Design Basics - How to Survey Your Garden

Published on April 18th 2020
A person with paper beginning to start planning their garden
Written by Charlotte Nuttgens Drew
You know what you want, you've done a mood board and your ready to get going on your new dream garden. But how do we make sure that lovely gazebo fits in alongside the fire pit, dining table and pond?
Having an accurate survey plan of your garden is critical if you want to plan your garden properly and make sure everything fits in.
To do this, you'll need:
  • Metric measuring tape (preferably >30m surveyor's tape, but a standard measuring tape is fine too)
  • Pencil and paper
  • Clipboard (or something to lean on)
  • Compass
  • Tent peg, skewer or friend to hold the tape
  • A dry day (rain and paper are not a good mix)
Start by drawing a rough shape of your garden (it doesn't need to be accurate right now) with the house at the bottom of the page. The house is where you measure from, and this is what we call the 'baseline'.
A close up of text on a white background
Attach, or ask someone to hold, the end of your measuring tape at one corner of your house and measure to the end of the garden. Record the measurement in centimetres on your drawing.
A close up of a white wall
Measure from corner to corner until you have a complete shape. To make sure the shape resembles your garden shape, you can do a simple check with a measurement called a 'brace'. These are diagonal measurements across the garden.
A close up of a white wall
A close up of a white wall
You then need to plot elements in the garden that can't move; maybe a pond or a tree by using a measurement called 'offsets'. These measurements are taken at various points along the baseline (fence or house) to an object in your garden.
Offsets are particularly useful when the object you need plot is an uneven shape.
As you walk around, note down where the sun rises and falls (use your compass), the sunniest spot in the evening, damp or dry areas and any views you want to hide.
Also think about if neighbours overlook you and if so, where and from which direction.
The main thing to remember next is scale. The most straightforward way of drawing to scale is by using 1cm for every meter that you measure the garden. This may not be right for every garden, especially if they're large!
A close up of text on a white background
As far as a very basic survey goes, that's it! Bear in mind this will only really be suitable for reasonably flat, small gardens. Existing steps and retaining walls are manageable, but if you have an undulating garden, steep slope or you intend on making some significant changes, it's time to get the professionals in.
There are a lot more video tutorials and resources available online if you needed more help. If you'd like to use graph paper to sketch your drawing you can download a PDF here.

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