How to Measure and Draw Your Garden Plan


If a large part of the garden is to be redesigned, then it is almost essential to produce a scale drawing or plan of the area. This will have to include all those features which are to remain unchanged and be included in the new layout, e.g. desirable trees and mature shrubs; paving, walling, paths, driveways; garden buildings; drains, electricity poles, etc; and, of course, the house. Plans of any proposed home extensions will also be needed.

Among items not wanted on the plan will be: unwanted trees and shrubs; unwanted features, buildings, etc. In addition, there is likely to be a list of items which need saving from the existing layout so that they can be put back into the new scheme.

Measure Garden Plan


I usually start my survey by walking around the house (and any outbuildings) and by making a large sketch of the layout, in plan form but not to scale. It must be large enough to accommodate the measurements of all downstairs doors, windows, drains, wall plants, steps, vents, etc. Therefore, clarity will be of the essence. If the building layout is quite simple and straightforward, there may be room on the sketch for more distant drain covers and nearby paths and trees, in fact anything which is within, say, 5 m (15 ft) of the house.

A particularly long, flexible measuring tape is ideal, perhaps 30 m (100 ft). A second tape would also be useful. I usually start at one corner of the house and lay the tape on the ground all down one side of the house. If there are bay windows or other protruding features it becomes a case of laying the tape as close to the house as possible and keeping it reasonably straight.


The positions of doors, windows, etc, along the tape are then written in on the sketch as ‘running’ measurements, ending up with the total length of that house wall. The distance by which the bay windows and other features protrude from the main wall is also added. The first wall is followed by the others. Any nearby features like drains, trees, etc, which were drawn in on the sketch, can be recorded by measuring how far along, and how far out at 90° they occur in rela­tion to that wall of the house. The distance between separated buildings will also be needed so that they can eventually be drawn the correct distance apart.

After the ‘buildings’ sketch, another is needed showing a wider field of vision. This will probably include boundaries, mature trees and other features which are to be retained. In large or compli­cated gardens, several large, clear sketches of various areas will be needed, all on separate sheets of blank paper (not graph paper). The house may well still feature in these sketches, but this time just as a recognizable shape, not large enough to record measurements on.

From now on, the more distant features of the garden will be recorded in terms of how far they are from the house (or other buildings).


There are two main ways of doing this. The first is by triangulation. Two adjacent but reasonably well spaced corners of the house, preferably the two nearest that part of the garden to be measured, can be called A and B. Each feature is then measured to see how far it is from A and B. These measurements can be written neatly on the sketch next to the feature and may look something like this: 29.50 m (A) and 16.40 m (B). Since we were looking to find and purchase the best greenhouse plastic possible and with rectangular features like sheds, greenhouses, areas of paving etc, only those two corners nearest A and B are measured. In addition, the length and width of the feature is needed.

As you work around the garden, you may need to ‘lock on’ to other corners of the house, and these would adopt other letters of the alphabet.

The other technique of measuring requires a tape permanently on the ground and a second tape to find out how far objects or features are from this ‘per­manent’ tape. The permanent tape must, however, be linked to the house or to some other well documented feature. From the house, it could either be drawn off one corner, leading out into the garden precisely in line with one wall and, therefore, at 90° to its adjacent wall. Or it could be one side of a huge triangle made up of two tapes coming off two separate points on the house and ending up with its apex some­where in the garden. One or both sides of this huge triangle could then be used as a permanent tape, especially if both sides happen to pass through an interesting part of the garden. The distances various objects are from the permanent tape can be measured either by triangulation (choosing two strategic points along the permanent tape as if they were corners of a house), or by measuring how far along and how far out at 90° the objects are. This second technique is said to use ‘offsets’.

Curved features, like driveways and paths, can be recorded by numerous offsets as the curve passes by or even crosses the permanent tape. It is vital that the permanent tape links back to the house or some other well documented feature and is never set up just anywhere. Only 90° angles or complete triangles may be used, never incomplete triangles or unknown angles.

Drain covers are best measured at their centre. The spread of branches from a tree (the canopy) will be useful and, with very thick tree trunks, it is best to take your offset or triangulation to an imagi­nary centre of the trunk adjusting the measurement accordingly. Some of the most difficult things to measure are mature shrubs in a border. I usually treat them as if they were the doors and windows around a house, recording where each shrub begins and ends on the tape, together with an estimate of how far outwards they spread.

Gradually, the various sketches will accommodate all the measurements necessary to enable you to draw up the garden to scale.

Measure Garden Plan


Other important information should include all significant features, no matter how distant, which are visible beyond the garden. This could be an overlooking window next door or a spectacular moun­tain in the distance. The position of water, gas, electricity, telephones and drain pipes will be important if any exca­vations are anticipated, along with the position of south and north for the prediction of sun and shade. A few soil samples will help to establish whether the soil is alkaline, acid or neutral, and deeper sampling might reveal any drainage problems and the depth of topsoil.

Last, but certainly not least, is the need to measure any significant variations in ground height — the levels. This is important in all gardens but especially so in sloping gardens which are to be terraced in some way.


The easiest approach is to choose one particular spot in the garden which is permanent — a doorstep or drain cover. The levels of the surrounding garden can then be compared with the level of this particular spot being higher, lower or about the same. A reasonably long straight piece of wood, say 2.4 m (8 ft), a ruler or measuring tape and a spirit level can be used to assess the amount by which the ground rises or falls.

Alternative techniques require the use of more sophisticated equipment, but if the garden has a significant slope and a stepped wall or fence down one side, it should be possible to calculate the slope by simply measuring the size of these steps (provided the stepped sections of fence or wall are horizontal).

If a sloping garden is to be terraced, then a whole line of levels should be recorded right down the centre from top to bottom. These can be used to draw a graph or section to a reasonably large scale. It should then be possible to work out and draw in the height and position of any retaining walls.



Design work should be carried out on a carefully drawn scale plan of the garden. This is produced from all the various measurements which were taken earlier. The best scales for this work are:

1 cm = 1 m or 1 cm = 1/2 m

The second scale will produce a drawing twice the width and twice the length of the first, so if the garden is very large, you will need a very large sheet of paper. On the other hand, this larger scale does make it easy to name individual plants and draw in quite small detail.


Reasonably stout tracing paper is the best for this type of drawing, since it is avail­able in almost any size especially if it can be cut from a roll, and also because it can be used in a dyeline printing process to produce an unlimited number of copies. Small plans can, of course, be reproduced on a photocopier. Tracing paper must not be allowed to get wet and is unsuit­able for use outdoors; hence the need for paper or even plastic, dyeline copies.


Drawing, at least in the early stages, is usually made with an HB pencil but the finished design could be in ink, using a drafting pen. An ordinary ruler or scale rule can be used, along with a 90° set square, compasses and an eraser.

The survey should be drawn in the same sequence as it was measured so, in most cases, this will involve drawing the house first. It helps to assess roughly how large the overall plan is likely to be in the chosen scale before drawing the house. This will need positioning cunningly on the paper so that once the rest of the garden has been added, nothing falls off the edge of the paper! If a drawing board equipped with a ‘parallel motion’ is used, then drawing square corners is made easy. If not, a set square can be just as effective so long as some care is exercised. It can also help to attach a piece of graph paper temporarily to the reserve side of the tracing paper, just to help with drawing the house square.


These are redrawn by retracing their distance along whatever base line they came off and using a 90° set square to mark the appropriate distances, all in scale of course.


These measurements are redrawn using compasses. Obviously, the base line or points from which the triangulation origi­nated will have to be drawn first (e.g. the house). The compasses are set to one of the triangulation distances and the compass point placed on the appropriate base point (perhaps the house). An arc is drawn on the plan. This process is repeated for the other half of the triangu­lation, with the compasses reset at the second distance. Where the two arcs cross on the plan is the correct position of the feature. Gradually the whole garden will appear just as it was surveyed. This drawing can then be printed and copies kept for future reference. It is often useful to mark one of these copies with all the house services (pipes, etc.).

Measure Garden Plan


The design can either be drawn in pencil directly onto the basic survey plan or onto a separate tracing paper overlay. Any ideas should, initially, be drawn in pencil and it does help to orientate the plan in different directions so that the ideas can be seen and checked from different view points. This process is very important and can help to overcome the notion that the plan is only two-dimensional — everything must be pictured or envisaged as three-dimensional.

If this proves difficult, working within a cardboard box of an appropriate size, with its sides cut down to fence or hedge height, can help to simulate a three-dimensional approach. It could be devel­oped into a complete model with the design coming from the model rather than the other way about.

Design and drawing techniques vary enormously. Once I have drawn the overall layout in pencil, I usually ink in trees and conifers first. Then I ink in the planting areas, edges of borders, paving etc., followed by all the remaining fea­tures. Existing trees and shrubs can be shaded with a soft pencil so that these stand out on the plan. Walls and any other vertical features can also be shaded but do not overdo shading since it can complicate the drawing unnecessarily.

Filed Under: General How To's


About the Author: Greenery always attracts Arthur Kunkle. He has a big garden where he plants many fruits and vegetables. His passion for gardening motivates him to write and share different tips on gardening.

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