignore the garden.

If you have a big patch out the back or front, all that space can be intimidating. And if your garden area is small, there’s a feeling of, “well, I can’t do much with it.” Turns out, there’s plenty you can do.

Read on for some common garden layout mistakes you’re probably making, regardless of the size of your space – and how to rectify them for a garden that gives back all year round…

Mistake #1: Putting garden furniture in the wrong place
Putting your main patio furniture at the far end of your garden is a surefire way to make sure you won’t use it. “I would always look at two things: where the kitchen is and where the sun hits in the evenings,” says Mark Grehan, landscape designer, florist and owner of The Garden in Dublin’s Powerscourt Shopping Centre:

For most people, evenings after work are when they’ll most use the garden. I would always recommend putting furniture as close to the house as possible, to give you easy access to the kitchen.

If you happen to have the sun hit a more obscure spot, Mark suggests putting a secondary piece of furniture there – like a bench or a two-seater table and chairs – to make the most of the sun.

rosangela-taylor-7tqjTGkHKpg-unsplash Unsplash Unsplash

Mistake #2: Leaving too much blank space
We get it, a big empty lawn can be intimidating. A few hurried trips to the garden centre for some potted plants might help add some interest, but for proper bang for buck, invest some time into making flower beds.

“We often recommend putting in some flower beds on the left and right of the garden and starting to add plants right away,” says Kevin Whitty of

Flower beds can give you a good starting structure to build from and it’s often cheaper to plant smaller pieces here that will quickly grow instead of paying more for larger plants in pots.

Mistake #3: Planting things – but in the wrong spots
One of the most basic mistakes newbie gardeners make is planting things in the wrong parts of the garden. It’s important to allow a little bit of time to get to know your outdoor space before digging everything up.

Which way does your garden face? Where does the sun travel throughout the day? These are important things to consider, says Grehan:

Most plants grow quite well in south, south-west or south-east gardens. But there’s also a whole collection of plants that do really well in shady, north-facing gardens.

Knowing your garden will help make sure you pick the right plant for the right position.

shutterstock_295390679 Shutterstock / Joy Fera Shutterstock / Joy Fera / Joy Fera

Mistake #4: Not giving plants the best chance to flourish
There’s nothing more demotivating than spending a few Saturdays wrist-deep in soil, earnestly planting in just the right spot, only for your new babies to inexplicably wither and die. For healthy, happy plants you need healthy soil – and your garden will be full of browning plants if you ignore this fact.

“One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is not nourishing the soil before planting,” says Grehan:

Most of the time they plant straight into the soil that’s there, but I would always recommend feeding the soil with manure beforehand or even while you plant.

Mistake #5: Thinking a potted plant can look after itself
Plopping down a few pretty potted plants seems like a quick and easy way to add colour, but they’re often more maintenance than they seem. When something is in the ground, it can pull in moisture from the soil, but potted plants need a bit more help. “Anything that goes into the ground is going to do better than if it were in a pot,” says Whitty. You have to water potted plants constantly.

During the dry spells, people lose hundreds of euros worth of plants thanks to underwatering. But even the rain isn’t enough.

Grehan recommends adding gravel at the bottom of your pots to help with drainage, and a layer of mulch and gravel on top. “That will help keep in the moisture.”

Mistake #6: Not cutting grass regularly enough (and scalping it when you do)

“I often see grass let grow for two or three weeks – and then it’s skinned alive,” laughs Grehan. “If you can cut it more regularly, your grass will become stronger and grow better.”

And a bonus for all of your hard work? Stronger, healthier grass also tends to keep the weeds away, so you’ll gain back a few Saturday morning hours that way.

Mistake #7 Not asking enough questions at the garden centre
You may not know your annuals from your perennials, but that doesn’t mean you can’t DIY a gorgeous garden. “Get out to the nurseries and let the horticulturists there become your personal shoppers,” advises Whitty. “They’re there to help.”

Arrive armed with information about your garden’s position, colours or flowers you like and the sizes of any pots you already own and you’ll be able to get lots of tips and recommendations, all for free.

More: 5 practical changes that will transform your bedroom into a space you love to sleep in

Nathalie Marquez Courtney
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