Gardens Illustrated
Alasdair Cameron's small garden with green foliage in London
© Jason Ingram

How to design a small family garden

Published: May 5, 2022 at 9:41 am

Garden designer Filippo Dester shares his ideas for creating a small, stylish garden the whole family can enjoy

For a family with a small garden, it can be challenging to create dedicated areas for play and socialising alongside green, wildlife-friendly zones. Filippo Dester from the design studio Garden Club London shares his family garden ideas, with designs for a small space.

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Family garden ideas

How to design a small family garden

Stylish play areas

Play areas for the children don’t have to be ugly. Aim to style playhouses, climbing frames and other equipment to match your decking and other garden furniture, and suit your overall aesthetic.

Plan your planting scheme and attract wildlife

Plan your planting scheme for maximum seasonal variation so that young visitors will engage with nature as they notice the appearance of bright new flowers and fruits or autumnal leaf fall. Children are fascinated by birds, butterflies and insects, so a wildlife-friendly garden is also a family-friendly garden.

Wildflowers
A wildlife-friendly garden will also keep the children happy. © Getty

Create an adults zone

Create a sleek chill-out zone that includes a generously cushioned sofa and chair. Filippo also recommends a fire-bowl from Solus Decor, which is fuelled by a reservoir of bio-ethanol. “It doesn’t generate a lot of heat but it is very atmospheric, and since the whole unit is portable, it allows total flexibility, which can be really useful if you are entertaining,” says Filippo.

Planting in smaller gardens

In smaller gardens, Filippo’s advice is to concentrate planting into just one or two significant areas. “You get so much more impact from one really generous ornamental bed than you could ever achieve by dotting the same number of plants through skinny strips around the whole garden.”

Multi-stemmed trees are ideal for smaller gardens. Filippo recommends Amelanchier x lamarckii and strawberry trees (Arbutus unedo), which are tolerant of a range of conditions. Here's our feature on colour and layers in a small garden. 

Lighting for small gardens

Garden lighting can be roughly divided into two types – the atmospheric and the utilitarian. In both cases, it’s best to keep it as soft and subtle as the situation will allow. Filippo suggests lighting up several significant trees and spreading subtle pools of light along the path.

Screened off areas

“Veiling one part of the garden is really effective in a small space,” says Filippo. He suggests screening off the garden office, studio or shed from the main garden by a mix of airy perennials, such as Cephalaria gigantea, Erigeron karvinskianus and Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’ and domes of Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Tom Thumb’.

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Lay a garden path

To help soften the garden, Filippo recommends putting in a winding path of Vande Moortel clay pavers, laid on a permeable sand base. “Laying them to curve through the most densely planted area helps create a valuable sense of journeying through the garden, on route to the playhouse or studio office, rather than just rushing from A to B.”

Garden path
Urban garden with pebble path and railway sleepers. © Getty
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