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The ultimate garden design plan: 12 steps to brighten up your garden

Et utekjøkken i en moderne og minimalistisk hage

Have you been dreaming of a new garden? In that case, it’s wise to plan well! Here’s all you need to know to make you dream come true.

Garden designer Eva Bengtsson runs her own company, Bengtsson Design, in Stockholm, Sweden. She explains that the most important thing, when you’re thinking of revitalising your garden, whatever the size, style and budget, is to have a good plan.

Here are Eva’s 12 tips to have in mind before you start work on bringing your dream to life.

A luxurious natural stone paved terrace with swimming pool, pergola and sun loungers.

1. Functionality

The first step when designing your garden is to have a good plan. You should think about how you want to use the space at your disposal. This means where you’re going to sit, or eat, and where you’ll want to stroll.

If you’re going to use your garden for socialising with friends, it’s a good idea to plan for a pergola, an outdoor kitchen or a pool area. If you’ve got green fingers – or hope to get some – a greenhouse or some raised vegetable beds would be a great addition.

At this stage of the project, it’s important to consider the small details. The more you prepare at this stage, the fewer problems you’re likely to encounter later in the process.

It’s very important to think about where you want lights and other electrical elements at this early stage. If you don’t start laying cables until after you’ve laid paving or filled the flowerbeds with earth, you’ll run into problems.

A  garden plan sketch.
Plan how you want to use your space – where you want to eat, sit or walk.
A luxurious terrace with slate tiles, swimming pool and sun loungers.
Think about all the details as early as possible – even where you want your flower pots!

2. The garden and the house should work together

This is one of the aspects Eva Bengtsson spends most time on, simply because a good overall impression is absolutely vital.

You should think of your garden as an extension of your house. In practice, this means that you should try and to have the materials in the house reflected in the garden, while also taking account of the colour scheme and style of your house.

If, for example, you have a modern house with concrete elements and natural stone indoors, you can use the same materials outdoors, too.

3. Find your style

You may already have done this, but if not, why not use social media as a source of inspiration?

Eva Bengtsson gets all her clients to send her a collage with photographs of gardens and outdoor areas they like. On this basis, she then creates a mood board to identify the style the client really wants. She also finds some good ideas for elements she can surprise them with.

She especially recommends Pinterest, Houzz and Instagram as good sources of inspiration.

An outdoor kitchen on a slate terrace in a modern and minimalist garden.

4. An eye-catcher

What turns a fine garden into an outstanding one is the ability to spellbind – both yourself and your guests. To achieve this, you need some elements that really take their breath away. A real eye-catching feature.

This could be many things. A large, beautiful tree can easily have this magnetic effect. But even if you don’t have a tree in your garden, and don’t want to plant one, Eva Bengtsson suggests that a large plant in a ceramic pot can have the same effect.

Your eye-catching feature doesn’t need to be something natural; it could just as easily be a fountain or water feature, or even an interesting space. By varying between large and small rooms, the space in itself can be the eye-catcher.

A black outdoor shower on a terrace covered with outdoor tiles of Offerdal slate and wood.
An eye-catcher can be an outdoor shower …
A garden path of outdoor tiles of Offerdal slate in combination with cobblestones. A tree and green plants adorn the edge.
… or a beautiful tree …

5. Be consistent

In addition to letting your choice of materials and style spill over from the house, Eva Bengtsson also recommends limiting how many materials you use.

She always tries to restrict herself to a maximum of three different materials. The more materials you introduce, the greater the risk of it becoming too messy. Then you won’t achieve the calm and harmonious atmosphere you want to create in your garden.

She emphasises that this is an aim, but not a necessity.

A close-up of outdoor tiles of Offerdal slate and wood around a pool.
Natural materials go well with each other; Offerdal slate in and around the pool together with wood.

6. Think three-dimensionally

Nothing is more boring than a flat, empty garden Eva Bengtsson recommends that you think about your garden in the same way you think about your house. Not as one large area, but a number of smaller ones.

The principle is to create small rooms, or zones, in the garden.

A room can be an area that is sectioned off, or filled with a greenhouse, an outdoor kitchen or even just a bench. 11 specific tips on how to create zones in the garden or on the terrace.

One simple way to create a small garden room is to use stone. Paving, concrete and gravel can also help divide the garden into rooms. Creating small differences in level can also have the same effect. Raise the area where your dining table is to be placed above the rest of the garden. You’ll be surprised at what a difference this makes.

In this way, a room can be so much more than just a floor. Walls, hedges, plants and trellises also function as natural walls. Place these between your rooms and the garden will become a magical place – almost like a labyrinth. Part of the magic lies in not being able to see all of the garden at once.

If you have room for a large tree in the garden, its branches can form a wonderful canopy. Put a bench there. Or even your garden table and chairs. A pergola, or even just an awning, will also create the cosy familiar sensation of having a roof over your head.

An outdoor kitchen on a slate terrace in a modern and minimalist garden.
Make small rooms, or zones in the garden!

7. Remember paths

Just as rooms in a house need doors, remember the transitions between your garden rooms. These should also be interesting in themselves.

Here, Eva Bengtsson recommends laying small paths and steps, preferably bordered with flowerbeds or shrubs.

You can also use other materials such as gravel or natural stone for the paths and steps – to create a contrast. How to easily make a path yourself with stepping stones.

A footpath paved with outdoor tiles of slate from  Offerdal, Sweden.
Offerdal slate is very suitable for paths as it is perpetual, maintenance-free and non-slippery.

8. Size matters

It’s actually true. At least, in a gardening context! And Eva Bengtsson’s message here is: think big!

She says that far too many people think about indoor dimensions when choosing furniture and features for the garden. But furniture for outdoor use should actually be larger.

She thinks people often design terraces and patios that are actually too small. They have to move furniture to open doors and don’t create the elbow room a garden deserves.

The most important aspect is that there must be a conversation between the house and the garden. So the size of the terrace, swimming pool, greenhouse and outdoor kitchen should always be based on this.

A pergola with modern outdoor furniture in front of a pool.
Think big!

9. Repetition

Whatever the type of garden you’re planning, repetition is important. This may concern the materials you use, the plants you choose or the shapes you decide to fill your garden with.

Repeating shapes, colours and materials doesn’t just give a sense of continuity; it also radiates calm and order. And seriously, what’s better than a garden you can really relax in?

Yet Eva Bengtsson can also deviate from this, when creating an eye-catching feature.

Even then, this doesn’t mean interfering with the style of the house and garden, it just means that the eye-catching feature should be something that surprises and creates interest.

10. The right plants in the right places

Having plants in your garden is essential. But what are the ‘right’ plants?

This varies from garden to garden, and from style to style. The most important thing to consider here is what the different plants should be. Or as Eva Bengtsson puts it: ”Don’t work against nature.”

Some areas may be naturally shady and it would be pointless to plant anything here that needs a lot of sun. Similarly, flowers that thrive best in a shady spot should not be placed in direct sunlight.

You should also think about the type of soil your plants need. Some should be planted in sandy soil, while others need richer soil. Make sure that, as far as possible, these types of plants are placed together

She emphasises that this is where it would be wise to consult a gardener or nursery.

A detailed picture of outdoor tiles of Offerdal slate together with golden wood and green plants.
The right plant in the right place!
A detailed picture of Offerdal slate with built-in lighting in the stone.
Do not forget the lighting – here installed in an Offerdal slate slab.

11. Indirect light

Don’t allow your beautiful garden to disappear as soon as it gets dark. Even after sunset, your garden can become a magical place, with the right kind of illumination.

The trick here is to decide what you want to illuminate, without revealing too much, such as thin air or your guests’ faces.

Eva Bengtsson describes how she always uses indirect light in the garden. Directing the lights down at the flagstones, up towards tree trunks and away from people’s faces makes the garden a delightful place to spend the evening, while highlighting the garden’s most interesting features.

A luxurious terrace covered with slate tiles, swimming pool, outdoor kitchen and dining area.
Choose durable furniture in a style and in a material that fits into your garden.

12. The final touch

When everything is in place, you can then fill your garden with whatever you like – and have planned for. This will be your garden furniture, but also visually interesting things such as fountains and outdoor fireplaces.

The furniture should preferably be made from material, or in a colour, that complements the garden. Eva Bengtsson also recommends her clients to be quality-conscious when choosing garden furniture, since it is exposed to the elements, and good quality always lasts longer.

If you have children and want to include elements such as a football goal or trampoline, this should be planned at an early stage of the process. Eva Bengtsson also urges clients to remember that these things will disappear again over time, so if you’re planning a trampoline area, it may be wise to lay flagstones as a base that can be used for another purpose later.

Bildet viser Gustav og Eva Bengtsson som er hagedesignere sittende foran et flott rød villvin

– Repeating shapes, colours and materials doesn’t just give a sense of continuity; it also radiates calm and order. And seriously, what’s better than a garden you can really relax in?

Gustav og Eva Bengtsson
Garden designers, Bengtsson Design

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