NZ Woman's Weekly

Garden design for small spaces

Garden design for small spaces

In the past 12 years, our outdoor living area has had at least four revamps. Some were driven by necessary structural changes, others were just because I had become bored with looking at the same thing. And that’s the beauty of designing a small area – you can achieve a complete change for not too much time, money and effort.

If you don’t want to employ a garden designer, but haven’t got the confidence to go it alone, steal someone else’s idea. You’ll find thousands of small garden designs in books, magazines, on the internet and around the neighbourhood, so choose two or three that you really like, and see if they can be replicated in your space.

A word of warning, though: don’t go for a large garden design, and try to make it work in half the area. The proportions will be different and you may end up with something that just looks wrong.

Examine the structure, as opposed to the planting – it’s easy enough to substitute suitable plants once the hard landscaping is in place. Look at walls, edges, paths, paving, pools and pergolas, and set out those elements on your plan.

Limit your plant choices to just two or three colours, and no more than five kinds of plants. How many you will need of each depends on whether you intend to start small and let the plants grow to fill the spaces, or to mass plant and move or divide plants later.

If you love rhododendrons, Taranaki’s Garden Spectacular is the place to go.

I always go for pack planting, because I want instant impact, but if you have the patience to let the garden fill up slowly, you can plug the gaps with annuals in the meantime.

When you’re ready to start, mark out the edges of the space with string lines, or play around until you feel the proportions are right. If you’re juggling several elements – lawn, paved area, furniture, planter boxes, pond, artwork – it may take a bit of shuffling to get them right.

Don’t purchase all the plants at once. Aim to fill just a couple of areas at a time. You may find that you don’t need as many planted areas as you thought. When you’re halfway through the plan, you might decide a small lawn or paved area
will add a visual respite, and give your little garden the illusion of space.

Head on safari

Break out your gumboots, camera and notebook – garden safari season is just around the corner.

The Taranaki Garden Spectacular kicks off on November 1 and runs for 10 days. On November 2 and 3, Kerikeri struts its stuff as a subtropical paradise, with a selection showcasing coastal retreats and urban courtyards. Garden Marlborough (November 6 to 10) offers full-day and half-day tickets, with everything from compact designer gardens to country estates. Waiheke Island is the place to go on November 9 and 10 for real diversity. The Roses Down Under convention from November 22 to 27 promises to be a great occasion for rosarians. It’s hosted by the Manawatu Rose Society.

The Kerikeri Garden Safari showcases many examples of subtropical resort style.

Top tips for revamps

1 Design is easier when you can see everything at once.

2 It takes fewer plants to make an impact.

3 A signature piece of art or sculpture will stand out.

4 Small gardens lend themselves to being enclosed. You may not want a wall or fence, but even a low evergreen hedge will give the illusion of a secret garden.

5 If you have a complete change of heart about what style of garden you want, it’s easier to revamp when you’re dealing with a small space.

Green challenges

1 The entire garden will be viewed as a composition, and chances are you’ll be able to see the whole space at once. Less-than-beautiful elements will need to be camouflaged.

2 You won’t be able to grow every plant you love, and nor should you buy plants on impulse. “Where am I putting this?” must be your mantra.

3 Less is more in a small garden, and that applies particularly to colour. Limiting your palette will give you a cohesive look, and you can compensate by using a variety of textures.

4 Every plant will need to serve a purpose. Go for multi-functional varieties that are interesting over at least two seasons, and don’t tolerate those that underperform.

About Lee Ann Bramwell

Lee Ann wasn’t always a gardener - she lead what she terms ‘a normal life’ as a newspaper journalist and then television producer in Dunedin until the nineties, when she started moving north. Working on various lifestyle magazines in Auckland, Lee Ann eventually published her own garden design magazine, Alfresco, for 10 years.

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