For small gardens and balconies, garden designer Jim Fogarty shows how to delve deep into the designer’s bag of tricks to come up with a result that’s sheer magic.
As land size is gradually being squeezed in city areas, and apartment living is becoming more popular, gardeners are on the lookout for new ways to incorporate gardens into tighter spaces. Designers use several tricks to get the most out of small gardens, and there are many ideas a home gardener can adopt to green up their little patch of outdoors.
This is the concept of reducing the scale of everything in your garden so that the extra detail makes the space feel bigger. Downsizing everything – furniture, plantings, décor – gives you the ability to fit more in. This is great for families with children, but the risk is putting too much in and cluttering the garden with too many things and colours.
The popular approach is to increase the scale of everything. For instance, instead of bricks, use large-format pavers. For decking, avoid narrow (70mm or 90mm) decking boards, and instead use wider boards as much as 200mm. Over-scaling will make you feel smaller and the garden bigger.
In most cases, the temptation with small spaces is to push the garden beds out against the walls, but you must resist this notion. In order to make your garden ‘seem’ bigger you need to be smart about how you utilise your garden beds. Deeper garden beds will actually make the space appear larger.
Keep colour schemes simple. Bright, vibrant colours will bring a garden closer to you. Softer and darker hues will push the garden away. Consider tricks of perspective when designing the planting scheme. A black fence hides your fenceline, lets your plants become dominant and makes your garden appear larger than it really is. That said, in a small space, a bright feature wall colour adds visual impact and can make up for lack of planting space.
If you are unsure about the best way to plant a small garden, a green theme is a simple way to make it seem bigger. Select plants for their foliage and keep flower colours simple, if any at all. Tall plants or trees will enclose a garden making it feel smaller, especially if you plant them around the edges. In a small area, use large shrubs as ‘small trees’ which suit the scale of the space. Bring the garden indoors using indoor plants, and extend the house outdoors. If you can somehow blur this transition then you can ‘steal’ the indoor space to make your garden seem bigger.
If you have a balcony garden, a simple solution to make over this tiny space is to plant up some pots with a collection of succulents, edibles or ornamentals. The great benefit of this approach is that when you move, you can take your pots with you.
Balconies are guaranteed to be windy and exposed year-round, and hot and sunny in summer. For these reasons, they need careful planning when it comes to plant selection. The balcony’s load-bearing ability is a vital consideration, so please check with an engineer before building a balcony garden to ensure it can take the weight of what you have in mind.
Look for lightweight materials in all your options. Timber structures and decking are lighter than solid walls and masonry paving. Aerated cement blocks weigh less than solid concrete blocks or bricks. Fibreclay and fibreglass pots are much lighter than clay or steel options.
Tip: the best balcony looks are the simplest. Stick with a simple colour and material palette and allocate a good percentage of your budget to quality, comfortable furniture.
Safety is always the priority when it comes to balcony gardens. Check with your local council for guidelines and always ensure you allow for the set back from balustrades, and ensure your balustrade complies with council guidelines to prevent children from climbing or accessing balustrades by way of climbing furniture or pots.
The use of mirrors to create the illusion that a small space is bigger than it is has been around for decades. Before you rush into installing mirrors in your garden, however, consider that whatever you are reflecting needs to be attractive or you could end up creating a bigger problem. You will also need to clean your mirror regularly for the trick of reflection to work.
Wasted wall space can be turned into attractive planted gardens using the concept of ‘green walls’. Vertical garden systems comprise modules containing a special potting mix and drip irrigation systems so that plants can grow in a sustainable environment. Green walls can be applied externally or internally to buildings.
Evergreen plants can provide insulation in winter by creating a blanket of air between the plants and the wall and also by reducing wind chill on the wall. The same applies in the heat of summer where a green wall can help to cool a north- or west-facing wall that is exposed to full sun.
As well as adding green life to walls, vertical gardens can be used as art installations. With more people living in high-rise areas, the addition of green life to buildings greatly enhances the social environment of city living as well as improving views from offices and apartments.