Do you love gardening?
Gardening as in getting your hands dirty is different from admiring a garden. The answer to this question will govern how much maintenance your garden plan will require
How much time do you have?
Even if you love gardening other commitments might get in the way of your gardening. Those borders you see in National Trust gardens require many hours of maintenance every week.
What do you want to use your garden for?
If you have young children or grandchildren who need a football area then your needs will be very different from someone who has no children in their garden. Do you want to read outside, have family barbecues or to grow vegetables?
How much physical work are you up for?
Low-cost landscaping means that you have to do most of the hard graft yourself, perhaps roping in family members and friends for major projects. If you are not used to a lot of hard physical work then you can still do your landscaping, but your requirements will be different.
Proportion, privacy and variety are the key concepts to professional landscapers. The DIY landscaper needs to embrace these principles too.
Keep things real here. Avoid trees that will grow too large in small gardens. Avoid Leylandii hedges, too!
When you are planning your garden try to imagine every shrub and tree that you plant in ten or twenty years. Many gardens on housing estates that are twenty years old have stumps where householders have had to cut down trees that became too big.
You need to hide parts of your garden. Not so you can sunbathe in privacy but so that the eye can never see the whole garden in one sweep. You need to create visual barriers that make people want to look around them.
Aim for a variety of plants, textures and lines. This will make your garden more interesting at all times of the year.
You need to decide where any trees are going to go before you do anything else. Trees look best planted in small groups if you have space. Nothing looks sadder than a flowering cherry tree in the middle of a lawn.
Think about dedicating a corner of your garden to a group of three trees. You can also use trees as part of the visual barriers around your garden interspersed with shrubs.
Choose trees that are in proportion; mountain ash and cherry trees (cherry, not flowering cherry) are great trees for small gardens, especially if you are in a limestone-based area, which most of England and Wales are. Add a pear or apple tree and you have a great and productive trip.
Trees should be multi-purpose in any small garden; they should give you autumn or summer colour as well as spring colour. If you want your garden to be balanced and healthy then choose trees that encourage insects and birds.
Pussy willow is a great small tree to consider for mixing with shrubs in a hedge. They grow quickly from seed, branches can be cut back at the base to keep the tree at the desired height and they provide a valuable nectar source for bees in early spring when there are few other flowers available. If you have a wood-burning stove or open fire then the branches you cut off make a great supply of firewood, even in a small garden.
Once you have your trees in place you can plant your shrubs.
You need shrubs that will give interest in your garden twelve months of the year. Think of winter interest first with shrubs such as cotoneaster and viburnum for their berries and flowers; think of mahonia for its prickly green leaves and hazel for its interesting branch shapes against the sky or snow in January.
Spring flowering shrubs such as flowering currants and forsythia will form a large part of any shrubbery features in most gardens. Add in dogwood, broom and buddleia will continue the display of flowers into summer. If you plant a purple-leaved beech tree, you can keep it to a manageable height and the leaf colours are amazing from pink in spring through purple in summer to copper all through the winter.
For summer colour most gardeners use flower beds but contrast the garishness of annual bedding plants with the greenery of hydrangeas and skimmias for a better balance.
Autumn interest is provided by berries on your cotoneasters and skimmias and honeysuckle as well as all the leaves changing colour on your deciduous shrubs. This is the time of year when you are glad you planted that copper beach.