Design ideas for small gardens

A small garden shouldn't restrict you when creating an eye-catching space. Here are some great ideas from the show that you can copy at home

Boxing clever

Bare fences can be imposing in a small space, but an example of how a fence can be quickly dressed up was used in Katie’s Lymphoedema Fund: Katie’s Garden, a garden of flowers for cutting. Traditional wooden vegetable boxes fixed to the fence act as display shelves that can easily house changing displays of collectables, a vase of flowers picked from the garden or seasonal potted plants.

Planks for pathways

Where planting space is tight, consider incorporating planting pockets into a garden path. In The WWT Working Wetlands Garden, sturdy wooden planks of different lengths were laid to create an irregular path using gravel to infill the gaps and also as a mulch around the occasional ground-hugging plant placed at the edge where it won’t get walked on. This technique is useful for curving walkways and other informal areas, where gravel and plants are used to blur the outline and infill awkward spaces.

Water illusion

Give the impression of bringing water into the garden but without the need to install pumps and liners. In The Drought Garden, designer Steve Dimmock used smooth cobbles within a curved channel lined with rough stone to define the dry stream bed, and laid a York stone flagstone across to give access through the garden. Beds were planted with silvery drought-tolerant plants to soften the harsh stream edges.

Screen door

A feeling of enclosure or privacy can be achieved equally from a solid or partially open screen, as demonstrated in the Final5: Retreat Garden. A multi-stemmed birch planted in front of the steel louvred panels gives structural interest and casts dappled shade onto the seating area. Too much shade can be a problem in small gardens set between buildings, but the open screen will allow some light into the area and the paving is selected for its ability to repel moss and algae and so retain its clean lines.

Sleep on it

A rustic patio can be fairly instantly installed using chunky wood such as new or recycled railway sleepers. They can just be laid on the ground to create a slightly raised area, as demonstrated in Fancy a Brew? Take a Pew, one of the Feel-Good Front Gardens, or sunk to sit at ground level, but either way they quickly and easily define the space. And although the surface isn’t as smooth as paving, the wood brings a warm character to the space and a useful textural surface.

Things are looking up

Make more of boundaries in a small garden, by using them to your advantage. In the Cancer Research UK’s Life Garden, a fence of horizontal planks was painted in shades of blue, fading as they rise skywards drawing the eye into the open space above. Panels of mirrored foil were inserted to break up the strong lines, and they also provided a reflecting surface of both the light and garden plantings to give an impression of added space.

Sit on the wall

Seating areas in a garden are always important, but a useful way to accommodate occasional large numbers of visitors is to modify walls, raised beds or large planters to become temporary bench seating. A smooth coping stone laid on top of the dry stone wall in CCLA: A Summer Retreat not only gives an attractive finish, but is deep enough for visitors to perch on, wineglass in hand, while enjoying the nearby plants.

Troughs of plants

When the flower beds are full, consider using walls and other raised areas to house yet more plants. The low rendered wall in Youth Workz Garden was built with a shallow planting trough inset along the top, which gave just enough space for a planting of Lotus berthelotii. Its common name of parrot’s beak describes the orange, pointed flowers that cover the trailing fine foliage in summer.


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