The modern concept of a garden is no longer a place in which to dig, stake or tie, nor is it necessarily an area in which to have an allotment, tend an orchard or mow immaculate swathes of lawn.

True, elements of all these things may be included, but the space is far more likely to be regarded as a low-maintenance 'outside room', in which the widest range of activities can be accommodated.

While many people are capable of planning the rooms inside their homes, ideas tend to dry up as soon as they move outside. In part, this must be due to the increasing number of garden centres, shops and nurseries and the temptation on a sunny weekend, to jump into the car, head for the nearest centre and embark on a binge of random purchases!

It is little wonder that when we get home with a car-boot full of assorted goodies, we haven’t got the first clue where to put them! Garden planning is vital to help organise both us and the garden, so that it serves us in the most practical way.

One of the prime rules of good garden design is that you should never be a slave to that space that surrounds your home.

If you are a keen gardener, then that's fine, but if not, then composition really can be tailored to fit your everyday life.

When designing your garden, start with two simple questions. What have you got and what do you want? Start by drawing a scale plan of your plot on a piece of squared paper, including the position of the house, the boundaries and the position of features such as trees, manholes, existing paths, drives etc.

Remember to check the path of the sun during the day, as this will not only indicate the best position for a terrace or patio, but where to place a pond, vegetable patch or play area and will determine just what will flourish in a given position.

Now you know what you have got, you can begin to jot down all the things you want to see in the garden. This might include a patio, barbecue, lawn, raised beds, pergola, vegetable patch, roses, irrigation, lighting, play areas, path and so on.

This is a job for the whole family, for everyone will be using the space in their own way. Remember that the garden also has to contain the ugly bits, so don’t forget the dustbins, compost heap, shed, incinerator and that all-important washing line.

Having decided what you have and what you want, now is the time to think about the actual garden design. Start by making a number of copies of your scale drawing and start to rough in the features where you want them.

Once the broad pattern is established, it is time to work in detail. In broad terms, keep things “architectural” close to the house, using a crisp, rectangular shape; use strongly flowing curves to build up a pattern away from the rectangular boundaries, providing a feeling of space and movement.

Now you have the layout, but it is the plants and planting that really bring a garden to life. Good nurseries and garden centres now offer specialist advice on just what thrives where, but it is always wise to do a little homework before you buy.

Try and build up a pattern of taller rougher shrubs as a background and work in the lighter more delicate herbaceous and annual plants in between these. Sun, shade and soil type will also determine what you can plant and where, so conduct a few simple soil tests and mark the results on your scale drawing.

In the final analysis, your garden should not only serve you well, but also be unique to you. Don’t worry about doing everything at once, though spread the cost and take your time. Choose your plants, materials and furnishings carefully.

At the end of the day it is personality that makes a garden, so you can be sure yours will fit the needs of your family like a glove!