1. Take pictures of your garden for an unedited, critical assessment. Consider favourable features like mature trees or a borrowed view; and liabilities, such as poor drainage and cracked patio stones. Make two lists, beginning with things to leave off the plan - dead tree and old swing set to be removed. Then a list of improvements to be included on the plan - repaired fencing, new patio or expanded perennial bed.
2. Measure up your property and make a rough scale plan on graph paper. Measure the full width and length of your garden; then measure the back of the house and show it on the plan. (For a front garden, indicate the street.) Include garden entrances on either side of the house; or an exit to a laneway at the far end of the garden. Measure and indicate large permanent features, such as a pool or brick barbecue.
3. Show intrusions that are part of (or neighbouring on) the garden, such as a driveway, garage, parking pad, large satellite dish, shade from neighbouring trees or a larger house next door. Shade from trees can be altered and improved. Other intrusions probably can't be removed, but design and planting strategies can mask unpleasant views and distract attention from imposing objects.
4. Note the practical hard surface areas like steps and walkways, patios and wood decks. If changes are desired, show the improvements in these areas - widened steps and front path, stepping stones, expanded brick patio, terraced hillside. These are necessary features that make the garden more functional, giving you a way to navigate and improve your use of all areas.
5. The greatest benefits of a garden are functionality and areas for personal indulgence. Draw on dedicated special interest features, such as an outdoor cooking area, dining table away from the cooker, garbage can storage, compost bins, potting shed, children's play equipment (trampoline, swings), putting green, hot tub or sauna, swimming pool, a vegetable or cutting garden.