Big ideas for small gardens

Georgina Chahed is a garden designer working for Touch Landscapes and a journalist who writes articles about design and all things horticultural. She loves nothing more than uncovering emerging trends and exploring show-stopping gardens around the world. Here, she shares her big ideas for a small garden to help you make the most of your space.

When I peer outside the window, the harshness of my urban surroundings is softened by the elegant grasses in our window box.

With outdoor space at a premium, for those of us with little more than a tiny backyard, courtyard or balcony, our outside space is a precious slice of heaven. The possibilities for small gardens are endless, limited only by our  imagination. The key to realising the potential of your small space is good design. With careful planning and by making use of these clever design tips, you can make your small garden work that much harder.

Getting started with your garden

Consider what style of garden you’d like to create and what suits its surroundings; for example, a contemporary garden is ideally suited to a modern, urban dwelling. The secret to creating a successful garden is to consider the elements most important to you. Start by defining how you’d like to use your garden. Perhaps you would like a quiet place to sit, or room for your children to play. Or maybe you’re into growing your own vegetables, in which case having a raised bed could be your idea of bliss.

Concentrate on elements that suit your personal style, your type of house and how you live your life. Once these factors have been considered, you can start to design your garden to create the biggest impact.

Shape shifters

Although small gardens aren’t expansive enough to incorporate grand garden rooms (outside spaces linked by hedges, specimen trees and shrubs), by sectioning a garden into smaller zones and sticking to one overall style, you can make your garden appear larger.  Also, encouraging visitors to travel through the space using meandering or diagonal paths slows down their passage through the garden, making it feel bigger.

Thinking of laying paving or a patio? Another popular trick I use is to lay pavers at an angle to the property, rather than parallel. This will draw the eye across the garden, again elongating the space.

Pots and containers are ideal for small gardens and can be rearranged providing almost limitless opportunities. With so many styles to choose from, you could select containers made from reclaimed materials for that edgy ‘lived-in’ look, or opt for sleek zinc planters for a more streamlined effect.

Vertical thinking

Space planning doesn’t just mean mapping out what’s on the ground. Like the rooms in your house where you have pictures, cupboards and shelves on the walls, your garden is also a three dimensional space. Use walls and garden fences to your best advantage by painting them in an eye-catching colour or using them to support a living or green wall.

When I go shopping at Westfield in West London, I always admire the green wall  and the positive effect that it has had in reducing pollution from the nearby traffic. Typically consisting of irrigated modular panels with pockets containing plants and growing medium, green walls in gardens not only look incredible but also cool the air in cities and reduce reflected heat. One final vertical thinking trick is to include foliaged climbers overhead across stretched wires to give your garden an extra dimension.

Green up

I agree with the widely held view that gardens are for people, rather than plants. Despite this, it has been proven that the colour green ‘rests the eyes’ and plants have been shown to have a restorative  effect that cannot be achieved by hard landscaping alone.

Select a few choice structural plants such as bulky shrubs, particularly evergreens, to make the most of your valuable space. Fragrance is also important for small gardens so consider scenters such as honeysuckle, jasmine or roses.

People often overlook trees when selecting plants for small gardens. As well as providing a sculptural element and acting as an obvious focal point, many offer interest spanning across the seasons, as well as colour, shade and a habitat for wildlife. Trees can add so much to a garden, with show-stoppers such as sweet gum, rowan and serviceberry giving small and medium sized plots the wow factor.

Small gardens extend the useable space of your property, enhancing your quality of life. With careful consideration and a bit of creativity, you can turn your tiny patch into a green pocket of perfection.

Looking to redesign your small garden? Rated People can provide up to three quotes for your project. Search for your landscape gardener here.

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  1. “gardens are for people, rather than plants”???What on earth are you talking about? I have been gardening for over 30 years and that is the worst comment I have ever seen relating to a garden. Go and build a big extension then, or live in a flat.Don’t think I will even bother to read anything on this site again. Hope you didn’t rely on an “expert ” to come up with that novel idea. Ridiculous

  2. of course gardens are for people, plants grow anywhere, even on mountains, in forests and in the wild, gardens are cultivated spaces for people to enjoy being in. plants are a part of the equation, but plants have to be carefully chosen for gardens, rather than being allowed to grow any old way– so, i think that proves that gardens are for people — for people to enjoy some plants, which enhance the space, chosen by people to thrive in that particular garden!

  3. Could you tell me please how tall the following trees grow :
    Sweet gum, Rowan and service berry. Also Inwould like to know please whether honeysuckle and Jasmine need a lot of maintenance like roses for example or are they low maintenance plants. Thanks a lot.

  4. I am always hopefull that there will be a’normal small back garden’ that has been redone
    But as always the gardens are huge in comparison to my garden and totally out of my budget
    Maybe we could have a simple cheapest small garden project !!!!!

  5. This is all well and good but do not forget the planning permission you need for the wall and highways consent to do your front garden and remember you are scuppered if your garden goes mainly to the side of your house then you can not do anything! Found out after spending six grand on my garden!

  6. think instead of arguing over weather gardens are for plants or people. gardens are for people who want to grow plants.

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