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Entertain, sustain and inspire: garden design ideas from an expert

Improve your wellbeing, boost your property’s value and help the environment – Steve of Steve Harris Garden Design, Newcastle, tells us why now’s the perfect time to invest in our gardens.

Written by Becky Hardy
Published 17.09.2022

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Summer days may be drifting away, but the memories we’ve made in our gardens will last a lifetime.

BBQs and baby showers, paddling pools and daytime margaritas, late-night DMCs over the firepit… our summers are spent outdoors.

And if nothing else, the pandemic made us remember how lucky we are whenever we’re able to enjoy the peace and privacy of our gardens.

You’d be forgiven if you think, now that autumn is fast approaching, you’ve missed the boat on giving your garden a bit of a once-over. Better luck next year, right? Well, not necessarily. Because we have it on good authority that now is actually the best time of year to start designing a garden.

Why? Because we’re still spending time in them. Summer is fresh in our minds and we can pinpoint exactly where we’d like our outdoor spaces to improve. Knowledge which, for bespoke garden designers like Steve Harris, is like gold dust.

Inspired by his time working Down Under – where Brisbane living effectively blends indoors and outdoors for ultimate relaxation – Steve knows how important it is to understand what you’d like to achieve before designing a garden.

So, whether it’s a modern garden design to reconnect with nature or a space for kids to stretch their legs, an extension of your entertaining area or simply discovering low maintenance, small garden design ideas, Steve is dedicated to creating a tailored garden design to enrich your life.

The fact that investing time into your garden will also see you improve your wellbeing, enhance the value of your property and help the environment are all just added bonuses…

Is this peak time for you at Steve Harris Garden Design, Newcastle?

Warm, summer days and light nights bring an influx of enquiries – people spend time outside and realise they’d like to get more from their gardens. Early autumn is the best time to plan any changes as it allows a landscape contractor to build the garden over winter. It’s also the least inconvenient to clients and allows new plants a full growing season to get established.

What gardening trends have stood out to you this year?

Gardening trends are strongly influenced by what people are seeing on TV and at RHS garden shows around the country. At the moment, there’s a strong push towards a more ‘naturalistic’ style of planting – plants that aren’t only attractive, but also beneficial to wildlife. Done right, this can also minimise the need for ongoing maintenance.

Wildlife ponds continue to be popular and are a fantastic way of increasing the biodiversity in your garden. You don’t need a large space and they can even be created in a container, rather than in the ground.

Are more people keen to use their gardens for entertaining since the pandemic?

Yes, the social aspect of gardens is now high on a lot of client’s wish lists. Terraced areas for dining are popular, but also more informal and intimate spaces with a firepit or fire bowl for the evenings.



What about 2022’s most popular plants?

Alliums have seemed to be everywhere this year! They’re definitely ‘on trend’ and, with a bit of imagination, can be effective in a variety of ways. They look great planted at random amongst ornamental grasses, for example. However, they’re really at their best in late spring/early summer, so have fallen off the radar for now.

Tell us about your journey with garden design.

My journey began with a career change after almost 20 years working in project management within various healthcare settings. I wanted to fill my days with something I felt passionate about and combining my love of plants with creative skills and IT knowledge felt very natural.

I returned to the UK to gain my Diploma in Garden Design at the prestigious London College of Garden Designat Kew Gardens. Returning to Brisbane, I worked as a freelance designer: enjoying the Queensland sunshine and the sub-tropical outdoor living, and designing gardens that were a true extension of the living space, (and often included a pool!).

A job offer in London brought me back to the UK, but I quickly realised that I wanted the creative freedom to work on my own designs, so I returned to the North East and set up Steve Harris Garden Design.

The mix of indoor and outdoor living in Brisbane sounds amazing! How easy is that to achieve in the North East?

Although the great weather helped in Brisbane, the same effect can be achieved anywhere with some careful thought and design considerations. A good way to blur the boundaries between indoors and outdoors is to bring some of your home outside. This can be in the form of colours and/or materials from your home that are repeated outdoors. For example, matching the flooring of the kitchen to that of the garden terrace, or using the same benchtops on an outdoor kitchen area.

Another way is to design and create ‘rooms’ as spaces in the garden. Define the space with some vertical structure (something as simple as tall planting), and perhaps an overhead pergola, which will create a sense of enclosure. The space can then be dressed with comfortable furniture, soft furnishings and mood lighting.

What can we all be doing to improve our garden spaces right now?

I’d recommend just spending time in your outdoor space; enjoying it, but also thinking about what changes you’d like to make for this time next year. Ask yourself: is the garden working for you both aesthetically and functionally? If not, what changes would you like to see?

Late summer is a great time for taking stock and analysing what is or isn’t working in the garden. A garden design can then be created to address the issues and reinvigorate the space. Autumn and winter are good times to begin any groundwork and construction whilst you’re not using the garden as much, minimising any inconvenience. You’d be surprised at the weather conditions a reputable landscaper can work in!

As the ground warms up and dries out, spring becomes the ideal time for planting; ensuring new plants have a full season of growth to become established before the next winter.

What are some of the biggest mistakes you see people make in their gardens?

Using plants that aren’t correct for the conditions or environment in which they’re planted. For example, sun-loving, drought-tolerant Mediterranean plants sitting in a damp, shady area of the garden. Another common mistake is using only one of each variety of plant in a planting scheme; often resulting in an eclectic mix of plants that don’t necessarily go well together but looked great on their own at the garden centre. The result is often a ‘collection’ of plants rather than a thought-out, cohesive design.



What can Garden Designers help with that you’d struggle to do on your own?

Hiring a Garden Designer will inject creativity into areas that you perhaps didn’t think possible – resulting in you being able to use all your garden space.

A professional Garden Designer has been trained to look at composition, scale, planting, textures and colour, as well as the art of what makes an attractive – and functional – design. We’re aware of industry trends and requirements and usually have the skills and knowledge to specify the appropriate materials for your landscaping needs; presenting solutions to what you might consider to be problems.

A good Garden Designer will have a combination of hard-landscaping and horticultural knowledge in order to select the correct materials, plants, trees and shrubs, and will have the right contacts to help ensure the build is cost-effective with a quality, professional finish.

And what should everyone know before hiring a Garden Designer?

It’s important to ensure that you’re on each other’s wavelength. Most designers will have a general style that they’re most comfortable with – cottage garden, for example, or contemporary garden design. Check that they can be on-board with what you’d like to achieve.

There needs to be an element of trust between the designer and client. As with any other trade, also check that they’re suitably qualified and hold the necessary professional insurances.



What’s next for you?

Over the next couple of years, I’d like to grow the business in terms of delivering more large commissions across the region, including commercial contracts as well as private residential work. I’ll also be aiming to create my first RHS show garden – I have a submission already in the pipeline for RHS Chelsea show 2024!

Find out more about Steve Harris Garden Design, Newcastle, via his website or book your free consultation by giving him a ring on 07308 979206

And to keep up with the latest garden design ideas, trends and tips, follow Steve on Facebook and Instagram

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