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Garden Design Ideas | 3 Tips To Get Started

Garden Design Ideas - How to Think Like A Gardener Designer

Garden designers love garden porn as much as anyone and we know that many enjoyable hours can be spent drooling over gardens in Pinterest and Instagram. These are great tools for getting design inspiration and for keeping up with current garden trends, however, there comes a point when all those beautiful and clever garden & landscape design ideas can just start to get confusing and overwhelming. 

How are all those ideas going to fit together in a manner that look effortless and cohesive?

Are they even the right thing for YOUR garden and lifestyle?

Do your garden design ideas suit your personality, the character of your home & your landscaping budget.

Here are 3 quick designer tips to get garden design ideas and get started on your garden makeover in a much more personalised way. 

Garden Design Idea 1
Switch Off and Get Local Design Inspiration

Switch off the electronic devices. Yep, I said it!!!

Forget the internet for a while and look for design inspiration within your own property and neighbourhood.

Study the details of your house and look at what is happening beyond the boundaries too. 

Say you have a 60’s style home and want a subtropical or Scadi-inspired garden. No matter how much love them, those shiny black panels you saw on Instagram probably just aren't going to work.

Consider a black Frangipani breeze block wall instead. Or a bold splash of red on walls or screens (like in the image above).

The addition of colour works especially well if it echoes something close by, like the tones of a flamboyant tree next door.

You don't have to copy what's happening over the fence, but don't fight against it either. If the neighbour's Puka tree encroaches on your patch from their native garden theme, don't hack it back, work with it! Add soft 'bamboo palm' fronds on your side to contrast against the large leaves of the puka and you’re away!  

A garden style that adapts to work with the neighborhood context and responds to architectural cues from its own surroundings, will always feel right.  

Lush and leafy subtropical plants contrast against red painted stucco walls to either side of a weathered tiber boardwalk.
Red walls can hightlight feature plants in any garden

Garden Design Idea 2
Learn some Latin - The importance of Genius loci

Garden designers just love their Latin, all those complicated plant names! We especially the term Genius loci.

This old Latin term has been appropriated for contemporary use as the ‘spirit of place’ or is sometimes called a 'sense of place'.

It's a lovely phrase that describes that unique feeling or distinctive atmosphere that a location or garden has, be it good or bad. If you love the feeling of your garden, protect it and use it as a garden design idea generator.

For instance, if a part of your garden makes you feel calm and relaxed when you enter it, consider what's creating that feeling.  If it's because the spreading limbs of a 50-year-old tree are creating calm, soothing shade and casting a dappled light that gives the space a special ethereal quality, then don’t cut it down to create a vegetable garden! It will destroy the Genius loci. Put the peas elsewhere and tuck a seating nook or retreat space below the leafy canopy instead.

A common mistake people make when landscaping, is removing a large amount of the existing vegetation. Existing gardens often have well-established planting that contributes greatly to the sense of place. Look to these for inspiration, and modify them to suit your needs. Enhance, but don't destroy, the precious sense of place. 

  • Is there a predominance of native planting that can be played up so your garden becomes a New Zealand native plant oasis? 

  • Are there two well-placed palms or trees between which to sling a hammock, setting the scene for a holiday-at-home vibe?

New gardens on the other hand, devoid of plantings, can feel exposed but are often sun-drenched. If you're a sun-lover you'll want to keep this spirit of place, so your garden design idea could include adding a generous deck, some oversized white pots full of tough, sun-loving plants, sun loungers, and a cantilevered shade umbrella. This will give a resort feel, especially if you have a pool or water outlook to use as a focal point. 

Work to enhance the Genius loci of your landscape that first drew you to it, and you will have a unique and special garden that will always appeal to you on a personal level.  

A woman is reclining on a daybed that sits on a timber deck beneath a large shade umbrella. The deck over looks the ocean and there are garssy plants around it, and a few large trees in the background.

Garden Design Idea 3
Use it, don’t lose it

If you are building a garden on a small budget, then working with what you’ve got is key. It can also offer up great opportunities for one-of-a-kind design features, without the bespoke price tag.

Look at gardens featured in books and on the internet and you'll see they often include recreated or replica garden features from previous eras. 

It is possible to use just one existing site feature as your first garden design idea and design a whole garden around either enhancing it or hiding it. I know, because I've done it many times in my role as a professional New Zealand garden designer.


  • A garage wall

  • An ugly shed 

  • A clothesline

  • Above-ground water tanks

  • The neighbours


  • One specatacular tree

  • A character wall

  • Brick detailing on a house

  • Existing rock walls

  • A stunning backdrop

Would that dreary, brown clinker brick wall from the 70s still look depressing if it were bagged and painted white? Given a new lease of life, suddenly it becomes a stunning garden feature wall.

Add a seat, sculptural tree, or plant group in the foreground. Or fix a mirror to it to reflect a nicer view, either existing or one you create, and boom, instant wow factor, and no budget blowout required.  Use what already exists on your property to the best advantage. 

A courtyard garden that has a focal point of a garden mirrow fixed to a wall at the end of the long rectangular space. In the fore ground there is a pot filled with pink flowering plants sitting on a surface of white pebbles inlaid with bands of mondo grass. The pebbled area is framed by a 900mm high concrete wall. There are pink flowering hydrangea and low box hedges behind the wall.


At DIY Designs we are experts at making the most of what you've got. Get in touch if you'd like more help with garden design ideas at your place. New Zealand-wide online garden design service