Making a basement look good is a tough call. There is little space in which to make an impact, and that space is often awkwardly shaped.
© Marianne Majerus/Design: Fiona Heyes
Plants have to combat low light levels, little air circulation and, if the basement is in the front of the house, street grime and pollution.
The challenge is to make the space as light, large and inviting as possible.
Wall space is the single asset that basements have in abundance, so make the most of it.
Paint brickwork a light reflective matt colour such as mint green, blush pink, off-white — avoid brighter-than-white — or palest dove grey, all of which will help bring a sense of space into the area, and make it a separate unit from the house.
Use the walls to pin up decorative trellises, plant pouches or even a shelf or two to hold trailing plants such as birdsfoot ivies.
In a basement, which is looked down at from street level, the floor takes on added importance — however much you gussy up the space, grimy paving will let it down. Blitz the floor with a pressure sprayer and marvel at the difference, or invest in some pale limestone slabs.
Even in a basement, you need to create a hard-working, disciplined design to make the space really work. Basic design principles for any small space or room apply: keep it simple and uncluttered; overscale rather than keeping everything dolls house-size; make every feature earn its keep.
Raised beds around two or more walls will unify the space and enable mature plants and climbers to grow contentedly for years.
If the basement is the only outdoor space you have, you will need seating, which could be built-in benches that align seamlessly with the raised beds, incorporating a lift-up seat for storing garden tools. A small circular café table with two chairs will make the space come alive.
Keep the central area open, or the whole space will look cluttered. Build up planting around the walls, as if you were creating a border.
Have a cohesive planting plan, repeating plants to create rhythm and keeping to a restricted palette of light, bright shades such as white and lemon with plenty of green foliage, which works best in poor light.
Architectural plants such as Fatsia japonica and sword-leaved phormiums will give presence; add light touches with busy lizzies in summer, Universal pansies in winter. Climbers always reach for the light, so plant summer-flowering clematis or evergreen jasmine that are happy to have their feet in the shade.
In a basement, steps are the garden entrance — so give them some gravitas, placing a planted pot on either end of each step. Installing LED lights at the base of each riser will highlight each step after dark.
Even a table topped with sheet metal, a few aluminium pots or a shiny watering can will help catch and harness any available light.
Mirrors can be indispensable in making a space look larger as well as reflecting light, but making merry with them can backfire, resulting in you looking at far too many images of yourself every time you make a move: not a restful prospect.
Either have one large mirror in a beautiful frame, or overlay sheet mirror — acrylic is weatherproof — with plain or painted trellis, to fudge reflection. This will also give the impression that there is another equally pretty garden through the looking glass.
BUY IT: THE PERFECT POT
Simple design wins every time. Posh Patio's outsize polypropylene pot is just the job to lighten gloomy basements or dark corners, and has the long, sleek silhouette to suit a modern space.
Keep the planting simple to complement. The smaller size is 42cm high, 19cm at base and 35cm diameter at top, and costs £39.99; the taller version is 55cm high by 25cm by 45cm, and costs £69.99.
Also available in urban-grey anthracite. To order, visit poshpatio.co.uk.