If you have an outdoor space big enough to let your creativity and imagination run wild, you’re very fortunate. It means you have the room you need to indulge everything you love best about gardening, creating a backyard with… well, everything. If that sounds like you and you have the time, dedication, patience and work ethic, here’s how to create the ultimate garden, a garden with everything.
What is ‘a garden with everything’?
It’s entirely up to you. A garden with everything is an outdoor space that incorporates ever single thing that you – personally – adore about the whole gardening process, and the effect you most want to achieve. Your own ultimate backyard might contain all of these, or just some of them:
- Every kind of plant you love best
- Fish and wildlife ponds, streams, lakes and water features
- Bog gardens
- Mushrooms and toadstools
- Space for native wildlife to thrive
- Areas of lawn
- Pebbles, gravel, rocks, stones and even monoliths
- Trees, copses and woodland areas
- Hills and valleys
- Evergreens and decidious species
- Wild areas
- Garden sculptures and outdoor art
- Beach-inspired areas
- Sheds and outbuildings
- Decking, patios and pathways in stone, wood or concrete
- Fencing and gates
We’re going to look at each of them in turn. Here goes.
Every kind of plant you love best
Most of us like the look of a broad selection of plants, but most of us don’t have the right conditions for them all. When you have a big space to play with you can create different conditions for plants to thrive in. Here are some examples:
- Dry, drought and desert conditions – Find a sunny, south-facing spot that’s already naturally dry to create a special area for dry-loving plants. Blend ordinary soil with gravels and salt-neutral sands to get a well-draining mix
- Dark, damp and shady places for ferns – It’s no good trying to grow stuff under or near a hedge, even if it’s perfect as regards the dark and shade. The hedge will suck out all the moisture and goodness from the soil in no time. Find a shaded spot away from hedges and trees, or create shade and shelter with fencing, walls or landscaping, so your shade lovers can thrive
- Full sun – Plenty of gardens are too small to enjoy full sun at any time of year. With a big garden you will naturally have some hot spots to take advantage of. Keep them free and clear of overhanging vegetation to maintain full-on sunshine all year round
- Partial shade – If you don’t have partial shade, create it using intelligently-sited bushes and shrubs, walls of fencing, bearing in mind which direction to sunshine comes from throughout the day
- Different soil types – If you don’t have it, you can create it thanks to a variety of garden soil products readily available at any good garden center
Fish and wildlife ponds, streams, lakes and water features
A garden isn’t a garden without water, and a big space means you can go to town and attract all sorts of creatures in to drink, live and mate.
- Fishponds – Koi carp and other fancy fish demand special conditions, including flowing water. You can’t have a fish pond-cum-wildlife pond, they need to be separate
- Wildlife ponds – Make a series of small wildlife ponds in ceramic pots and buried plastic containers. Dig a big one and line it with pond liner. Or build up walls with bricks or stone and cement for a wildlife pond that’s easier to reach therefore easier to maintain
- Streams – It’s entirely possible to build a steam, and even a waterfall, using materials and kit found at any good aquatic center or online specialist. A good quality pump is your best friend
- Lakes – If you have clay-rich soil or impermeable rock below your land, you may be able to dig a very large pond or small lake that naturally holds water. If not, you will probably need to hire in expert help to create a large body of water successfully
A bog garden is simply somewhere extra-wet where you can grow all sorts of beautiful mosses as well as curious plants like sphagnum moss, carnivorous pitcher plants, the beautiful flowering polygonum persicaria bistorta, and the dramatic Zantedeschia Aethiopica, an exotic lily-type thing. With enough space to play with you can grow enormous gunnera, rather like giant rhubarb.
We created our bog garden by digging a shallow basin, lining it with pond liner, cutting small holes in the liner for drainiage and filling it with soil, then adding plenty of water. The liner holds onto enough water to keep it boggy, but the soil doesn’t rot or go stagnant.
Mushrooms and toadstools
Did you know you can buy specially-impregnated tree trunk sections full of spores for toadstools and mushrooms? Once you’ve got them going the spores will spread naturally for a good supply – year on year – of tasty, or poisonous yet beautiful, mushrooms and toadstools, often extraordinary things that look amazing and lend eccentric drama to your outdoor space.
Space for native wildlife to thrive
These days there’s so little natural space left for wildlife to live in that it’s more or less morally incumbent on every gardener to take their needs into account. As a result tidy gardening is out of fashion, replaced by relatively messy and laid back gardens full of animals, birds, insects, amphibians and more. If you’re tempted to build a backyard with military precision, with no tolerance for even a small heap of dead leaves, it’s time to mend your wicked ways and welcome your fellow sentient beings in.
- Keep things casual – Forget lawn edges so neat you can cut yourself on them, and beds dug into a state of soulless perfection. Let nature in, and give her room to do her magical thing
- Pile stuff up for creatures to hide in – Pile up leaves, grass clippings, twigs and branches in out-of-the-way places in your beds, behind sheds and anywhere unobtrusive to create hidey holes and safe places for living things to make a home
- Include native plants – There’s no such thing as a weed. A weed is simply a plant we humans haven’t bothered to genetically mess about with. Welcome weeds as part of your garden design
- Bird, bee and bat houses – You can buy specially designed bird, bee and bat houses to attract thrilling creatures to your yard
- No pesticides – There’s no need to use pesticides. When your garden is properly balanced with natural planting, weeds and general messiness allowed, it’ll begin to balance itself. Even snails and slugs have a right to be in your yard. They were here millions of years before the human race, after all
Areas of lawn
Grass lawns are deserts as far as wildlife is concerned, places where nothing can thrive except grass. But if that’s what flaots your boat, go ahead and create an immaculate lawned area. Grass is lovely to sit on and play on, and mowing is easy so it’s simple to maintain. But you can also make wildflower meadows which will attract butterflies and moths, small mammals, frogs, toads, newts and more, which really brings a garden to life. With a big space you can do both militarily neat and satisfyingly shaggy – how cool is that!
Pebbles, gravel, rocks, stones and even monoliths
There’s nothing quite like aggregates, rocks and boulders to add visual interest and charm to your yard. They come in every imaginable color, everything from dramatic purple and green slate to vivid granites and other crystalline volcanic and metamorphic rocks, as well as deliciously complex striped sandstones and fossil-filled limestones.
- Gravel – Use different sizes of gravel to create visual interest
- Pebbles – River pebbles are gorgeous, smooth and worn, and make a wonderful effect piled up and studded with alpine planting
- Rocks and rockeries – You can buy jagged, dramatic chunks of rock or very large beach/river cobbles, and the more different shapes and sizes you mix and match, the more exciting and unusual the effect. A traditional rockery, made with big chunks of jagged rock, is a great place for wildlife as well as a brilliant basis for attractive ground-level planting
- Monoliths – With luck there’ll be somewhere near you that delivers dirty great monoliths. If you like you can even create your own mini-Stonehenge. Use them in groups of one, three or five – even numbers are impossible to arrange naturally
Trees, copses and woodland areas
Trees, bushes and shrubs provide places for wildlife to live and hide, and help you create a variety of different landscape styles in your backyard.
- Trees – deciduous and evergreen – Plant young and exercise patience for the best results. If you plant a big or mature specimen you will probably have to stake it very well indeed to support it through the first few winters of wind and storms, otherwise it’ll wobble like a loose tooth and never really thrive
- Copses – Use three or five small trees to create a dappled copse. Cherry trees, witch hazel, silver birch and others that grow relatively small make good copse trees, not too big and letting sunlight through even in summer
- Weeping willow sculptures – Willow is ever so bendy, which means you can twist the living branches into all sorts of amazing shapes: dens for the kids, lioving sculptures, cool and leafy laces to sit and read…
- Woodland areas – You need considerable space to grow your own small wood, and you need to plant carefully with the trees’ future mature size in mind. If you already have a wooded area, maintaining it properly and keeping it healthy makes it much more wildlife friendly as well as a usable entertainment space for humans. How about a perfectly circular stand of trees, or trees planted in a beautiful oval shape?
Hills and valleys
Flat is boring. As long as you can dig down without running into solid bedrock, you should be able to create hills and valleys in your yard, making visual mystery and creating surprises. If you can’t dig down, you can always add extra topsoil on top to make hills and valleys. Save money on soil by using waste building rubble, piles of rocks, broken concrete or old bricks for the bones of the landscape, then cover them with a foot or more of topsoil.
- Pile earth up to create gentle or dramatic hills, large earthworks and huge hummocks, even land art
- Dig down to create sheltered spaces and private areas where you can hide away in comfort, out of the wind, as well as secret sunken pathways, patios and ponds
Get it right and you can have flowers all year round. Asters in particular – from the daisy family – deliver awesome rich and varied colour throughout the fall and into winter. Plan first, plant second and you should be able top ensure a brilliant display from January to December.
Garden sculptures and outdoor art
Every garden looks better with art. Garden art can mean anuything from a vintage cast iron chicken twelve feet tall and weighing in at two tons to sophisticated marble figures in traditional ancient Greek or Roman style and home made stacks of tree trunks in artistic arrangements.
- What to look for – Let your imagination run wild – how about using old, rusty farm machinery as a centerpiece, smothered in climing flowers through summer? Or a collection of huge rocks balanced on top of each other, or a tree trunk painted like a totem pole?
- Where to find it – Farmyards, antique shops, online auction sites and architectural salvage yards are all good sources of sculpture, as are wood reclamation places, old barns, seashores (excellent for driftwood) and even municipal dumps
- How to site it – Place your gardebn art where it can be seen, or hide it in the undergrowth so it’s a surprise. Stand it on a cut-down treetrunk if you like – a stump can make an excellent plinth
- How to make your own sand and pebble beach – First clear your patch of ground, removing greenery and stones. Then cover the surface with a good quality weed-resistant membrane. Start adding fine gravel first, then add larger rocks, cobbles and pebbles so you get a variety of sizes for visual interest. Place planters of flowers on top, or make holes in the membrane and plant beach-loving plants through the stones
Sheds and outbuildings
- What to choose – What do you actually need? Plan your outbuildings before buying them, based on what storage space you need, what you want to store, and where’s the most convenient place for them. You can paint your sheds bright colours or subtle shades, even blend them into the background by growing climbing plants over them.
Decking, patios and pathways in stone, wood or concrete
- Decking – Garden decks are hugely popular, and a great way to create practical spaces for entertainment, relaxing and playing. You can buy proprietary decking or make your own quirky decks with wood you source yourself
- Pathways – Paths create designated areas outdoors, used for visual interest as well as for getting from A to B. There’s no need for pathways to be either straight or direct. Let them wander for a more attractive and natural-looking effect, use old railway sleepers or concrete blocks, even crazy paving
- Patios – Make a patio out of pieces of flat slate set in concrete. Create crazy paving. Buy great value Indian sandstone, figured beautifully with patterns, cheaper than home-quarried stone despite the long distance it has travelled
- Chimineas and fire pits – A patio is the perfect and safest spot for a chiminea or fie pit, great fun for alfresco entertainment
Walls, hedging and fencing and gates
Walls, fencing and hedges are your best friends when you want to split your land into different rooms are eras, each with its own function and personality.
- Walls – Brick and stone are traditional, but you can also build beautiful walls from recycled wood, beach defenses, even old floorboards and old doors, or sections of old fencing / wooden outbuildings
- Fencing comes in all sorts of flavors, from everyday wood to light, strong see-through wire net fences that you can grow climbers up and which resist high wind very well. If it’s very windy round your way you might want to invest in ‘hit and miss’ fencing, which lets some wind through and doesn’t blow down anywhere near as easily
- Hedging can be evergreen or decidious, made of one plant or of multiple different types to help you attract a wide variety oif plants, birds and animals. You can create circular areas surrounded by hedge, or make your own maze, or use hedging to shelter entertainment areas from the prevailing winds. And box hedging can be turned into stunning topiary
Inspired – Go forth and create!
You get the picture. The gardening world is your oyster when you’ve got plenty of space to play with. Decide what you want, make a common sense plan based on the layout and character of your space, and the types of soil and landscalpes you’ve already got, and off you go.