There is something very attractive about a well laid out garden. Classic layouts with geometric designs enhanced with considered planting schemes in healthy, vibrant varieties almost always look superb. So how do you go about creating the classic garden layout when faced with a blank canvas?

A garden design that will stay the course needs three key elements.

A classic layout is a core requirement. Throughout the history of gardens, from the British country houses of the aristocracy to the gardens of the French palaces, symmetrical, geometric layouts were essential. Designers focused on balanced viewpoints that created pleasing effects and even developed illusions of the eye using perspective and strategically placed water features.

Next came tried and tested planting schemes using plant varieties that would survive local conditions and develop over time to improve the garden. Flowering annuals certainly create splashes of colour in the summer months, but can leave a garden bare and desolate at other times of the year, so evergreens and lawns were widely used. Also hard landscaping such as walls, paths and water features were seen in most designs.

Finally a design that lends itself to easy maintenance is likely to be one that looks better for longer in most cases. There is no point in creating an extravagant design that requires many man-hours of labour every week to keep it looking good. Simple and stylish is a good approach and often that means fewer items of a higher quality.

Garden designs can be very enduring: a great design constructed with quality materials and good craftsmanship can last a very long time, sometimes hundreds of years.

The structure of most gardens is defined by their boundaries, walkways and features that create and define the separate areas. Often these are hedges, walls, fences or pathways. Hedges constructed using classic varieties such as yew, box, laurel and hawthorn are hardy, look good all year round and require only periodic clipping. Fencing is an easier alternative, providing instant height and low maintenance, but unless you opt for the better quality manufacturers, they can quickly degrade and change appearance through rain and harsh sunlight and will also have a limited life expectancy.

Walls are the best choice for low maintenance separators in formal gardens, but they are the most expensive option too. Wall construction is labour intensive and time consuming when done properly, involving groundwork, foundations, drainage considerations and skilled craftsmen. Materials for wall construction are expensive too, ranging from cast blocks and bricks of various qualities through to natural stone, which looks the best. In previous generations the gardens of the best country houses often featured huge lengths of stone walling in their designs, but today cost frequently rules this out. However, even just a short section of well-built walling using natural stone can be an attractive feature in itself.

Pathways serve two purposes in a garden. Of course they act as a route to move from one part of the garden to another but they also serve to break up borders and lawns into interesting shapes. Again the choice of construction materials for paths is extensive. From simple bark paths or loose shingle, through to block paving or natural stone paving stones, garden paths come in all shapes and sizes.

As with other forms of hard landscaping, the most expensive options are usually the most enduring and top quality Indian stone paving can last many generations. There are now cheaper man-made alternatives where natural-looking textures are effectively printed onto concrete-cast stones. To the discerning eye these look almost too natural and although they are cheaper than natural stones, will not be as long lasting or look as good.

So if you are serious about your garden design, making the decision to use top quality materials is a wise move. The price of the best paving stones may seem an extravagant luxury but replacing lower quality materials a few years later, with all the duplicated labour involved will cost much more and you will not have had the pleasure and visual impact that quality, natural stone provides.

Gordon is an experienced gardener and writer and he uses natural stone for many of his garden designs. The benefits of natural stone flagstones are both an attractive look and sustainable choice for classic garden designs.