How to transform a small garden space

Designing a small garden can present many challenges.  They are often an awkward shape, shady or overlooked, and can be tricky to access. However, the design solutions to these issues can be truly inspiring and transformational.  I always enjoy designing small spaces because of the potential to really ‘wow’ clients.  Our construction teams find this very rewarding too. A well thought out garden design can positively transform the way a client enjoys a small space. It may become a quiet, intimate haven or a special place to entertain others.

As a professional designer, I know that I need to be able to justify every design decision and in a small garden there is absolutely no hiding place for the design choices made. Every detail is on show and has to be extremely well considered.  Of course, creating a place of enduring meaning – however small – enhances a home’s overall appearance and may increase the property value.  In this post, my aim is to share with you the design thinking that goes into transforming a small garden successfully.

Garden design principles that influence me when working with a small space:

  1. Creating volume and places of sanctuary within the space.  Use trees and structures (e.g. pergolas, gazebos, seating) to expand the perception of space and create defined areas.  Consider placing the main seating area away from the house a little, so that it can be surrounded by planting.  This will feel more haven-like.
  2. Avoiding narrow borders around the edges.  Pushing planting to the boundaries of the garden will accentuate the lack of space, instead keep the eye in the garden.
  3. Creating focal points.  Sculptures, vases, water features, benches – even a hammock –  all add depth and interest to a small space.
  4. Being bold with plant choices.  Don’t fill the available space with evergreens which can become oppressive if overused. Use specimen plants and underplant them with textural varieties to create long-lasting seasonal interest. Embrace the change in the seasons. Leave seed heads for the birds. Cut back herbaceous plants late and enjoy the emergent growth in the spring. Add bulbs to increase early colour.
  5. Encouraging wildlife – by planting a range of different flowering plants, building an insect hotel or introducing a bird feeder.  A garden can become a piece of performing art when it attracts birds, bees and butterflies.
  6. Using water to create a sense of tranquillity. No garden is too small for water. However, you don’t need a pond; any watertight vessel (a basin, pot, urn or stone trough) can be put to good use.
  7. Softening the boundary between house and garden.  Use planting beds along the building’s foundation to create the sense of being in nature as soon as you step outside.
In conclusion

Of course, while considering all of these design principles,  our creative process certainly isn’t about approaching a project with a design in mind and making it fit!  We always need to know at the outset how the client plans to use the garden, what is the ‘sense of place’ that they want to create and what specific opportunities or problems are presented by the location.  All of these factors are taken into account in order to create bespoke, handcrafted spaces that our clients love. We evolve our ideas and our approach to suit every individual project’s needs.

Finally, for more examples of our garden designs – of all sizes! – browse here.

This article was first published by the British Association of Landscape Industries, of which James is a Designer Member and The Garden Company is a Contractor Member. Based in Hertfordshire, James and his team also work in North London, Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire and Middlesex.

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