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Southern Inspirations Garden Design

A family-run business since 1997

Southern Inspirations
The Complete Site Survey for Garden Design
A site survey forms the foundation for a successful garden design. Establish your design criteria will be easy with the follow instructions.

Outline Drawing and Baseline

Start your site survey by pacing out the width and length of your property. A good pace is about equal to 1 m (3¼ ft). Take a piece of graph paper. The area which the scaled garden will occupy on the graph paper can be measured out. For example, if your garden site measures10 m by 5 m, the plan can be drawn onto an A4 (210 x 297mm or 8 ½ x 12 in) piece of paper. The scale will be 1:50 (20mm =1m).

Measure the outside of your house, walls and boundaries of the garden. Draw this outline, accurately to scale, on to your graph paper. Plot the position of any doors, the way they open, windows, heating vents, pipes and drains. Record anything and everything that may affect the future of things placed into your garden. Don’t forget to plot in the trees on to your site survey!

Establish a base line from your home or wall. If there is not a natural base line, you can create your own. Take two pegs and some fishing gut. Hammer in the two pegs, one at each end of your garden. Pull the fishing gut taunt between the two pegs. The site survey is now completed from this established baseline.

Draw in the Details

Ensure everything is accurately measured from the one side, along, and perpendicular to the baseline. Don’t fall into despair if you have shapes in you garden like squares, rectangles, etc. Just simply take the measurement of the baseline at 90 degrees (angle). Make use a system known as ‘triangulation’ for more complicated measurements. Plot in the position of everything.

Determine the Garden Levels and Slope

It is very important to measure changes in level during your site survey. This may be done without resorting to the use of very expensive electronic or optical equipment. That is, provided the area is small enough.

The presence of any steps indicates a change in level. Add together the rise/height of each step, thereby calculating the height between the two levels. This will give the immediate change of the level at that point only.

There are other methods that can be used for the site survey. Using the measuring method, a spirit level is used. Put the level onto a straight piece of timber of a known length. Hold your piece of timber level, and measure the drop from the bottom of the timber to the ground level. Measure the rise and fall in level in different areas of the garden. Plot all the changes of level onto your drawing.

Level fencing panels, fixed between posts, can also indicate the rise and fall of the property. Similarly, use the ‘reading’ the brick wall method. Do this by following the lines of a particular mortar joint, and then measuring its height to the ground at different points.

There are some other ways of measuring levels. A hand level can be used to quickly assess and measure changes in ground level. Handheld levels are not as accurate as some more sophisticated optical instruments for a site survey. If you are unable to do it yourself, you could consider getting in a land surveyor.

Less Tangible Elements

After you have assessed any changes, look for the less tangible elements. These can include areas of poor drainage, pH and soil type. Note the sunny and shady areas. Identify your services, inspection covers and dry areas. Look up for any cables hanging overhead.

Determine your service providers routes e.g.; water, gas, electricity, telephone, oil pipes, waste pipes, storm water pies, etc. Plot in their positions on the site survey drawing where ever possible. Contact the respective authorities for an existing plan for your home. Make use a metal detector to determine where cables or metal pipes are buried when necessary.


Orientation is the position of your site relevant to magnetic north. It is essential to note this on the plan. It will allow us to establish the path of the sun and the resultant areas of light and shade. Shady areas do change as the sun travels from east to west. This will influence the positioning of various features.

Do not make use a compass within close proximity of strong electrical or magnetic fields. This can result in an inaccurate reading.

Strong Wind

Indicate the direction from which prevailing winds blow on to the site. You can reduce the adverse effects of the wind by positioning adequate screening.

Views and Borrowing Scenery

Indicate the good and bad views on the site survey drawing. Good views can be incorporated into the design (borrowed scenery). Bad views could be screened out. Can you make use of borrowed scenery from the outside you property? Are you private? Can your neighbours look onto your property?


Record any poor drainage areas onto your site survey drawing. Make plans to correct any problems. Prevention is often better than cure. Builders are often guilty of compacting the soil. This makes it impossible for the water to drain freely.

List the Design Requirements

Write down a list of elements that you will like in your garden. Do it in an order of preference. Include things like a child’s swing, a ‘reading’ bench, a secret corner to watch birds, a pergola, etc. Consider each item carefully and then position it. Link areas earmarked for different functions together. Use items like lawns, paths, or paved areas, for linking. This will form the basic structure of the final design.

Need Some Inspiration?

Our free landscaping ideas , designs, illustrations and pictures can boost your garden design abilities. Just follow our unique approach to stimulate your imagination. Get that burst of inspiration. Feel the anticipation and excitement of showing your new garden to your family and friends.

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