Small garden design

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One of the most important roles of the garden around the home is to provide a pleasant outlook from inside the dwelling and as gardens become smaller (a result of smaller house lots and larger house sizes) we need to improve our thinking about how we integrate planted areas within urban developments. 

We cannot simply substitute public parks for lack of green space around the home, (even though we also need more and larger green public spaces).

With clever design, you can maximise even the smallest site, creating the illusion of space and making smaller spaces appear larger.

Below are listed some common design practices to help make smaller gardens appear bigger and/or make for a richer more interesting and stimulating garden experience.

FOREGROUND PLANTING - Trees and plants in the foreground begin to create depth in the garden, rather than pushing all the plants up against the boundary fence which makes all the garden visible at once with little interest or intrigue.

DARK FENCE COLOURS - Dark greys or charcoals with some green and brown within them makes the fence recede in our minds and brings the foliage and colour of plants out towards us. Our focus shifts from the boundaries to the plants.

TRAVEL THROUGH THE GARDEN - Many parts of a garden are often not used. A garden, even a smaller one, can be broken down into garden rooms through which the user can travel both physically and within their imagination.

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HARD MATERIALS - Our houses are vast hardscapes within a small green eco-system. Filling the garden with paving or decking does tend to make for a very meagre outdoor experience.  
Use paving and decking as transitional materials if possible as opposed to ‘having a deck’. Limiting the widespread use of hardscaping materials also reduces costs quite considerably. 

ACTIVE SPACES - Gardens are active places and as designers we invest our time in developing usable active spaces within that place. The front garden is all too often under utilised for the attraction of birds, growing of veggies and kids play areas.

PLANT TYPES - The small garden, of course, requires smaller plants than that of a large garden. However larger plants can be ‘bonsaied’ into forms and shapes without letting them get to their full natural sizes.

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MAINTENANCE - All gardens need regular maintenance to do the garden design justice and grow the garden to its conceptual vision. Lack of maintenance becomes more acute in smaller gardens, weeds are more easily seen, lack of pruning pushes plants beyond their limits etc. 


Small gardens are often the most interesting gardens. The design challenges are different to those within larger gardens but the designer can still develop some truly wonderful green spaces.