Gardening in Small Spaces with Nicola Sweeting


In the third of garden designer Nicola Sweeting’s guest blogs, she’s looking at gardening in small spaces….For more inspiration check out Nicola’s Pinterest boards.

When most of us think of gardens we think of lawns, shrubs and herbaceous borders, trees, maybe a kitchen garden and plenty of space. Years ago I went to a talk given by a well- known (in the industry) garden designer on small gardens. After a while I realised his idea of a small garden was around an acre! Well, that’s not my experience.

Like many of us I live in a city, and city dwellers are used to tiny back yards, or maybe a narrow suburban plot. Problems we have to deal with often include lack of space, lack of light and lack of privacy, but, despite the problems, small gardens have their advantages. They are cheaper to create and run than large gardens, so you can consider using more expensive materials, and with a bit of planning you can achieve a lovely city oasis.

So how to approach a tiny space? Well the first thing to decide is how you want to use your garden. Do you want an outdoor room, a lovely view from a window or do you want a garden to garden in? (Yes you can have all three). Then think about your personal style and approach your garden in the same way that you would approach your wardrobe and home. Only include objects and plants that you love.
The next thing to think about is scale. Using lots of small paving and small plants with small leaves and flowers will make the space look busy. You’ll find that your space feels more relaxed if you include some large objects and plants and create a balance. Keeping your colour palette limited also creates a relaxed feel.

Lack of light is often a problem in a city garden and just as in an indoor room a strategically placed mirror will give a feeling of light and space.
There are some lovely plants available that are happy in shade so you can turn the problem into a positive. You can achieve a lovely effect by mixing different leaf shapes and textures. Japanese gardens are a good place to find inspiration for shady gardens.
The planting combination above (bottom left) by Margaret Roach includes Hosta ‘June’, Golden Japanese Forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Alboaurea’) at the back and the Japanese painted fern, Athyrium niponicum. All shade lovers.

If you like to have lots of plants don’t forget to use all of your space. Look up and use the sky as a backdrop for plants. Tall narrow plants such as bamboo will provide privacy and screen an unwanted view. Climbers trained up trellis or wires will cover the boundaries and can also be trained overhead along pergolas or wires.


Don’t just plant to hide ugly views. If you’re lucky enough to have a lovely view then arrange your planting to frame the view and bring it visually into the garden.
Most of all be creative with your small space. See it as a positive. Who needs an acre?


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