Understanding the selection and use of landscaping elements in the garden

The learner can: 1. Understand the contribution made by hard landscaping features to design and function.

1.1 Evaluate how a range of hard landscaping features contribute to the design and function of an ornamental garden. To include paths, patios, driveways, walls, fences, pergolas, ramps and steps.

Paths – can be used to lead a journey through the garden, can connect up different ‘rooms’ within the garden, can be natural (bark chipping) or contemporary (granite and gravel). If a path is meandering it gives a sense of slow movement, if it is straight then the movement is more dynamic. Paths stop people treading on grass and damaging it. They are easier for wheelchair use.

Garden path ideas

Patios – can be a work of art (brickwork or gravel patterns), are useful for entertainment (barbecues and seating), can have pots on, can break up a large area of grass. Materials can be used that connect the house and garden.

Driveways – mostly functional, for cars. Can be attractive with patterns or brickwork. Materials chosen can create unity in the garden or connect the house to the garden. Gravel driveways make noise when walked on and alert homeowners to intruders.

Walls – for privacy and security or marking of a boundary. Can be used to tie a garden together. Can be used to split a garden up, or obscure some areas to add interest. Can be decorative. Plants can be attached to create a living wall. Can contain habitat boxes. Styles are versatile – cottage or contemporary. Can act as a background for plants to stand out against. Protects the garden from wind and rain, a south facing wall may make it possible to grow tender plants.

Wall design ideas.

Fences – for privacy and security, marking of a boundary. Also can be many styles, from small picket to high featherboard. Can support climbers and wall shrubs. Protects the garden from wind.

Garden fence ideas

Pergolas – can connect areas of a garden. Pergolas are used for climbers to provide flowers for a longer season of interest, there by adding scent or colour to a design. Provide a shady walkway in a sunny garden or a private walkway in an exposed garden. Provide vertical design element.

Ramps – functional for wheelchairs. Connect different areas of the garden and contribute to different levels that provide interest.

Steps – functional, to lead from one area of a different level to the other, a handrail for those with mobility issues. Steps can also be attractive, fitting to the design style and contributing to the effect. Steps are part of having different levels for the garden, making it more visually interesting.

1.2 Evaluate the range of hard landscape materials for horizontal and vertical uses in the ornamental garden.

Things to consider when choosing hard landscaping materials:

  • Strength and durability
  • Appearance and how it fits with the style of the garden
  • Sustainability
  • Maintenance
  • Safety


  • Brick
  • Timber (oak, cedar)
  • Bamboo, hazel or willow
  • Metal (iron, aluminium)
  • Vinyl

Brick – strong, warm colours or painted. Can fit in with most garden styles. Requires skill and time to install. A number of different colours can be used and reclaimed bricks can fit with classic styles. Can match house bricks to unify the house and garden. Bricks can crack and chip in frost, and will get moss in time.

Timber – for fencing pergolas, arches or fences. Fences may be prefabricated eg larch lap fencing; or constructed on site eg closeboard fencing. Needs regular treatment with preservative, hardwood (eg cedar) longer lasting than softwood.

Hazel/willow – Coppiced hazel or willow provides rustic wattle fencing. This is attractive, but not very long lasting.

Metal – for gates, railing, arches and pergolas. Wrought iron fits with Victorian style, aluminium alloys for cheaper and more contemporary fencing. Both need regular maintenance. Utilitarian fencing is provided by wire mesh or chain link fencing. This may also be plastic coated.

Vinyl – easy to care for – doesn’t need treating or painting, damage is almost invisible. Can be easily cleaned, even of graffiti. Cheap and strong.

Chain link – utilitarian, easy to install, cheap and effective, but ugly.



  • Gravel
  • Decking
  • Natural stone
  • Concrete and imprinted concrete
  • Brick
  • Bark
  • Shredded rubber
  • Cobbles
  • Reinforced grass
  • Tarmac
  • Log slices


Advantages: cheap and incredibly easy to lay, can be made into curves and irregular shapes, makes a noise when walked on that may deter burglars. Disadvantages: spreads into house and not good next to lawn, not good to walk on in bare feet or for wheelchair and pushchair use, needs to be raked to keep tidy.


Advantages: Links the house to the garden. Due to small size, good for patterns. Disadvantages: Durable, but not indestructible. Can develop moss, mould and mildew. Difficult to clean, requires scrubbing. Slippery in icy weather. Not always frost proof. Trickier to lay. Uncomfortable to bare feet. More expensive than concrete. Due to small size, bad for large areas.


Can be grooved or smooth. Advantages: Looks contemporary or classic, can overcome problems of uneven garden + have different levels, cheapish and easy to lay. Disadvantages: needs to be cleaned, gets moss, can be slippery, not as long lasting or maintenance free as stone.


Can be imprinted for more interesting patterns and colours. Is tough and cheap

Natural stone

Slate, granite flagstones and Yorkstone. Local stone more in keeping and environmentally friendly. If stones not similar sizes, need to be ‘dressed’. Reconstituted or artificial stone is cheaper, but less attractive. All natural stone has similar advantages and disadvantages – expensive, heavy, natural-looking, strong. May be ethical (child labour) and environmental (limestone mining has destroyed habitats) concerns. Reclaimed stone – cheap, environmentally friendly and with instant character.

Natural slate

Advantages: looks more natural, contemporary or cottage, non slip due to rough surface, tough. Disadvantages: expensive, heavy, slate mining has caused environmental damage and led to waste products (although slate waste is now being used in landscaping), because of weight needs solid base, eg concrete


Useful for play areas (soft to fall on) or in woodland setting (natural).

Shredded rubber (rubber chips, see below)

For play areas and paths, soft to fall on. Recycled from car tyres


Difficult to walk on, easy to fit in awkward spaces. Often used to discourage walking on a specific area.


Useful for driveways. Functional, easy and cheap rather than aesthetic. Grit and pea shingle can be added to the mix to make it more aesthetic.

Log slices

Natural look for woodland setting. Logs can be very slippery when wet.

1.3 Evaluate a range of surface materials for use in children’s play areas.


  • Play bark
  • Wet pour rubber surfacing
  • Sand
  • Rubber chips
  • Pea shingle
  • Grass

Play Bark

Drains well, but absorbs water leading to it being wet some time after rain. Breaks down over time and needs replacing,  it compacts so needs occasional raking. Pieces can stick to clothes and get carried inside.

Wet Pour Rubber Surfacing

Soft enough to stop children from getting hurt if they fall, but hard enough to run on. Can be covered in any design – games, pictures. It’s durable. Pictures.


Soft to land on and can be used in play, but tends to get walked into the house, can attract cats that think it is cat litter.

Rubber Chips

Uses recycled car tyres, doesn’t break down, drains well and doesn’t compact like bark does, but costs about the same.

Pea shingle

Isn’t as small as sand, but still can get carried into the house. In order to prevent injury from falls it needs to be 15-20cm deep. Doesn’t break down and drains well.


Needs maintenance and gets damaged easily, cheap and soft to fall on.

1.4 Evaluate the suitability of hard landscaping materials and structures for the use of people with mobility restrictions and visual impairments

  • Straight paths and borders – easier to navigate
  • Raised beds – less need for kneeling down
  • Use sub base beneath paths to stop cracking – potential trip hazards
  • Use strong horizontal landscaping materials – less likely to crack –  concrete, asphalt
  • Ramps
  • Handrails
  • Places to sit
  • Landmark plants and features (incl. noisy things) – to aid navigation for the visually impaired
  • Windchimes and water features – for pleasant sounds

1.5 Evaluate a range of materials for use in rock gardens, water features and containers.

Rock gardens

Factors to consider

  • Appearance
  • Durability
  • Conservation
  • pH
  • Cost
  • Weight


Natural rock

Limestone, sandstone. Not granite – does not weather easily, or chalk – weathers too easily.

Use local stone for sustainability and continuity of style with local area

Pay attention to strata lines which need to be considered when positioning rocks

  • Limestone – only purchase second hand so as not to destroy habitat. Due to pH is only suitable for calcicoles
  • Tufa – type of limestone, lightweight alternative, naturally porous, or holes can be drilled.
  • Stone chippings – used with large stones, must match colouring well.
  • Yorkstone – variety of textures and colours

Artificial materials

  • Pulhamite – no longer available, article about it here
  • Concrete based – use beneath rocks
  • Reconstituted stone – usually cheaper and definitely greener than natural stone, article here (described as cast stone)
  • Fibreglass – light, cheap, less durable and attractive
  • Polyurethane – 2:2:1 sharp sand: coir: Portland cement, cheap, light and can be poured to shape. Less durable and can look cheap or fake.

Water features

Types of water features:

  • Water fountain
  • Bird bath
  • Stream
  • Raised pond
  • Wildlife pond


  • Flexible pond liners – butyl (resistant to UV) or PVC
  • Inflexible pond liners – plastic or fibreglass (tough, long lasting and UV resistant)
  • Clay – for informal pond, can be damaged by roots or burrowing animals, drying out  leads to cracking,
  • Rock – can be used for pond edging or drilled to make water feature
  • Wood – used with a liner, create raised pond, more natural feel



  • Weight (when moving about or positioning on a balcony)
  • Colour and shape to fit with design
  • Cost
  • Durability
  • Water retention


  • Terracotta – attractive, robust and stable, porous so drains well, but may crack in frost
  • Wood – attractive, long lasting, can be painted to suit garden, but prone to rotting and splitting, heavy.
  • Metal – often light weight, contemporary, robust and long lasting, retains water, but gets hot in summer and relatively expensive.
  • Plastic – inexpensive and easy to buy, wide variety of colours and style, light and easy to clean, retains water, but quite unattractive, and not environmentally friendly .
  • Concrete – inexpensive and long lasting, but heavy and not environmentally friendly.
  • Glazed – robust and stable, inexpensive, but prone to chipping and cracking, heavy to move.

1.6 Review how considerations of safety may influence the choice of structures and materials used in the garden

Issues to be considered

  • Ponds – dangerous for children, use pebble fountain instead, or use mesh over the pond
  • Trip hazards – can be uneven paving or pots on paths, keep paths clear and well maintained
  • Slippery surfaces – consider the site, is it shady and damp, north facing? Use materials with grip
  • Hard landscaping without glare
  • Paths – wide enough for two people to walk
  • Sharp edges – especially metals
  • Glass – horticultural glass traditionally used in domestic greenhouses can shatter easily. Safety glass or polycarbonate may be a better option.
  • Gravel – might be thrown by children, but can alert owners to intruder
  • Overall keep the design open, airy and possible to see all parts of the garden from the house

Articles about safety in the garden

 1.7 Review how considerations of sustainability may influence the choice of structures and materials used in the garden

Issues to be considered

  • Local sourcing of materials
  • Carbon footprint – imported materials carry a large carbon footprint due to transport
  • Recycling – composite decking, recycled containers, re-using materials available on site, such as existing bricks or paving
  • Subsequent management and treatment – for example, does maintenance require large inputs of preservatives or herbicides
  • Permeability of materials – to prevent run off and flooding, permeable paving and SUDS (new regulations limit amount of impermeable paving allowed)
  • Green roofs and walls
  • Water recycling – water butts, permeable paving
  • Compost bins
  • Low carbon lighting and energy (solar powered)
  • Drought tolerant planting and maximum biodiversity
  • Timber used in the garden should carry the FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council) logo to prove sustainability

Some articles on sustainable material:

2. Understand the function of drainage systems in the garden.

2.1 Evaluate the range of drainage systems available for use in a domestic garden, to include intercept or French drains, pipe drains and soakaways.


Description Advantages Disadvantages
French drain A hole containing rubble below ground. Can be with or without a pipe. Useful alongside a patio or next to a house to catch excess water. Acts as a reservoir used to water other plants Can be ugly because they need stones at ground level, although these can be incorporated into design
Pipe drain A trench contains a  plastic or clay perforated pipe below ground. Can dig a trench and lay the pipe or just draw the pipe through the ground. Cannot be seen. Long lasting Disruptive to install. Difficult to monitor. Plant roots may block pipes
Soakaway Cells wrapped in geotextile sit in a large hole below ground, a pipe leads to the cells. Cannot be seen. Filters out pollution Disruptive to install. Can fill up so that water cannot drain


Signs of poor drainage

  • Dark grey/ bluish black or rust colour in the soil profile
  • Smell of stagnant water
  • Water sits on the surface a few days after rain

Advantages of drainage

  • Creates better soil structure
  • Stops plant roots from being starved of air so greater range of plants can be grown
  • Plant roots grow deeper searching for water = greater stability

    3. Understand the contribution made by soft landscaping features to design and function.

    3.1 Evaluate the contribution of a range of soft landscaping features to the overall design and function of a garden, to include hedges, beds, borders, trees, ground cover, rock and water features and containers.

  • Hedges – security, boundaries, wildlife (hedgerow), can be used to divide garden into ‘rooms’ or for continuity (to connect different areas of the garden, eg with a series of connecting low hedges). Can create interest in the garden (with flowers, fruit or evergreen leaves).
  • Beds – create interest (shrubs, perennials and trees), for wildlife, can have a colour theme or contain scented plants, can be raised for easy access. Can be cut flower/ herb/ herbaceous/ prairie/ sub tropical/ carpet bedding/ vegetable beds.
  • Borders – define the edges of the garden, create interest (same as beds)
  • Trees – can provide year round interest with evergreen leaves or with colourful bark, can have fruit, autumn colour, provide privacy, can contain a tree house or be climbed, provide shade, provide structure to the garden, can be a home for wildlife (especially birds).
  • Ground cover – reduce maintenance by reducing weeds, fill in space in beds, provide interest low down in the garden. May have flowers, interesting foliage or scent.
  • Rock garden – provide interest with unusual plants
  • Water features – cover up noise, create soothing sounds, attractive to look at, provide habitat for wildlife (especially frogs and fish).
  • Containers – can brighten up a patio, can be easily changed to provide interest through the year, can be moved to areas of the garden when bare. Can be used to make up a green walls or attached to walls/fences and create a vertical interest. May contain tender plants.

3.2 Describe the use of planting plans for beds and borders.

Planting plans are used to show where plants should be and how many to plant. They can come in a number of styles, CAD (Computer Aided Design) or hand drawn, the styles can be distinctive to a specific artist, but there are standard symbols and notation. Planting plans can give the client a sense of how a garden will look, but are most useful if the person planting the garden is different to the designer. Proper Latin names are used to prevent confusion. Plant names can be written down the side of the plan or in the outline of the plant. Colour can be used to give an impression of the garden, but the colours will change from season to season. The habit of plants can be included in the plan to give a sense of how the plants work together.

A number of planting plans to give an idea of the variety

 3.3 State details of the decorative merits, height, spread and site requirements of a selection of plants to include: alpine; aquatic and marginal; herbaceous; woody plants; climbers; ground cover; plants for seasonal display; plants for sensory impact.

Note: rather than write out the details of plants I have provided links from the RHS website, since I assume this information is most likely to tally with the  opinion of the examination board (it’s surprising how much opinions on the details of plants can vary from one source to another), plus this site is very clear in laying out the site needs and decorative merits. I have tried to repeat plants as much as possible so that there are fewer to learn. I have only provided species names and links if that is the first time the plant is mentioned.






Woody Plants


Ground cover


Sensory impact: (note – more on this in Unit 4.2)

3.4 Describe a range of plants to ensure continuity of interest in the garden.

When considering continuity of interest it’s important to think about how plants change throughout the year and how those changes relate to changes in other plants. Some plants have a brief season of interest and then die back, others constantly change throughout the year (flowers, fruit, autumn coloured leaves and stems) and still others are evergreen and fairly consistent. The following is a list of plants that provide varying interest throughout the year.

  • Prunus serrula – white blossom in spring, yellow leaves in autumn and beautiful red bark continues through the year
  • Acer capillipes pretty pink fruits in autumn, leaves also turn yellow, unusual green striped bark throughout the year
  • Vinca minor ‘Argenteovariegata’ – spring – autumn flowers, leaves are evergreen, ground cover (continuity of interest should take into account different levels in the garden)
  • Viburnum tinus ‘Eve Price’ – pink and white spring flowers, blue autumn berries, evergreen leaves
  • Berberis thunbergii – spring flowers, autumn berries and leaves turn bright red

3.5 Describe a range of plants to cope with permanently arid and permanently wet soils.

Permanently arid

Permanently wet

3.6 Describe five plants suitable for each of the following difficult situations: north-facing walls, dry shade, shallow chalk, heavy clay, coastal areas.

North facing walls

Dry shade

Shallow chalk

Article here about chalky conditions

Heavy clay

 Coastal areas

3.7 Describe a range of calcifuge plants:

  • Abies koreana
  • Acer
  • Myrtus communis
  • Trachelospermum
  • Phormium

    4. Understand the contribution made by turf to the design and function of a garden.

    4.1 Describe the design possibilities of grassed areas (including mowing effects and heights, turf mazes).

  • Mown paths through wildflower meadows
  • Turf mazes
  • Patterned turf – can be achieved by mowing with a roller or brushing dew with a broom
  • Medieval turf seats

4.2 Describe a range of seed mixtures suitable for a utility lawn, fine turf and shady areas, and wildflower meadow.

Seed mixtures

Hard-wearing and utility use

  • Lolium perenne (Perennial rye grass)

Fine, close-mown lawns

  • Festuca rubra var. commutata (Chewings fescue) and
  • Agrostis tenuis (Brown top bent)

Drought resistance and light textured soils

  • Poa pratensis (Smooth stalked meadow grass),
  • Festuca rubra var. commutata (Chewings fescue),
  • Festuca rubra var. rubra (Creeping red fescue)
  • Festuca ovina (Sheep’s fescue)

Heavy textured soils

  • Lolium perenne (Perennial rye grass)
  • Poa trivialis (Rough stalked meadow grass)

Damp and shade areas and under trees

  • Poa nemoralis (Wood meadow grass),
  • Poa trivialis (Rough stalked meadow grass),
  • Agrostis canina (Velvet Bent)

Utility lawn – Dense and compact with rich colouring. 55% Lolium perenne, 45% Poa pratensis

Fine turf – most expensive to establish and needs special preparation. Consists of fine leaved grasses, needs frequent mowing to produce uniform growth. 80% Festuca rubra var. commutata, 20% Agrostis tenuis.

Shady area – 50% Poa trivialis, 25% Poa nemoralis, 25% Festuca ovina

Wild flower meadow – 20% Festuca rubra, 40% Festuca ovina, 10% Agrostis canina, 30% FlowersLeucanthemum vulgare (Ox Eye Daisy), Achillea millefolium (Yarrow), Ajuga reptans (Bugle), Prunella vulgaris (Selfheal), Sanguisorba minor (Salad burnet), Hypericum perforatum (Perforate St John’s Wort). Also bulbs Galanthus nivalis and Crocus tommasinianus , Narcissus bulbocodium and Fritillaria meleagris.

4.3 Describe the annual maintenance routines for a utility lawn, a fine turf lawn, a shady lawn and a wildflower meadow, including the appropriate equipment.


Wild flower meadow – cut twice a year, once in autumn (late august to September), once in early spring. Remove the cuttings so the wildflowers can grow. Good to leave some areas uncut for the insects. Remove build up of plant litter and weed out dominant grass species.

Annual turf maintenance program for all lawn types


  • Remove fallen leaves.
  • Send mower for service.
  • Avoid walking on turf in frozen weather.
  • Turfing possible when frost-free.


  • Scatter worm casts if dry.
  • Prepare ground if intending to sow


  • Rake leaves.
  • Mowing – remove a third at most.
  • Repair damaged turf.


  • Feeding and weeding starts end of April.
  • Weed control – Lawn Sand or Selective Herbicides.
  • Mowing height is approx 2-5cm depending on lawn quality.
  • Mow once a week by end of month.
  • Re-seed bare patches in April.


  • Mowing frequency is increased during May, height 1-3cm depending on quality
  • Mow once per week by the end of the month.
  • Trim lawn edges
  • Weed control.
  • Irrigation if needed.


  • Mowing 2x per week. In dry spells raise mowing level.
  • Rake lawn before mowing to remove weed runners.
  • A grass box must be used to avoid spread of the runners.


  • The frequency of mowing is reduced at this time of year unless lawn is regularly irrigated.
  • Weed killing still possible, but less effective.


  • The frequency of mowing may increase at this time of year, due to increased rainfall.
  • This is the last month during which Nitrogen rich fertilizers or Weedkillers can be applied.


( A very important month for fine and recreational turf)

  • Reduce mowing.
  • Increase height of cut to autumn level, 2-4cm depending on quality
  •  Use a besom broom to sweep away worm casts, allowing dew to evaporate first thus eliminating smears..
  • Autumn fertilizer treatment, e.g. high Phosphates (root development) Potash (hardens growth ).
  • Scarification – with a springbok rake or with a lawn rake to reduce thatch.
  • Apply grass seed if bare patches are left
  • Spikingnormally carried out after scarifying, using: Solid tines on light/sandy soils; Hollow tines — heavy/clay soils
  •  Top dress after spiking. Spread at a rate of 2.5 kilograms per square metre max and work into surface using:  true lute;  back of large rake; other home—made implement


  • Mowing comes to an end this month.
  • Cutter height raised to autumn/winter level.
  • Brush up fallen leaves.
  • Moss killer used, not lawn sand.
  • Carry out any repair work.


  • Mow once, provided weather is not frosty or wet.
  • All equipment cleaned and oiled for winter storage.
  • Keep lawn clear of fallen leaves.
  • Turfing carried out where necessary.


  • Keep off the lawn when frozen and wet.
  • Turfing possible during fine weather.

4.4 Describe plant alternatives to grass for lawn areas

  • Chamaemelum nobile (camomile)
  • Cotula
  • Dichondra micrantha

Disadvantages – these are ground-cover plants and do not stand up to heavy, continual wear, so they are rarely the best choice for a main lawn; they may, however, be used for primarily ornamental areas.

Areas for planting – Grow them in a patio or courtyard garden to provide a patch of green; as a living surround at the base of a fountain, raised pond, pedestal urn, or statue; or next to a patio or path to creep over the edges and relieve the rigidity of the hard surface.

Chamaemelum –  leaves release a sweet, apple-like fragrance when crushed but they do not tolerate heavy wear; the non-flowering clone “Treneague‟ is naturally low-growing and especially suitable for lawns.

Cotula, which has fern-like leaves, is considerably more hard-wearing as it forms a thick carpet of creeping stems. It also flourishes in moist conditions.

Dichondra grows most successfully in warm areas and does not survive temperatures below -4ºC.

Tapestry lawn – a patchwork effect by growing a number of low, mat-forming plants together. It is best to use plants that grow at a similar rate, like creeping thymes, eg  Thymus caespititius, T. Coccineus Group, T. ‘Doone Valley’, T. polytrichus subsp. britannicus.

Japanese style moss lawn – won’t tolerate hard wear, but doesn’t require mowing, fertiliser or much maintenance. Best in a shady spot. Good in acidic soil. Use Hypnum, often called sheet moss, or Thuidium, referred to as fern moss. Plant in spring after the last frost, preferably after trees leaf out. Press chunks of moss firmly onto the surface of moistened soil. Lightly water the moss daily for at least 3 weeks. Depending on the growing conditions and the spacing of moss chunks, the moss lawn may take a year or more to fill in. In the meantime, keep bare spots weeded.

Hedera helix– good cover for shade.

Clover – Trifolium repens, green, good on poor soils, nitrogen fixer, often considered in USA and Australia as an alternative and there has been research here into non-flowering strains for lawn replacement . Sow seeds in spring. Keep moist until germination.

Stonecrop (Sedum spp.). The genus Sedum includes many creeping species, some hardyand others tender. Some have attractive flowers, for example S. spurium ‘Dragon’s Blood. Sedums of all types root easily but can get damaged underfoot.