When one thinks of a quintessential British home, they might imagine a rustic, stony affair in an idyllic village. Or perhaps a red brick terrace house from a popular soap opera, or even a luxurious antiquated manor. One common feature these images will no doubt share, is a garden. From The Hobbit to The Secret Garden, there’s just something so incredibly British about having a garden all of your own.
And we do love our gardens. 87% of UK households have one. Sadly, not all of us are blessed with rolling lawns and tennis courts, especially in London where the gardens are 26% smaller on average. However, that doesn’t mean you have to make do with a boring, barren square behind your house. There are many great small garden ideas that can be done on even the tightest of budgets that are guaranteed to breathe fresh life into your home and leave you with a small oasis that will calm your soul. Or at least give you somewhere nice to drink a gin and tonic.
The first thing you’ll have to do is decide what you want to get out of your small garden. Do you want to host get-togethers with friends? Maybe a zen zone to relax after a hard day’s work? Somewhere to eat meals with the family? Or maybe you’d actually like to use it as a garden or small holding, and grow some flowers or veg. More than likely you’ll want several of these things, and compromise is the name of the game.
Avoid the mistake of stuffing everything you want into your small garden, leaving it cramped with no room to maneuver. One way of getting around this is to use multi-purpose furniture that can be packed away. Think stackable chairs and extendable dining tables that can be pushed to one side. If you have a big family, benches fit more people on than single chairs and can be stowed underneath the dining table. Extend your sitting space with cushions on low walls, or on storage boxes to convert them into funky ottomans. If you have a shed (or want one), make it pull double duty by repurposing it as a bar. Do it yourself or buy online, you’re sure to be the envy of your friends. The key is to be creative.
Once you’ve settled on how you want to use the space, you’ll want to make note of where the sun rises and sets. There’s nothing worse than being blinded when you’re trying to read, or shivering in the shade when you want to sunbathe. On a similar note, if your garden is surrounded by other houses, then perhaps some privacy would be nice. A good way to combat both these problems is with garden screening. When combined with some climbing plants, you’ll have a leafy ceiling leaving you safe from prying eyes. If you’re into growing your own veg then a good tip is to use bean plants; you’ll have the added benefit of being able to reach up and pluck your own fresh food when they’re mature.
Dividing up your small garden might seem like a crazy idea. After all, aren’t you making a small space smaller? Not necessarily. Creating “rooms” in your small garden is a fantastic way to make it seem bigger than it is, and also add some multifunctionality to it. It also gives your garden a nice air of mystery. You can achieve this with fences, large plants, hedges, or trellis. It just depends on if you’re after a leafy or stoney look. Remember to leave enough space to move between them. A central walkway using climbing plants is ideal.
Another trick to create the illusion of space in your small garden is to think vertically. First off, blur the boundaries of your garden by hiding the walls and fences. Do this by using climbing, or large, plants. If you have a long narrow garden then avoid straight lines and paths. Experiment with meandering paths that disappear from view, that weave behind bushes and trees, past flower beds and water features. A quick and cheap way of creating space is to simply hang a mirror, and it has the added benefit of reflecting light back into your garden, making it feel brighter and bigger.
If you want to grow some plants yourself, then it’s best to avoid large, round pots. They take up a lot of space. Instead, use long rectangle or oval shapes to maximise plant growth. One long container will be far more space efficient and easier to water as well. Corner planters also maximise space. If you have a wall or fence, consider a vertical garden. You could have several rows of plants surrounded by railing planters. A living wall gives a beautiful and lush feel. Use hanging baskets, which are particularly good for strawberries. Mix up colours and sizes. Layering tall plants such as bamboo with shrubs and smaller flowers brings depth to an otherwise cramped space. Texture is what you’re after.
Finally, just because your garden is small doesn’t mean everything has to be. Don’t be afraid to have one or two big things in your small garden. For example, a tree or large plant will look incredibly dramatic next to your smaller offerings. A water feature like a fountain is a perfect centerpiece and brings a touch of peace with its smooth tricklings.
As you can see, turning a small garden into something larger, more peaceful, more zen, or more productive isn’t as complicated as you’d think. You just need some imagination and a bit of hard work.