The photographer is sitting on a bench set back for comfortable observation of her arena. The approach to the seat is mostly hidden by planting from the pond. The frame is created all year by the slabs and in the growing season by plants either side of a similar visual weight (see ‘Contrast and Frame’ below)
 
Position and Proportion
 
The focal point or arena does not have to be central or close to your seat. It needs to be positioned so that you can be a comfortable onlooker. Scale matters in design. The focal point must be large enough to draw the eye, and your arena wide enough to be noticed as an arena. If scale and proportion do not come naturally it is worth employing the ‘rule of thirds’. This allows one element of your picture to dominate but not over-dominate. Perhaps the bird table could be two thirds of the height of the shrub behind it, or the arena take up one third of your view from your seat. Either may be located at a point one third of the way from one side of your garden.
 
Contrast
 
Your focal point or arena will disappear if there is no contrast to define it. Contrast is provided by colour, texture and line. The specimen shrub you have selected for its ornate shape and bright autumn berries will be wasted from your visual point of view if the background is very similar.  If the shrub has large leaves, for example, choose a small leaved evergreen or a shed wall as the backdrop where the leaf and/or background colour differ in brightness or pigment.  If your log pile is amongst a brown backdrop choose to orientate the logs to contrast with the dominant line direction behind it.
 
Frame
 
Not every picture needs a frame, but it does need something which defines it. The entrance frames the way in but nott the whole picture. From your seat or entrance, visualise your new focal point or arena. What surrounds it? It somehow needs to be part of an enclosure. Simply put, you need something with an implied ‘weight’ or ‘strength’ to each side, which will hold the area together.
 
An arching branch reaching over your line of sight is a popular frame sought out by photographers, but not one which is easy to construct at the outset. Balancing the evergreen shrubs on each side of your view is easier, as could be a simple pergola section. 
 
The frame needs to be something quite solid and still effective in the winter. Each side does not have to be identical –unless symmetry appeals to you. Perhaps use a trio of tall, slim yews on one side to balance a low but wide laurel bush on the other. As long as they somehow balance you will achieve the frame you are after.
 
Frames can be part of the background depending on your view point. An arena of mown grass surrounded by long grass has its frame and backdrop rolled into one.  Entrances can similarly be defined by a pair of sentries. These can be less subtle, use matching planters, rocks or posts. The sentries act as a frame drawing you in to the next picture.
 
The logs in the log pile lay flat in contrast with the vertical stems of the shrub behind it. Ferns are used to link the background habitat with the foreground
 
 
 
Connectivity
 
To welcome a wide variety of visitors to your garden it is best to arrange as many different habitats as you can. In a well designed garden each habitat may provide its own unique interest. The garden as a whole however needs to feel connected.
 
Links between areas can take the form of a low hedge, line of uncut grass or bank on one or both sides of a path. This sort of visual link does not need to actually be as continuous as a path, but just follow your favoured route for stretches at a time. With more subtlety, use repeating elements in adjoining habitat areas. These could be large rocks, upturned ceramic pots, or a single species of plant. Whatever you use needs to be something which is still there in winter. This will contribute to the "winter skeleton" which holds any design together.
 
Pruning shrubs
 
Many shrubs grown for flowers and berries become over-large very quickly and pruning becomes an issue. Timing and technique in pruning is critical both for the shape of a plant (a design issue)  and its ability to flower or berry. Pruning is a comples subject we can't go into here, and advise you look at specialist advice.  The RHS guide is highly recommended starting from here.      but as a rule to encourage good flowering, prune after flowering for next year’s flowers – but you will lose any berries you want.
 
In a garden for wildlife it may be that you prune half the plant each year so that the other half can flower and go on to berry. Alternatively, if the shrub is vigorous enough to take it, prune hard every other year. Ligustrum (Privet) and Pyracantha (Firethorn) are examples of fast growing shrubs where fantastic flowers and berries are prevented every year because of the need for pruning.
 
We cut this privet hard every other year and keep the lower third foliage free to give it this shape. The humming of bees is audible at quite a distance when in flower!
 
When pruning either evergreens or deciduous plants – unless for a hedge or topiary – please cut back whole stems. If a twig/branch is too long, cut it out at the base. If you cut it to the length you want it is likely that two shoots will spring from near the cut and create an unnatural looking shape – not so attractive. Evergreens should be left alone during the nesting season of course.
 
This has been a brief ‘Top Tips’ approach to the subject. Do seek the help of a good local designer for more specific advice in your garden. Many will give you a consultation visit at a reasonable charge. Giving some thought to design when planning or developing your garden for wildlife will mean that it will be a pleasing picture to enjoy even when the desired visitors are somewhere else for the day.
 
Page written by Lucy Hartley, edited by Steve Head
 
Lucy Hartley designs gardens in and around Stratford upon Avon and Warwick in the West Midlands. www.lucyhartleygardens.co.uk
 
Leaflet available from this page   "Key wildlife needs for garden designers"
Garden Design with wildlife in mind
 
 
It may be that a nature reserve is the best place for wildlife  - but you don’t have to make your garden look like a nature reserve in order for it to be home - or temporary home - to many creatures.  All gardens, no matter how formal or heavily managed, are beneficial for wildlife, but it is probable that many gardeners who value their wildlife will also favour the more natural or informal look.  This definitely does NOT mean that you have to be “untidy” in any way!  You can indulge your wish for a beautiful, well planned and designed garden without compromising for wildlife.
 
Design is more about composition than taste. Compose a well balanced and interesting picture – through considered design – and your garden will look good as well as be good for wildlife, formal or informal.
 
This page is intended to remind the reader of good design principles which can be considered when organising your garden to welcome visiting creatures. The idea is that the garden will provide the most pleasure for any onlooker whether a naturalist or not. Details of the structures and plants recommended for a bustling wildlife garden are left to other sections, such as Garden habitats and Plants and planting.
 
We are aiming here at people with an existing small to average sized garden.  If you are lucky enough to have a large garden, there are other options open to you, such as designing with “garden rooms”  in each of which can be a different and contrasting mini-design, or constructing winding paths that lead to “reveals” of your house or garden features from unexpected positions.  These approaches can make a garden feel even bigger than it is, and can allow you to create special habitat areas which are not constantly overlooked and can perhaps more even more wildlife-orientated.
 
If you are a garden designer looking for a short summary of what you need to incorporate into your designs to make gardens rich in wildlife, see our leaflet "Key wildlife needs for garden designers" by Jan Miller-Klein.
 
If you are taking on a brand new garden space, apart from the less pleasant aspects such as buried concrete and poor soil, you will have the rare privilege of designing a new space from scratch.  You would be well advised to do some homework with  good design design guides such as these:
 
•  "The Essential Garden Design Workbook" by Rosemary Alexander.  2017 (Third edition). Published by Timber
    Press.  Very practical, very well illustrated, highly recommended
 
•  "Garden Design" by John Brookes. 2001. Published by Dorling Kindersley.
    Good introduction, discusses design grids. Lots of inspiring photographs and plans
 
•  "Essential Garden planning and construction" edited by Christopher Brickell. 2006 Published by the Royal
    Horticultural Society.  Good on design basics, excellent on materials and techniques.
 
It is definitely worth creating a simple map, and from that a plan taking into account how plants will grow, spread and shade over the years.  You should also take into account eyesores, attractive external views and features, and think about the other important uses for your precious garden space - in addition to providing for wildlife of course.
 
Finally, if you have just moved into a new house and garden, it's highly  advisable to restrain your enthusiasm to change everything until you have seen spring and summer in the new garden, so you can understand what plants and wildlife assets it already has, and how it looks in different seasons and times of day.  Take the time to visit local open gardens under the National Garden (Yellow Book) Scheme so you can discover what grows well in the local soil and weather conditions.
 
 
Where to sit?
 
What is your viewpoint? It's best to choose both a west and an east facing spot to place a chair if possible. You will be able to catch the morning and the evening sun that way or find shade if you can sit with your back to a tree or wall. When you have the sun behind you it will illuminate what ever you are looking at in front of you and not shine into your eyes.
 
Plan your composition from where you will sit.  Other views to consider are from the door or gate on entering the garden and through any window you may look out of comfortably. For each view you need something to look at and a "frame" of some sort
 
What is there to look at?
 
Focal points are always desirable.  A focal point is somewhere for the eye to ‘rest’.  In a wildlife-friendly garden it could be a log pile, bird bath, bird feeder or bird perch (I like to fix pruned branches vertically into the ground for birds to sit on)  a specimen shrub (choose one with early nectar and/or autumn berries), rock pile or even a nest box. Nest boxes should be placed out of the sun somewhere facing between north and south east, above head height and in a fairly quiet spot so may only be useful as a distant focal point if you want to see any activity!
 
Alternatively we can position ourselves to look onto an "arena" – an open space where wildlife may perform (or commit murder and other savage atrocities!). The arena could be a pond, an open grassy area, dusty mound or a clearing in some rough planting. When you hope to encourage wildlife visitors to use your arena, you must ensure that you are not an obvious observer. Your seat should be partially hidden perhaps, with an approach from behind the seat rather than from across or around the perimeter of the arena if possible. With reference to the ‘Where to sit’ discussion above, be aware of what time of day you will sit to observe and how your shadow may be cast.
 
 
The logs in the log pile lay flat in contrast with the vertical stems of the shrub behind it. Ferns are used to link the background habitat with the foreground
 
 
Connectivity
 
To welcome a wide variety of visitors to your garden it is best to arrange as many different habitats as you can. In a well designed garden each habitat may provide its own unique interest. The garden as a whole however needs to feel connected.
 
Links between areas can take the form of a low hedge, line of uncut grass or bank on one or both sides of a path. This sort of visual link does not need to actually be as continuous as a path, but just follow your favoured route for stretches at a time. With more subtlety, use repeating elements in adjoining habitat areas. These could be large rocks, upturned ceramic pots, or a single species of plant. Whatever you use needs to be something which is still there in winter. This will contribute to the "winter skeleton" which holds any design together.
 
Pruning shrubs
 
Many shrubs grown for flowers and berries become over-large very quickly and pruning becomes an issue. Timing and technique in pruning is critical both for the shape of a plant (a design issue)  and its ability to flower or berry. Pruning is a comples subject we can't go into here, and advise you look at specialist advice.  The RHS guide is highly recommended starting from here,  but as a rule to encourage good flowering, prune after flowering for next year’s flowers – but you will lose any berries you want.
 
In a garden for wildlife it may be that you prune half the plant each year so that the other half can flower and go on to berry. Alternatively, if the shrub is vigorous enough to take it, prune hard every other year. Ligustrum (Privet) and Pyracantha (Firethorn) are examples of fast growing shrubs where fantastic flowers and berries are prevented every year because of the need for pruning.
 
The photographer is sitting on a bench set back for comfortable observation of her arena. The approach to the seat is mostly hidden by planting from the pond. The frame is created all year by the slabs and in the growing season by plants either side of a similar visual weight (see ‘Contrast and Frame’ below)
 
Position and Proportion
 
The focal point or arena does not have to be central or close to your seat. It needs to be positioned so that you can be a comfortable onlooker. Scale matters in design. The focal point must be large enough to draw the eye, and your arena wide enough to be noticed as an arena. If scale and proportion do not come naturally it is worth employing the ‘rule of thirds’. This allows one element of your picture to dominate but not over-dominate. Perhaps the bird table could be two thirds of the height of the shrub behind it, or the arena take up one third of your view from your seat. Either may be located at a point one third of the way from one side of your garden.
 
Contrast
 
Your focal point or arena will disappear if there is no contrast to define it. Contrast is provided by colour, texture and line. The specimen shrub you have selected for its ornate shape and bright autumn berries will be wasted from your visual point of view if the background is very similar.  If the shrub has large leaves, for example, choose a small leaved evergreen or a shed wall as the backdrop where the leaf and/or background colour differ in brightness or pigment.  If your log pile is amongst a brown backdrop choose to orientate the logs to contrast with the dominant line direction behind it.
 
Frame
 
Not every picture needs a frame, but it does need something which defines it. The entrance frames the way in but nott the whole picture. From your seat or entrance, visualise your new focal point or arena. What surrounds it? It somehow needs to be part of an enclosure. Simply put, you need something with an implied ‘weight’ or ‘strength’ to each side, which will hold the area together.
 
An arching branch reaching over your line of sight is a popular frame sought out by photographers, but not one which is easy to construct at the outset. Balancing the evergreen shrubs on each side of your view is easier, as could be a simple pergola section. 
 
The frame needs to be something quite solid and still effective in the winter. Each side does not have to be identical –unless symmetry appeals to you. Perhaps use a trio of tall, slim yews on one side to balance a low but wide laurel bush on the other. As long as they somehow balance you will achieve the frame you are after.
 
Frames can be part of the background depending on your view point. An arena of mown grass surrounded by long grass has its frame and backdrop rolled into one.  Entrances can similarly be defined by a pair of sentries. These can be less subtle, use matching planters, rocks or posts. The sentries act as a frame drawing you in to the next picture.
 
Garden Design with wildlife in mind
 
 
It may be that a nature reserve is the best place for wildlife  - but you don’t have to make your garden look like a nature reserve in order for it to be home - or temporary home - to many creatures.  All gardens, no matter how formal or heavily managed, are beneficial for wildlife, but it is probable that many gardeners who value their wildlife will also favour the more natural or informal look.  This definitely does NOT mean that you have to be “untidy” in any way!  You can indulge your wish for a beautiful, well planned and designed garden without compromising for wildlife.
 
Design is more about composition than taste. Compose a well balanced and interesting picture – through considered design – and your garden will look good as well as be good for wildlife, formal or informal.
 
This page is intended to remind the reader of good design principles which can be considered when organising your garden to welcome visiting creatures. The idea is that the garden will provide the most pleasure for any onlooker whether a naturalist or not. Details of the structures and plants recommended for a bustling wildlife garden are left to other sections, such as Garden habitats and Plants and planting.
 
We are aiming here at people with an existing small to average sized garden.  If you are lucky enough to have a large garden, there are other options open to you, such as designing with “garden rooms”  in each of which can be a different and contrasting mini-design, or constructing winding paths that lead to “reveals” of your house or garden features from unexpected positions.  These approaches can make a garden feel even bigger than it is, and can allow you to create special habitat areas which are not constantly overlooked and can perhaps more even more wildlife-orientated.
 
If you are a garden designer looking for a short summary of what you need to incorporate into your designs to make gardens rich in wildlife, see our leaflet "Key wildlife needs for garden designers" by Jan Miller-Klein.
 
If you are taking on a brand new garden space, apart from the less pleasant aspects such as buried concrete and poor soil, you will have the rare privilege of designing a new space from scratch.  You would be well advised to do some homework with  good design design guides such as these:
 
•  "The Essential Garden Design Workbook" by Rosemary Alexander.  2017 (Third
    edition). Published by Timber Press.  Very practical, very well illustrated, highly
    recommended
 
•  "Garden Design" by John Brookes. 2001. Published by Dorling Kindersley.
    Good introduction, discusses design grids. Lots of inspiring photographs and plans
 
•  "Essential Garden planning and construction" edited by Christopher Brickell. 2006
    Published by the Royal Horticultural Society.  Good on design basics, excellent on
    materials and techniques.
 
It is definitely worth creating a simple map, and from that a plan taking into account how plants will grow, spread and shade over the years.  You should also take into account eyesores, attractive external views and features, and think about the other important uses for your precious garden space - in addition to providing for wildlife of course.
 
Finally, if you have just moved into a new house and garden, it's highly  advisable to restrain your enthusiasm to change everything until you have seen spring and summer in the new garden, so you can understand what plants and wildlife assets it already has, and how it looks in different seasons and times of day.  Take the time to visit local open gardens under the National Garden (Yellow Book) Scheme so you can discover what grows well in the local soil and weather conditions.
  
Where to sit?
 
What is your viewpoint? It's best to choose both a west and an east facing spot to place a chair if possible. You will be able to catch the morning and the evening sun that way or find shade if you can sit with your back to a tree or wall. When you have the sun behind you it will illuminate what ever you are looking at in front of you and not shine into your eyes.
 
Plan your composition from where you will sit.  Other views to consider are from the door or gate on entering the garden and through any window you may look out of comfortably. For each view you need something to look at and a "frame" of some sort
 
What is there to look at?
 
Focal points are always desirable.  A focal point is somewhere for the eye to ‘rest’.  In a wildlife-friendly garden it could be a log pile, bird bath, bird feeder or bird perch (I like to fix pruned branches vertically into the ground for birds to sit on)  a specimen shrub (choose one with early nectar and/or autumn berries), rock pile or even a nest box. Nest boxes should be placed out of the sun somewhere facing between north and south east, above head height and in a fairly quiet spot so may only be useful as a distant focal point if you want to see any activity!
 
Alternatively we can position ourselves to look onto an "arena" – an open space where wildlife may perform (or commit murder and other savage atrocities!). The arena could be a pond, an open grassy area, dusty mound or a clearing in some rough planting. When you hope to encourage wildlife visitors to use your arena, you must ensure that you are not an obvious observer. Your seat should be partially hidden perhaps, with an approach from behind the seat rather than from across or around the perimeter of the arena if possible. With reference to the ‘Where to sit’ discussion above, be aware of what time of day you will sit to observe and how your shadow may be cast.
 
 
We cut this privet hard every other year and keep the lower third foliage-free to give it this shape. The humming of bees is audible at quite a distance when in flower!
 
When pruning either evergreens or deciduous plants – unless for a hedge or topiary – please cut back whole stems. If a twig/branch is too long, cut it out at the base. If you cut it to the length you want it is likely that two shoots will spring from near the cut and create an unnatural looking shape – not so attractive. Evergreens should be left alone during the nesting season of course.
 
This has been a brief ‘Top Tips’ approach to the subject. Do seek the help of a good local designer for more specific advice in your garden. Many will give you a consultation visit at a reasonable charge. Giving some thought to design when planning or developing your garden for wildlife will mean that it will be a pleasing picture to enjoy even when the desired visitors are somewhere else for the day.
 
Page written by Lucy Hartley, edited by Steve Head
 
Lucy Hartley designs gardens in and around Stratford upon Avon and Warwick in the West Midlands. www.lucyhartleygardens.co.uk
 
Leaflet available from this page   "Key wildlife needs for garden designers"
by Jan Miller