5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Planning a Small Garden
Unsure of what to do with your compact outdoor plot? These five considerations should help you focus
A professional garden designer can help you make the most of your compact space, but before you get in touch, consider these five key things to focus your mind and create a vision.
Before you do anything in your outdoor space, it’s crucial to work out the direction it faces and which areas get the sun and which are in shade. Sit in different parts of your garden at different times of the day, making note of the changing sun levels. Also bear in mind that the time of year will affect this.
Patience is key here, but it will pay off in the long run, as you’ll be able to identify the perfect spot to put a seating area and the ideal places to grow different types of plants.
Here, for example, designer Andrew Dunning of London Contemporary (formerly APD Interiors) wanted to install decking for a dining area, so he needed to be sure it would be in the right position. By examining the movement of the sun, he managed to place the area where it would catch the last of the evening light for relaxing, end-of-day drinks.
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It’s not always possible to fit everything you’d ideally like to in a limited space, so it makes sense to narrow down your wish list. You can do this by imagining exactly how you’d like to use your garden and making a list of priorities.
For example, perhaps you’d love a quiet space in which to relax, but would also like to cook alfresco for friends and make room for a play area for your kids? Identify your main priorities and work the plan of your garden around those.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t accommodate other activities, but this will help you establish what’s a ‘non-negotiable’ and what’s a ‘nice-to-have’.
When the owners of this small, urban garden briefed designer Natasha Nuttall, they told her their ideas had come from a leafy rooftop restaurant they loved, with casual seating areas amid grasses and climbers; they wanted to be able to entertain with ease in an equally relaxed environment.
This seating area at their back of the garden can accommodate a crowd. It incorporates a pergola for overhead shade on summer days and bench storage for cushions.
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As well as those things you’d like to have in your garden, there are some items that are essential. A garden shed, for example, is a useful structure, as, perhaps, is some hard landscaping for seating areas and pathways.
These must-have features will need to be incorporated into your plan, so it’s a good idea to see how you can make them work within the layout.
The owner of this garden, the now retired designer, Amanda Shipman, gave extensive thought to the design and positioning of the shed to ensure it fitted into her wildlife haven. She located it against the centre of the fence to create two secluded seating areas either side. The door is in the centre of the longest stretch, so everything inside is visible and within reach. Finally, it has a sedum roof, which attracts wildlife and looks lovely from the upstairs windows.
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As tempting as it is to load yourself up with plants at the garden centre, it’s wise to do your homework first. There are a few factors that will influence the type of plants you’d be better off growing in your garden.
Firstly, the levels of sun and shade will influence what will thrive in the space, as well as the type of soil. Don’t forget your own lifestyle and needs as well – how much gardening will you be able to fit in, or want to do? A high-maintenance vegetable patch might not be realistic if you don’t have the time or inclination to tend to it frequently, in which case some naturalistic, native planting that looks after itself might be a better option.
This garden is shady, so plants that need full sun wouldn’t have been the best option for the owners. Instead, Stefano Marinaz of Stefano Marinaz Landscape Architecture chose shade-tolerant plants, such as Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’.
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One of the key things to consider in a small urban garden is whether you’re overlooked by neighbouring properties. Once you’ve decided where you’d like to site your seating areas, think about how to bring some privacy to those zones.
Place a chair to imagine yourself sitting in the area and identify where some screening would be useful. There are a number of ways to add privacy, including screens, fences, pergolas and tall planting.
This garden is overlooked by a car park, so Roberto Silva of Silva Landscapes planted Eriobotrya japonica trees in each corner to provide a screen. They’ll also help to dampen the noise coming from outside the garden.
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How will you design your small garden? Share your thoughts in the Comments.