Small city gardens are the norm today. Previous generations could experiment with plants and designs in ample space, but our reality is one of careful consideration, great planning and coping with confined spaces.
Often small gardens are courtyards or roof gardens and you are considered lucky if you get to have both a front and back garden.
The up side to our smaller gardens is that you have more control over every aspect of them and are truly able to put your personal stamp on it. Change should not be that difficult and does not have to be overly expensive either and you can go for seasonal ‘themes’, much the same as your home’s interior.
Again, to plan and design first is vital (consult the DIY Design page for tips and guidelines). More than ever you need to consider your home’s character. Look at the style, period, materials and colours to guide you, so that you will end up with a house and garden that compliment each other. Repeat certain shapes, patterns and colours of your home in the design and thus marrying the two. Also keep in mind sections that receive enough (or not) sun and remember that small, walled gardens may have temperature extremes. Seating areas in the north-facing zones will receive ample winter sun and in south-facing ones, enough shade during summer. West-facing gardens have hot afternoons and gardens facing east receive moderate morning sun.
Good ideas for small gardens:
1) Match your home’s style, its structural materials and texture.
2) Create the illusion of a larger garden by concealing garden walls. Plant climbers on trellises and make the boundary less defined.
3) Pale colours create an illusion of more space, but if you want some vibrant colours, keep these closer to the house, especially the hot colours like red and orange. Keep the cooler colours, like blue, to the back.
4) Small flowers, foliage and plants suit these smaller scales better.
5) Add interest through changing levels and include vertical interest in the form of pergolas for instance.
6) A path that grows narrower as it leads away from the house makes the distance seem much longer.
7) Adding a mirror to the garden can literally double up your space.
8) Hedges add mystery, makes you want to see beyond and help create different ‘rooms’.
9) Get a professional to paint a trompe d’oeil mural on your boundary wall(s).
10)Evergreen plants are more important than ever.
11)Try to keep using pots and furniture of the same material throughout. For instance if you have a majority of cement pots, stick to them only.
Balconies are the fate of many a gardening enthusiast. Luckily, with a little determination and patience, you can transform a soul-less balcony into your own little kitchen- or ornamental garden. Herbs, vegetables and even fruit trees can be grown in containers - like a lemon tree, which is ornamental too. Growing a creeper up carefully positioned lattices will both protect from wind and add to privacy. A small water feature will help combat against noise and add a hanging basket or two for height interest. If you have a love for water plants, do not despair. Make your own mini-pond by using half of a prepared wine barrel. Make sure it got swollen properly and is leak-free. Fill it with water, add your plants and Bob is your uncle!
Many gardens nowadays are long narrow sites, and sadly many gardeners see no other option but two long narrow beds. You may want to divide this space into ‘rooms’. By doing this you can create separate areas for different purposes, ‘theme’ them accordingly and achieve a sense of more space. A good idea is to use evergreen hedges, low or high, to create these zones. By creating terraces around these spaces, you immediately add ‘movement’ to the whole area.
One of these ‘rooms’ could become an entertainment area. The next time you invite people over for lunch and their, or your, little ones are once again over excited and oh-so-curious about your treasured collectables, you will be grateful to go alfresco! Get some good quality collapsible furniture that can be folded and packed away after use. Getting the area around the barbeque or sitting area paved is practical but make sure it is smooth and friendly to high heels or wobbly little legs.
Ensuring a sense of privacy is another challenge, not to mention noise blocking. Our spaces are often so small nowadays that your intention may have been a relaxing hour in your garden but the outcome was listening to the neighbour’s radio. Unfortunately, only a great density of plants will make any difference to noise levels, but the visual interest will not only distract you from the noise but also make it bearable. Incorporating a water feature is a good idea due to its calming effect and can act as 'grey noise’. Trees, climbers, pergolas etc. will take care of visual privacy and these can be chosen for specific ‘rooms’ if space does not, for instance, permit tree planting throughout. Keep the sun in mind - you do not want privacy and no sun! - and make sure your tree planting is at safe distances for the roots to spread.
The romantic garden is often reasonably private because of its unrestricted mass planting, scrambling roses, nooks and crannies. However, beware, these gardens demand more maintenance than meets the eye! But then, work in a romantic space is… well, romantic! Add enough secret seating areas (ideally under a jasmine or honeysuckle pergola) to rest and daydream.
Knot- and pattern gardens can require less maintenance, apart from some pruning. They fit snuggly into small spaces and look good throughout the year with frameworks of neatly clipped hedges for cascading perennials. For many, a hedge brings forth the image of closely planted conifers. While this is certainly an attractive image, do not attempt it in tiny spaces. These cone-shaped plants will take up so much valuable space you will end up with little else. Paths of gravel or paving is often included.
When selecting plants for your small garden, remember that balance is the keyword, whether symmetrical or asymmetrical. Some owners of small gardens prefer to ‘go green’ or white. Where the whole colour scheme is controlled. This is not necessary, although very attractive, but avoid the Smartie-box look.
The aim is to create an intimate, peaceful space….
to enjoy it, use it and treasure it!