Constraint, Repetition and Variation in Garden Design


Hard Landscaping

The garden has a strong underlying structure using three main landscaping materials, which are repeated throughout the wider garden:

  • Timber decking steps
  • Grey Sandstone slabs
  • Brick pavers

Excluding the lawn, these materials cover about 60% of the ground area, leaving 40% for the beds and lawn. To the uninitiated, the amount of hard landscaping may seem excessive, but in reality, this is the kind of ratio necessary in a small garden design to ensure the underlying structure has sufficient impact. Bear in mind that unlike the hard-landscaping, planting occupies three dimensions, so appears more dominant in real life than its footprint suggests. Consequently, hard landscaping must hold its own as the planting matures. The raw-edges of newly laid paving are soon softened as plants spill over the edges. Paths that initially look wide enough for two people to walk side-by-side quickly become single-file only.

Another aspect of the plan worth noting is that all the paving and decking serves a purpose, creating clear movement lines and vistas through the garden while connecting key areas in a coherent way.

The use of two different paving materials — especially side-by-side — has to be handled carefully. In this design the bricks and sandstone slabs are sufficiently different in both unit size and colour, that they manage to complement each other.

Timber Decking Steps

The decking steps create a physical and aesthetic link between the house and the garden. Each step spans the full width of the adjacent doors and is painted in the same colour (anthracite grey). The front corners of these deck steps have short posts with ball finials. These not only provide a sculptural element but also act as door stops to hold the kitchen and dining room doors, preventing them swinging beyond 90 degrees, thus being both practical and beautiful. The ball finials were chosen to match those on the roof lantern of the dining room.

Hard Surfaces

Using two kinds of contrasting hard paving (bricks and slab) helps break up the hard surfaces into meaningful areas while avoiding monotony.

Brick Pavers

These form a path, framing the lawn and creating access to the garden areas beyond. Near the house, they link the areas of paving, providing dry access all year round. Their linear pattern creates movement and direction, leading the eye along interesting vistas into the further garden and beyond.

Sandstone Slabs

These are used to form several broad rectangles of paving, each adjacent to an entrance, providing access to the dining room, kitchen, workshop and greenhouse. Compared to the fast-moving, small-unit bricks, the slabs are used to create broader and more static spaces: great places to arrange pots and seating. A small patio near the greenhouse was sized to take a 4ft table and chairs for casual dining. The same slabs are used further down the garden for a dining table next to the barbecue (photo below).

NEXT: How structural planting benefits from constraint, repetition and variation…

7 thoughts on “Constraint, Repetition and Variation in Garden Design”

  1. What a FANTASTIC article!
    I feel like starting out on a whole new garden project, to work with all this superb advice.
    Perhaps this article should be seen as a seminar. Truly excellent!

  2. Again, I am smitten with this wonderfully inspiring article. Thanks and kindest regards from the industrial Rhur region in Germany – Your sincerely Monika

    • You are so kind Monika. I am glad you enjoyed it and hopefully got something useful out of it. I don’t know if I’ve said before, but my brother and his family live in Arnsberg so I have family and fond connections with Germany. Happy gardening!

  3. You’ve put into words what has been in the back of my head for years. Really helpful. Super article, better than all my gardening books and magazines. Thank you.

    • Wow Cat, that’s high praise indeed! Thank you so much. Like you, it had been in the ‘back of my head’ too. When I started writing the article it was going to be something quite different, but the more I wrote and rewrote it, the more I realised what I was trying to say.

      I’m soo glad it has been helpful!

  4. What a fabulous article, I too have trawled through books and websites to find a cohesive white garden plan and you have explained it so well…off to the garden centre I go! Thank you.


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