Thursday, 1 July 2010

Designing a small garden - part 2

This is the second part of my thoughts on the design of small gardens.

The other parts can be reached by clicking on these links ...

Part 1 - an introduction to why small gardens need designing;
Part 2 follows, covering lose the boundaries, borrowed views & landscape, using 3 dimensions;
Part 3 - keep it simple, maximise space usefulness, optical illusions;
Part 4 - keep it interesting, growing for the table and utility issues.

Following on from my introduction about why small gardens still need to be designed, here are my first 3 guidelines for anyone who wants to do the design themselves, or to understand some of the thinking that a professional designer will do for you:

1. Lose the boundaries:
Some people think that having borders planted with medium-tall shrubs would “shrink” the available space and feel claustrophobic, but such planting can hide the walls / fences so that the boundary no longer exists – and if there’s no visible boundary your imagination will let you perceive the space as being bigger, not smaller. This can work particularly well if your neighbour (on the other side of the wall/fence) has planting which is taller than your own ... which leads on to ...

2. “Borrow” outside views & landscape:
If there’s a fabulous view outside your garden, you don’t need me to tell you it's OK to break the first guideline and not to hide it – instead, you can organise planting & features to minimise the barrier (fence, etc) between your space and the view, and to “frame” the view to enhance the feeling that it’s part of your visual space. In the classic large estate gardens, the usual device for separating the formal gardens from the pasture land or deer park beyond was the “ha ha” – a wall which is at ground level on the viewing side (formal garden) but which is at the edge of a ditch on the pasture side. You probably won’t be able to do this, but the principle of a near-invisible boundary could be achieved with basic post and wire mesh fencing.

Of course, great views don’t have to be the rural idyll – cityscape views can be sensational too – especially if there’s some interesting architecture, maybe a river, bridge or city park, or even some kinds of industrial architecture to look out on. After all, that’s one of the reasons why rooftop gardens are popular with city dwellers.

If you’re part of a suburban estate, with nothing worth looking out on, your “views” will need to be within your garden space and you’ll probably want reasonably high walls or fencing for security & privacy – but you may still be able to “borrow” bits from outside your space.

Does your neighbourhood have trees that you can “adopt” by visually linking them to your plan? Concealing the boundary fence using shrubs or small trees within your garden to sweep the eye up to the neighbouring trees will bring them into play as part of your scheme.

3. Use 3 dimensions:
As just noted in guideline 2, pay attention to the vertical space.
Use a small tree (or, if space permits, a group of small trees, or a multi-stem tree), with under-planting, in as deep a border as you can make, to gain maximum use of planting space. With the exception of very thirsty trees such as Poplar and Willow species (which are far too big for a small garden anyway), a tree that’s of a size to be in scale with your garden is unlikely to cause damage to modern 1-metre depth foundations – but, if you’re concerned about the proximity of a tree to your house or garage, get some professional advice from a qualified designer, tree surgeon or tree nursery.
If a tree isn’t possible, use pergola or screens to support climbing plants, to add a shady spot or to create depth through the light and shade patterns. Make use of tiered pots or planters to gain height and attention for smaller plants.

Please scroll through my blog for the other parts of this series, or use the links at the top of this post.

Thanks for dropping by!

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