How can you make the most of a small outdoor space? Think big, that’s how. Audacious moves pay off, as every garden designer will tell you.
Putting large statement plants into a compact courtyard, or installing a focal-point fireplace on a patio, will make that small space appear far larger. A pergola is the last thing you would think of placing in a hanky-sized garden, but angled from one corner to the other, it will visually stretch the space. Be daring and your outdoor space will be dynamic.
Blue-sky thinking is essential, too, especially if your garden is all on one dull, flat plane, so use the air — it’s free. By taking plants to a higher level, you raise the interest level as well. Several silver birches in the corner of a small urban patch take up little space, yet they bring in nature and set an atmosphere.
Painted obelisks will give a slim border presence as well as add structure in winter, and you could use them to grow runner beans or sweet peas.
Just one arch frames the view beyond, makes a climbing frame for year-round jasmine and you can use the apex of the arch for hanging birdhouses or baskets of herbs.
Create a journey, so you lead the eye gradually rather than whizzing it down the garden. Make paths wind and borders curve. Screens of trellis or shrubs create pockets so that you don’t see everything at a glance, but are encouraged to see what is around the corner. Keep landscape materials simple, using no more than three different types in similar shades to create a sense of harmony.
Larger pavers will, contrarily, make the space appear larger. Unite disparate surfaces and patchy brickwork by rendering and painting in one pale, light-reflecting colour — white gives a contemporary edge.
Make every inch count. Extend garden walls or fences to the permitted 6ft 6in by adding trellis panels so you can use clematis, roses and passionflower to fudge the boundaries — train them horizontally and buds will break all along the stems, giving you more bloom for your buck. Raised beds can double as sitting perches, and built-in benches as storage with lift-up lids.
Use patio walls to pin up a mirror and reflect the space, fooling the eye, or install wall planting for a vertical green garden. The back of the garden frequently fades into an apology. Give it a great full stop with a seating area or a fake door on the back wall that suggests a further space beyond.
Don’t be mean with containers. Several significant planters will have more impact than many small pots. Half a dozen galvanised dustbins, holes drilled into the bases, will lend an urban edge and each can hold a shrub or small tree, such as olive or bay. Ban a dolly mixture effect in borders and block plant with a limited range of plants and reduced colour palette, which will deliver more impact.
However small your outdoor space, make sure you can see, and savour, the change of the seasons, so avoid the route of never-changing evergreens. The snowy mespilus, Amelanchier lamarckii, is the garden designers’ tree of choice for the small-space garden because it looks lovely through the year. No space is no excuse — even a balcony can support a columnar apple tree, giving you the twin pleasures of blossom and fruit.
Meet Pattie Barron at GROW London
Hear Pattie talk about small-space gardening on Saturday, June 20, 2pm, at this year’s contemporary garden fair, GROW London, Hampstead Heath (June 19-21). For more details and to buy tickets for £8 instead of £16 at the door, visit growlondon.com and enter code HP2015.