Book review: Garden Planning

Welcome to my first book review! Before I got stuck into gardening, I spent four years of my life reading a tonne of books and getting a degree in English, so it’s only natural that I became addicted to yet another genre. This week I’m reviewing Garden Planning (The Royal Horticultural Society) by Robin Williams.

What is the book about?

Garden Planning is part of a series of books from the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) that provides information about all aspects of gardening, from growing vegetables to garden structures.

This book is all about garden design 101. It’s no-nonsense, “here are some examples – get cracking” tome which begins by listing the tools you’ll need to map out your design on paper, and ends with a logical sequence of action to make your garden design a reality. Overall, a great starting point if you feel your garden needs a change.

What I liked

I am at the stage in my garden design where I could benefit from actually knowing how to design a garden. That is, actually going out and buying graph paper and getting my ideas from my head onto a page. (Sadly, I’m not the type of person who can just create things as I go, I prefer having it all planned out.)

The real strength of this book is its practical advice on various elements of garden design. Before reading, I hadn’t seriously considered things such as perspectives, focal points or ‘compositions’ in the garden. Afterwards, I was inspired to find ways of integrating these features in my design. I found comparisons which were used to illustrate good and bad examples of these things particularly useful.

One basic element I feel is missing from more flashy garden design books is birds-eye views of gardens that are being described. Of course, side views are helpful in terms of perspective, but the birds-eye view is invaluable when actually working on your own designs.

“This book has been written for those who wish to develop their gardens into functional and beautiful spaces which fulfil their desires and functions.”

I also was impressed with the opening of the book, which highlighted the need to determine a list of requirements and needs for the new garden – essentially creating a space that was practical for everybody. Bearing this in mind when going forward with a new design can help avoid costly alterations later down the line, and ensures that nothing is forgotten before any real changes take place.

What I didn’t like

If you’re a more visual learner, you may be a bit put-off by the lack of colour in this book. There are no photographs of gardens, just illustrations and there is no colour even in these.

However, I wouldn’t say this is too much of a drawback because the book doesn’t go into any detail about planting styles or choices, where colour plays a massive role. While it does talk about cottage gardens and ‘cold exposed sites’ this is purely from an overall design point. Plants aren’t suggested, and there is no colour wheel in sight.

The start of Garden Planning can be a little too technical when it was outlining how to go about getting the initial measurements of the garden. In my opinion, all you need is a tape measure and a notebook, but Garden Planning suggested acquiring range poles, compasses and protractors to get started, which may seem a bit daunting to a beginner.

Who should read this?          

The book itself answers this quite clearly in the introduction: “This book has been written for those who wish to develop their gardens into functional and beautiful spaces which fulfil their desires and functions.”

After reading it, I would agree. Anyone who has big ideas, a desire to alter their garden dramatically and isn’t too sure where to start would benefit from reading this book.


  • Name: Garden Planning
  • Author: Robin Williams
  • Rating: 8/10
  • Date published: 2001
  • ISBN: 1-84000-496-7
  • Essential for those who haven’t designed a garden before.
  • Doesn’t include photos or plant suggestions.

Have you read any good garden design books? Let me know in the comments below! (I need all the help I can get!)

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