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Plan B Design Tips - Design Theories

It's back to school - with some theories!

There are two key theories I follow in creating beautiful Plan B designs:

- The Landscape Preference Theory

- The Restorative Landscape Theory

These combined, underpin the process to create garden spaces that enable us to be explorative in a garden, help us understand its story, as well as ensuring the garden is immersive and engaging.

The key to a well designed garden is to underpin work with these theories. These theories and related components, will help to ensure that a garden works on a number of levels, season to season, year after year.

A well designed garden will have:

  • Coherence - unity and repeating themes

  • Legibility - wayfinding (e.g. paths, landmarks), memorable components

  • Complexity - richness, stimulates senses, well proportioned spaces

  • Mystery - the promise of finding more!

And furthermore, a well designed garden will provide you with:

  • Escape - mentally, physically, escaping from stress

  • Fascination - seeing succession with seasons, colour changes, use of water

  • Extent - feel as if can walk on forever!

  • Compatibility - is there somewhere to sit, to shelter, are there lights, is there shade?

So, 8 key components being combined to create the perfect design.

Here are a few examples from my work, all of which can easily be recreated in your own gardens.


In this sensory garden in Cambridge, the repeating colours of the pots and bug houses gives this space coherence. They also line the pathways, helping with legibility as well as providing all year-round colour.

They also do their job as part of the theme - a sensory garden. The bright splash of colours help to lead you around the garden and are a lovely garden feature for a person with a visual impairment.

Mystery - possibly the most important of all the components. In this photo, this rustic path creates a sense of mystery in the garden - "where does the path lead to"?. This encourages people to 'go and look', to go and explore. Mystery can be created in so many ways in the garden - its main aim being to make you think and to encourage you to go and look. It can be a path, a garden ornament, a faux mirror or gate, an unusual plant, a tall structure obscuring the view - the list is endless so have some fun with it.


Somewhere to sit in a garden is crucial. In fact, in most of my designs I do my best to create at least 3 seating areas, though not all through the formality of a chair and table!

In these courtyard examples from a Plan B design in Essex, the rustic raised beds, provide a second function - somewhere to sit. Whilst at different heights, both beds provide additional places to sit in the garden. As designers, we look for opportunities such as this. We call it an 'affordance'. Its primary aim is not as a seat but as a vegetable bed. The seating is a bonus - an affordance!

As you can see, coherence is also at work here, as the sleepers are also used to line the edge of a path.


Granted, this is a large garden, but it looks even more expansive now having introduced some design components. Previously this was a large open area of mown grass - very rectangular, no features and no variations in grass height. The client wanted to introduce curves and for it to be more wildlife friendly. The introduction of a meadow, some new curved planting beds, and variations in grass heights, have now given this space a sense of 'extent'. The garden now has a feeling that it goes on forever, as well as having much more of a sense of mystery and fascination.

And finally, one thing that any of my clients say that their new gardens provide them with is 'escape'. This has become even more important during 2020. Gardens have huge restorative powers - both physically and mentally, so make sure you take advantage of this and utilise your gardens for a place of sanctuary and escape. Think about ways that your garden can provide you with escape opportunities.

So, 2 main theories, 8 key components - why not try this in your garden during 2021. You may be considering a full garden redesign or just a re work of a particular area of the garden. Either way, utilise these components for a more successful transformation.

Until next month.


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