The Bristol Magazine September 2018

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GARDENING City gardening is important environmentally, providing corridors for nature and helping to absorb carbon emissions

SMALL BUT PERFECTLY FORMED Elly West has plenty of tips for good garden design in a limited city space


ost of my adult years have been spent in London, where any kind of garden is a luxury. And even here in Bristol, a typical city garden is rarely going to be large. But while gardening in built-up areas brings many challenges – the most common being how to maximise the available space – it also creates opportunities to make a beautiful haven of calm away from the hustle and bustle of urban living. City gardening is extremely important from an environmental perspective as well, providing corridors for nature and helping to absorb those carbon emissions. And there’s a real opportunity, in a small space, to get it right and create something that’s extremely manageable and useable as an outdoor room. Most gardens evolve over time and without an overall plan, but in a small space it’s perhaps even more important to focus on a strong initial design, to create a green oasis that will bring hours of pleasure. When I’m designing small spaces, I see the same issues frustrating garden owners time and time again. Lack of privacy is probably the most common, also traffic noise, and shade cast by neighbouring properties or trees in other gardens. There is often nothing to ‘discover’ and the garden can all be seen at once. Here are my tips for good garden design in a small space...





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Think about the hard landscaping. This is what will give your garden structure and backbone and includes paving, raised beds and any fences or walls. It’s worth paying as much as you can afford on getting this right and choosing the best materials, especially if you’re only covering a small area. Less is often more, so keep things simple for a more cohesive look, and avoid mixing too many different colours and materials. Improve your boundaries. If privacy is an issue, raise the boundaries with trellis, then grow plants against them. Aim to lose the edges of your garden with clever planting. It will bring the garden in but will actually make it feel bigger, as you won’t be able to see where it finishes. Bold planting also keeps your field of vision within the garden. Add height. A pergola can make a seating area feel more private and provides extra vertical surfaces for growing plants as well. Consider adding a roof made of spaced slats of cedar or similar, which will let light through while creating a private and secluded space. Hide any eyesores. In a small space it becomes even more important to tuck away anything that’s not adding to your view. All gardens need the practical stuff – storage, recycling and so on. But bins can be put out of sight in a store, preferably with a green roof planted with sedums, and turned into an attractive feature. A shed may just need a lick of paint and some trellis fixed to it, along with a climber or two. Choose hard-working plants. Plants need to work harder in a small space, so choose them for texture and year-round appeal. Do they look good as they fade? Do they offer any winter colour or structure? You might prefer a restricted colour palette such as green and white, to avoid the border looking too ‘busy’ and make it more restful on the eye. Ditch the lawn. In a small space, a lawn can be more trouble than it is worth. Pathways leading through planting to unseen areas beyond can be more enticing and interesting than a flat rectangle of grass the size of a postage stamp. One Bristol-based couple who have definitely got it right when it