Big ideas for small gardens
Don't let a small garden restrict your garden design plans. From urban plots to a suburban courtyard – we've got plenty of design and planting inspiration to help you maximise your space. Take a look at our small garden plans and designer tips
Here's five, real garden designs for small gardens that all maximise on their outdoor space. We give you a summary of each garden, a garden plan that shows you what features have been included and tips to help you make the most of your small garden.
Small town garden
Using a strong geometric grid to divide the planting, designer Declan Buckley has transformed a sloping patch of scruffy grass into a dynamic garden full of year-round interest.
Declan Buckley's five top tips for putting together a small garden planting plan:
- First think about what the garden will look like in winter. You want a fair proportion of strong evergreen elements, through which you can weave some seasonal interest.
- Don’t forget your vertical surfaces. When you don’t have much ground, walls give you extra space for plants, and blur the boundaries, which makes the garden seem bigger than it really is.
- In a small garden it’s important to think big. Beware the temptation to sprinkle beds with lots of different plants. Really generous groups of your chosen plants will have far more impact.
- Don’t be afraid to use really tall plants. Your garden will automatically look larger if you can’t see it all at once. A lot of my clients have a hard time believing me when I tell them that at the planning stage, but they all agree when they see their finished garden.
- Euonymus alatus ‘Macrophyllus’ is a resilient alternative to box. Plant 1 litre pots at roughly five plants per linear metre and you should get a good-looking cube within a couple of years
Small suburban garden
Bernadette den Bieman has created an intimate space for her own garden that uses strong sight lines to create an illusion of space.
Bernadette’s five top tips for making a small garden feel bigger and more private:
- Master the art of distraction. A strong statement, such as a raised rill, a piece of sculpture or a tall specimen tree draws your eye away from surrounding buildings.
- Surround your garden with neat boundaries – whether fences, brick walls or hedging – to create both privacy and a feeling of intimacy. Keeping them neat, with low planting beneath, increases your space at ground level.
- Think vertically. Bernadette’s pleached trees form a hedge on stilts that provides privacy without taking up room
at ground level. Planting away from the boundary makes pruning easier and creates an added sense of depth.
- Shade sails are a practical way to create extra shade – and privacy – and, unlike a cumbersome umbrella, won’t clutter up ground or storage space.
- Work with your neighbours when deciding on fences and hedges or selecting tall trees. Bernadette worked so well with her neighbours she ended up designing their garden.
Small city garden
In her own small, west London garden, designer Hélène De Witte has used a limited palette of hard-landscaping materials and plants to create a beautifully blended whole.
Hélène De Witte’s five tips for making the most of hard-landscaping materials
- In a small garden hard landscaping provides you with continuous structure. “It should be hard and bold,” says Hélène. “The planting is partly there for structure, but partly to soften the hard landscaping. But if you can only choose one plant, make it a tree.”
- Remember your hard landscape is there all the time. While you can always play around with the planting, hard landscaping forms a constant backdrop and is both more difficult and more costly to change. “Keep it simple when choosing materials,” advises Hélène. “Use a maximum of three different types. And when you make your choice, make a bold statement.”
- You need unity not uniformity. Hélène has used a lot of wood for the interior of her house and carried this through to the garden to create a feeling of unity between both spaces.
- Boundaries are important and they need to work hard in a small garden. Try to create a balance between greening up your fences and walls and, where the materials you have used are features in themselves, making the most of their solid structure.
- Even in a small garden there is room for secret spaces and exploration. In her own garden Hélène has used a hornbeam hedge to screen off a small, secluded terrace at the rear of the garden. This contrasts with the solid verticals of the iroko posts, which screen the alternate-tread staircase that leads down to the basement.
Taking inspiration from her family’s Provençal origins, Sophie de Bouvier de Cachard has turned her Kentish courtyard garden into a corner of southern France.
Sophie de Bouvier de Cachard’s five tips for a small garden with open aspect:
- Cram the garden with plants. It may seem counter-intuitive, but if you’re mean, the space will look smaller. Use lots of large plants too and play with scale.
- Install several paths that lead to hidden vistas, to statuary and surprises, so there’s a sense of discovery and delight.
- Simplify your colour palette, both in plants and garden accessories. Green is obviously the predominant colour here, with grey, white and stone.
- Structure is important, but basic topiary shapes don’t change throughout the year so always have something flowering to remind you of the season.
- Avoid keeping too many plants in small pots. In some courtyards pots may be the only option, and they can add colour, focus and interest. But most plants prefer to be in the soil, and fewer pots cuts down on the need for endless watering.
Small, walled, city garden
Faced with a compact garden on different levels, landscape architect Floris Steyaert has created a unified whole using a limited palette of shade-loving plants.
Five design tips from Floris Steyaert for coping with a difficult site:
- Always get a survey. Even a garden that appeares to be flat, can have level changes of a metre or more.
- Work with what’s there. Sometimes clients want to change everything, but I recommend working with what you’ve got. It can help with creating the character and atmosphere of the garden.
- Tricky sites often have tricky access, so be sure to consider this when planning the garden. Although we knew we would be able to bring the multi-stemmed amelanchier tree we were using in this garden through a window in the apartment, it was still quite a challenge and took three people to manoeuvre it into place.
- Think carefully about your materials. In a small garden, I wouldn’t advise using too many different materials. I like to stick to a limited palette, but to use things in different ways, such as using square stones for a terrace, and then cutting them in half to make a path.
- Try to be clever. In a small space, every inch matters. We designed the metal steps to double up as seating, and the rock pathway outside Michael’s bedroom to look like a natural feature.
Plans by Liam McAuley
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