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When updating smaller outdoor spaces, it can feel a bit daunting knowing where to start but if you think micro and macro at the same time, you can make small changes that have a huge impact. I always like to incorporate colour into a garden, beyond the obvious in flowers, as it has such a dramatic effect on mood. Colour painted onto vertical or horizontal surfaces adds depth, while the addition of textures and different materials have massive payoffs, too. There are lots of options, and here are some top small garden design ideas to help you on your way…
Don’t be afraid of colour
I do love a painted wall, fence or shed. In fact, any painted surface can enliven a space. While whitewash is safe and does make space feel airier and bigger, neutral tones can also give you the same result. Is there a colour you associate with a memorable holiday? Or do you have a signature colour in your home that you could extend outside? Light hues and dark colours will both work, depending on how they play with the natural light and what effect you want to create. Push the envelope. One of my clients chose a tangerine colour for a south-west facing wall; it was stunning and ignited the whole garden, even under grey wintry skies.
Create a cosy seating area
Is there a spot where you love to sit? Does it catch the sun at a particular time of the day or afford a pleasing view? Well, why not make the most of that spot? It pays off to find the perfect seat. Depending on the size of the space you might go for something bespoke or a bench, bistro café chair, or folding stool. Think about what you do in that spot. Do you just perch for a coffee, get cosy to read a book or do you work outside? The ergonomics of the seat should match your time spent there. And again, think about adding colour.
Choose focal plants
A focal plant is a critical element in good design and achievable even in a small space. A smart place to start is choosing between fruit or foliage. With fruit trees come delicate spring blossom and many varieties are suitable for container growing. Buy good tree/shrub peat-free compost and a pot proportionate to the plant, eg a 10L plant in a minimum 40cm pot, giving you about two to three years’ growing room.
Or, maybe you lean towards strong architectural form; fatsia japonica (castor oil plant), canna lilies and Chamaerops humilis (dwarf fan palm) all make bold statements. Fatsias and Chamaerops do best in semi-shade and are fairly easy to grow. Cannas thrive in full sun but need to be watered, deadheaded and fed regularly during the growing season. If you do this, you will be rewarded with a stunning display, comparable to a piece of art in your garden. Equally eye-catching and bold in another way is the twisted red willow (Salix erythroflexuosa). You get high contrast pea green leaves and red stems that stand bare during the winter and glow in the sunshine.
Get creative with containers
If the specimen plant isn’t your thing, why not try a group of three pots of different sizes with the same colour, design and material. This can really animate a space, no matter how compact. Don’t go too small with the containers as this will weaken the effect. Plus, the larger the pot, the slower it dries out.
Choose plants in sympathy with the pot shape – bowl shapes look good with dutch irises, tulips, primroses or any spring flowers. Cube planters go well with bushier shrubs like hebes, fuchsias and large ferns including our native Polystichum. For ornamental grasses, check out the Carex genus with its evergreen and deciduous range. Large urn-type pots look good with cascading flowers like petunia, ivy, bacopa or frothy foliage like heucheras. Have fun experimenting.
Make the most of older materials
Of course, not everything needs to be bought. Who doesn’t love the feeling of repurposing something and giving it new life? Depending on your aesthetic, any container can be recycled as a plant pot, just remember to punch in drainage holes. I particularly like those 20L metal oil tins – perfect for that shabby chic look planter.
Pallets can be upcycled and made into raised beds or turned sidewards and used to hang small pots on – maybe kitchen herbs if you’re really short on space. If you have old bricks knocking about, you could build a small barbecue or firepit. All of these ideas are ways of making your small space work best for you, proving that small doesn’t have to be limiting.
Don’t rule out a pond
We all know the benefits of encouraging wildlife into our gardens and having a pond, no matter how small, will exponentially increase the number of organisms in your outdoor space. You can make a pond from the most common of materials, even a washing up bowl. Take care where you site it, though – it needs around five hours of sunlight daily. There are loads of instructional videos out there and the RSPB has a simple-to-follow guide. Give it a go! Spring is the perfect moment to create a pond and watch as it evolves.
Find out more about Flo Headlam’s work HERE.