The earlier parts are the 3 posts immediately before this one, and can be reached by clicking on these links ...
Part 1 - introduction to why small gardens need designing;
Part 2 - lose the boundaries, borrowed views & landscape, using 3 dimensions;
Part 3 - keep it simple, maximise space usefulness, optical illusions;
Part 4 follows - keep it interesting, growing for the table and utility issues.
7. Keep it interesting:
A garden space planted entirely with unchanging, neatly clipped, evergreen hedging can be a tranquil place to relax, but it will lack the seasonal changes which I think bring vitality to a garden.
A very small garden may not be able to sustain too many changes in form – rounded, conical, arching, cylindrical, horizontal-tiered, vase-like, etc – without becoming too “busy” and seeming cluttered, but changes of texture and leaf colour can add enough variety to ensure it’s not a boring space. Restrained use of flower “fireworks” and foliage changes can create seasonal highlights that keep the interest going.
If you’re using a small tree, try to get value from it with blossom, leaf colour changes and berries – take a look at Amelanchier, Sorbus or Euonymus – or try one with interesting winter bark, such as the Paper-Bark Maple (Acer griseum). Click here for more information on keeping your garden interesting through the winter.
A tree will also provide food and/or habitat for wildlife to add interest to your garden, especially if you allow some of the “hidden corner” beneath it to be old branches, dry dead leaves, or a “bug hotel” made from old bricks, straw, branches, etc contained in some wire or plastic mesh. These will certainly help support insects, birds and maybe frogs/toads or a hedgehog. This year is the International Year of Biodiversity - my post on this explains more about the importance of gardens to wildlife, and how to attract it to your space.
Don’t forget the value of the view out to your small garden from indoors – especially the night-time view, where “nightscape” lighting will be much more economical to achieve than in a larger garden! Click here for more information on garden lighting.
8. Growing for the table:
A small garden is unlikely to give you scope for a regular vegetable garden, but you can still produce some food – espaliered fruit (apples, pears, cherries, kiwi) grown against a sunny house wall; dwarf fruit trees in patio containers (peaches or nectarines); window-ledge containers for herbs, salad crops or stir-fry leaves; potato barrels, strawberry planters or tomatoes in hanging baskets.
9. Utility issues:
Practicalities also need to be considered. Unless it’s a small front garden we’re addressing, you’ll probably need a washing line of some kind. Rotary lines are economical in space and can be removed out of the way when not required. Another discreet option is a retractable pull-out line with the spool fixed to the house wall and the extended end hooked onto another wall, well-fixed post, or (perhaps) a strong tree branch.
Waste bins / wheelie bins may need to be accommodated, but could be out of sight behind a hedge or trellis screen.
A compost bin is still a good idea, even in a small garden. If there’s not space to hide a conventional bin (ideally, a timber structure with air gaps rather than a closed plastic composter) there are ornamental “bee-hive” types – just Google “bee hive composter” for retailers.
Unless your garden planting is exceptionally drought-tolerant, plants will need watering in hot/dry periods, especially those in containers & hanging baskets. This is much less work in a small garden! A small garden also makes it very easy to include irrigation for patio containers/planters, hanging baskets and inset borders using a solid-walled hose from the water source taken around the periphery, with smaller tubes punched into the hose taking water to adjustable micro-sprinklers in the pots. These drip-irrigation systems from “Hozelock” are readily available at garden centres and DIY stores, are relatively inexpensive, and can be easily automated with a battery-powered timer at the water tap. Even better, but more expensive, are automatic solar-powered pumps attached to rainwater harvesting butts, such as “WaterWand”.
For collecting rainwater in a smaller garden, there are unobtrusive wall-mounted slimline butts such as the “Prestige” from waterbuttsdirect and others.
That’s the end of my article on designing a small garden - you can reach the other parts via the links at the top of this post, or by scrolling on down through my blog.
If you’re inspired by these ideas to have a more adventurous attempt at designing your small garden – great! If you’re daunted by it and would like some professional help click here to get in touch!