Designing small gardens on a budget

Londoners with tiny gardens can turn them into cosy outdoor rooms on a small budget
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Designer Nilufer Danis shows how to create a big impact in a small space
© Marianne Majerus
Designer Nilufer Danis shows how to create a big impact in a small space

It's pocket-size, affordable and a pleasure all year

How much does it cost to create a great small garden from scratch? You can do a terrific job for £7,000, as landscape architect Nilufer Danis, for Landform, proved last week at the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show.

Her stylish retreat, Our First Home, Our First Garden, which included seating, raised beds, the prettiest planting and an original sculpture, was awarded a prestigious Gold Medal as well as "best" in the category of low cost, high impact garden.

'When creating a new garden, always settle on a budget first. With a little forward planning it is possible to create an aesthetic space without spending a lot of money'

"The point is to show how a young couple in a new home can make a great outdoor space on a small budget," says Danis. "In this small space of 15ft by 25ft, there's space for them to relax as well as entertain their friends. The planting is simple and easy to maintain, with evergreen shrubs and grasses among the flowers so the garden looks good all year round."

A wood-burning chimenea on a central platform, with a stash of cut logs beneath, makes a strong central focus and extends the time the owners can spend in their garden; it also doubles as a small barbecue. The walls of the surrounding raised beds are wide enough to provide seating, with aromatic herbs planted nearby so that the scents can be savoured and the foliage snipped to flavour alfresco cooking.

The hardscape materials cost just £600, and comprise recycled scaffold planks which were used for decking, the raised beds, seating and boundary fence, as well as a sunken central floor of inexpensive gravel, all giving the garden a low-carbon footprint. What gives the walls of the raised beds a contemporary edge is the way the boards are put together: laid horizontally, and spaced apart with vertical supports.

For longer life, points out Danis, they could be painted with clear preservative; for more impact, they could be stained with a plant-flattering colour such as Cuprinol's Rich Berry. Imaginatively, the planks are also cut into short lengths and positioned in vertical slats to form an impromptu perch as well as a plinth for a rusted sculpture that beautifully complements the surrounding planting. It looks rather like a giant flowerhead, but is in fact a flywheel from an old car, filched from a friend's garage.

The planting took up £3,000, but that includes a backbone of evergreen shrubs plus four established four metre-high trees to provide instant screening, costing £200 each: a sound investment. As this is a show garden, the plants used are three years old, so they look established. "Start with plants that are small, and you will save a lot more money," says Danis. "They'll grow fast if you settle them into the right site and soil conditions."

Country garden perennials such as delphiniums, daylilies, sea hollies and salvias, tempered with Alchemilla mollis and ornamental grasses, create a lively colour palette of blue, yellow and lime green in the raised beds. Golden achilleas and unusual alliums caeruleum (sky blue) and obliquum (soft lemon) will hold their flowerheads late into the year. A trio of crab apples add vertical green structure, autumn colour and a little privacy from neighbours, while the dwarf version of Pittosporum tobira — nanum — provides glossy evergreen structure and fragrant white flowers.

"Bringing big trees and large shrubs into a small space will just make it look smaller, as well as shadier," says Danis. "Keep everything in proportion."

Labour costs for this garden were £2,100, and with added VAT, the total comes in at around £7,000. "If you're creating a new garden," Danis advises, "always settle on a budget first, working out the costings. Allow for a seating area and use good materials. With a little forward planning it is possible to create an aesthetic space without spending a lot of money."

Nilufer Danis can be contacted through

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