Getty ImagesLinda Burgess
Most of us have what garden writers call a ‘small garden’, but we call it a perfectly sized garden.
If it’s big enough to sit out, big enough for a few plants, big enough to make a lovely view from inside the house, then the garden isn’t small, it’s just right. And if you treat it right it will reward with wows throughout the year.
Generally rules are there to be broken but these 7 will help you get the very best out of your space.
1.Always work on the view from inside the house first. Given our climate, most of the enjoyment of your garden will be from looking out at it, especially if you have a favourite armchair or a washing up spot – that is the vista to prioritise.
2.Go for bold geometric shapes for the patio and the lawn, and if in doubt stick to straight lines – they are easier to get right. It might seem that curves will bring softness to a garden, especially in a town or city garden, but really, outside spaces soften up very quickly and the best designs contrast the softness of the planting against the cleanness and crispness of the edges.
3.Keep it simple and remember the ‘rule of three’ applies to most things in the garden. So use a maximum of three types of flooring materials. For example: grass, sandstone and gravel. This will give a coherence and consistency to your garden which will be the envy of all who walk in there. It’s possible to get a garden to look good with a wider variety of materials but it’s also harder, and why make life harder?
4.The rule of three also applies to the colours you use – for painting the fences, plants, for accessories and for furniture. Limit that palette and your garden is going to look so much better.
5.Lighting really matters. Not just for when you’re out there, but for that all important view from the house. At four o’clock on a winter’s evening your garden needs to look as ‘wow’ as it does at high noon in summer. Try layering the lighting. The first layer is for practicality: light the steps, sitting areas, paths. Next, light any features you have: water features, small trees, interesting wall surfaces. Finally add a really subtle layer of light at ankle level to make the whole place glow. If you have these on three different circuits you can mix and match for different effects.
6.Always think about privacy. It’s unusual to find a smaller garden that’s not overlooked in some way but with a carefully placed shrub or a line of trellis along the top of a fence, it’s possible to minimise the problem. Think also about where you put your sitting area; there might be a corner of the garden that’s completely private.
7.For most people, gardens are mainly for sitting in so give plenty of thought to the furniture. Do you want to sit up at a table and make an outside dining room? Or do you want to lounge around on sofas and make your garden into an outdoor sitting room? If you’re lucky you may have space for both but then it’s worth thinking about where each should be placed – what time of day does each area get sun?
‘Lush but limited’ is the rule for plants in small gardens. Whatever list of plants you want in your garden, halve it and then halve it again. With plants the rules are just like those for the structure – the simpler the better. Have large clusters of a limited variety of plants – not only will this look amazing but it will help with the maintenance as well.
And, if your garden can be seen from inside the house, give priority to winter planting to get that all important view from the house looking top notch all through the darker months. There’s a good saying in gardens: ‘If you can get the garden looking good in December then May and June will take care of themselves.’
1. Winter structure will be key to getting the view right all year round. Go for box bushes or other sturdy, evergreen planting to punctuate the garden and give it shape in winter.
2. But don’t forget the ‘wows’. Look for striking plants which perform over a long period. Lavender is a real winner with flowers in the summer and, if it’s cut back in autumn, it’ll look good throughout the winter too.
3. Winter bulbs like crocus and tulips will provide a sensational show through the winter. The brighter the better with the colours so they’ll stand out against the background.
4. The fences or walls will usually provide an excellent background for climbers. The evergreen Trachelospermum jasminoides (from £14.99, Thompson & Morgan) and Clematis armandii (from £12.99, Thompson & Morgan) will provide year round cover and then think about roses to provide the impact through summer.
5. Roses are really useful for scent as well as colour and it’s always worth thinking about scents in a small garden – smaller gardens are the perfect places for them to be appreciated. Honeysuckles around the back door and windows will waft in scent all through the summer.
Seasonal changes and affordable updates
1.Bulbs are great for bringing in seasonal colour, and not just in spring. So as well as daffodils and tulips, look for summer bulbs like agapanthus or alliums for a real splash in summer. Try planting in big containers or in big bunches to make the most impact.
2.Treat your outdoor room like an indoor room, so bring in bunches of cut flowers, change the cushions or throws. Move the lighting and furniture around to get a new look just as you would in your sitting room.
3.Water features don’t have to be hugely expensive. There are self contained, solar powered ones available for under £50 – just right to give your garden a boost.
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4.Get the paint out – paint the fence, wall or a just a bench for an instant freshness to the look of your garden. I’d always go for light colours to bounce the light around and make the garden look cleaner and bigger.
5.Don’t forget a simple clean and tidy up – the amount of clutter that accumulates in gardens is phenomenal. And it’s especially important to clean up through the winter. Keeping paving neat and tidy will make the whole space feel better.
Getty ImagesFrancois De Heel