Complete the Site Survey for your Garden Design

A site survey is the foundation for a successful garden design. Establish your design criteria with easy to follow instructions.

Outline Drawing and Baseline

Start your site survey by pacing out the width and length of your garden. A good pace is approximately equal to 1 m (3 ¼ ft). Get a piece of graph paper. The area which the scaled garden will occupy on the graph paper can be approximated. For example, if the garden site measures10 m by 5 m, the plan could be drawn onto an A4 (210 x 297mm or 8 ½ x 12 in). The scale would be 1:50 (20mm =1m).

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

Establish a base line from your house or wall. If there is no natural base line, you can create your own. Use two pegs and some fishing gut. Hit in the two pegs, one at each end of your garden. Pull the gut taunt between the pegs. The site survey is now completed from this baseline.

Draw up the Detail

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

Determine the Garden Levels and Slope

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

The presence of any steps is an indication of changes in level. Add together the rise of each step, thus calculating the height between the two levels. This gives the immediate change of the level at that point only.

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

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

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

Less Tangible Elements

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

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


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

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

Strong Wind

Indicate the direction from which prevailing winds blow on the site plan. Reduce the adverse effects of the wind by positioning adequate screening.

Views and Borrowed Scenery

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


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

List of Design Requirements

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

Need Inspiration?

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

Return from Site Survey to continue your Garden Design

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