Garden design for small gardens: 3 garden designer tips to make the most of your space
One of the great pleasures of being a professional garden designer is the enormous variety of projects we encounter. Our customers ask us to help them for all sorts of reasons, but one of the most regular issues is a feeling that the garden is too small.
This is, perhaps, not very surprising. Our gardens do seem to be getting smaller. A never-ending demand for houses has led to new-build developers seemingly squeezing properties closer and closer together. Parcels of larger gardens continue to be sold off for the new house construction, and even relatively modest extensions tend to have an significant impact on the size and proportions of rear garden space.
But whilst smaller gardens can pose a real challenge, it is undoubtedly possible to create some wonderful results. Here are three ways to make the most of the space in a smaller garden:
1: Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity: keep garden design for smaller gardens really simple
The most important advice a professional garden designer can offer anyone with a smaller garden is to try to keep things as simple as possible. This starts with being really clear about what we want the garden to 'do'. It's always a good idea to produce a ‘wish list’ for a new garden, and then to take time to identify which of the things on the list are the most important. Edit, edit and edit again until we're sure about our priorities.
We can be imaginative, but we must also be realistic- being excessively ambitious with plans for a garden almost inevitably ends in failure.
When it comes to the design itself, try to focus on simple shapes and simple lines. This doesn’t mean that we are limited to thinking purely in terms of squares, rectangles or circles, but it really is important to resist the urge to overly complicate. If we are going to have curves let's make them 'definite' geometric curves, with a clear sense of direction and purpose. Meandering ‘organic’ lines can sometimes work (I find that people often wrongly assume they will look more natural), but they are rarely successful in a smaller space.
2: De-clutter garden design: avoid too many different materials or different plants
This is really about resisting the urge to include too much 'stuff'. I’ve seen many otherwise good designs compromised by too many different hard-landscaping materials, too many focal points (statues, sculptures, pots etc), and a mixed-up ‘hotch-potch’ of plants. Less is most definitely more in a smaller garden.
When it comes to designing a patio, terrace and paths, it is good idea to restrict ourselves to just one or two materials. I like to have one 'main' or 'dominant' material for the main seating and entertaining area (e.g. natural stone paving), but often complement this with a second material as an edging or for an adjacent path. This can be really effective, but needs to be handled carefully so as to ensure that the proportions work and we maintain a sense of balance.
De-cluttering our planting is really important for any garden, but particularly in a smaller space. Garden designers like me will always use repetition to provide continuity and purpose to planting areas. Many plants work really well when planted in groups or clusters, and most schemes benefit from using some 'key' plants again and again to lead the eye and tie everything together.
Above all else, we want to avoid a ‘dolly mixture’ approach, as too many individual plants will rarely feel cohesive or satisfying. If, for example, we need 100 plants in a garden, it is much better to restrict ourselves to 10-15 different species and plant in groups (spread out over the whole of the garden) rather than have 100 individual plants.
3. Garden design illusions: distract from the garden's boundaries
Dominant boundaries tend to make a garden feel much smaller than it actually is. In very small spaces this effect can be particularly damaging, especially if the boundary fences or walls are quite tall.
It’s very similar to the effect that the walls in a smaller room can have, instantly making us feel hemmed in, claustrophobic or even trapped. Whilst it is certainly true that we can sometimes feel more protected in a cosier and more intimate space, we tend to also crave a feeling of space and airiness. We can create both in a larger garden, but when we are restricted by size we are almost always better off trying to provide the latter.
Successfully leading the eye away from boundaries can, therefore, be a really important way of tricking ourselves into feeling that a garden is larger than it really is. This can often be achieved either by introducing an element of height within the garden (perhaps using planting or hedges) or simply by visually 'softening' the boundaries with planting or man-made textures. A simple trellis can work wonders, but mirrors and ‘false’ doors and gates can also be really effective.
And don't overlook the role of focal points as an extremely important way to provide something else for us to focus on rather than immediately noticing the boundaries. This is essentially a simple distraction technique, but a carefully positioned sculpture, statue or water feature can work wonders in leading the eye and creating a definite sense of interest.
Try these three simple ways to design a small garden and it is definitely possible to create something really interesting and enjoyable in a smaller space.
Tythorne Garden Design provides professional fixed-fee garden design solutions for customers in Grantham, Stamford, Newark and surrounding areas. Let's see how we can help you to enjoy your garden more. Call us on 07900 224 239 or 01529 455 355.