Gardening: Clever design tricks for small gardens

In the Garden with Jo

Jo McGarry, Caragh Nurseries

Reporter:

Jo McGarry, Caragh Nurseries

Email:

jo@caraghnurseries.ie

Gardening: Clever design tricks for small gardens

Clever design tricks for small gardens

We may still be locked down here at Caragh Nurseries, but thankfully we are still very busy. Our online store is hopping and we do know how lucky we are. We are also occupied designing gardens, we have a good number of projects that are at different stages of design, and many that, as soon as lockdown is lifted, we are keen to get started. Then we have the couple of gardens that were mid-build before lockdown that need to be completed - so all in all it’s still a busy time, even though we are all working from home with the regular trip over to the nursery to check everything.

We have a skeleton crew at the nursery, tending the plants. Our field crew, socially distanced, are out in the field completing the last of the lifting and preparing for this year’s planting, which is ahead of schedule. Hopefully when this cold snap is over we can crack on and get that all sown so we are ready for our reopening.

When talking to one of my design clients about their small garden, it occurred to me that it is much harder to create a smaller garden than a larger one. With a large garden, you are thinking about how to break up the areas and make distinct spaces on the site; but with a smaller garden the project becomes about how to create a feeling of space whilst giving the elements that you wish for within the constraints of a smaller plot.

I had two such gardens to design this week - both with similar problems,those of being overlooked and light.

The first thing to consider with a garden design is how the space is going to be used. What's important to the garden owners? Is it a space to entertain or is it more likely to be a space for relaxation, somewhere to withdraw to?

Both the gardens I am working on are more of the latter. The first belongs to a lovely lady in her 70s who has always dreamt of a beautiful garden and is only now getting around to it now. She needs to have the sanctuary and security of a lovely space. She has a summerhouse in the garden and a very large patio but wants to put shape and purpose on the garden, and create a space to call her own where she can sit with a book and enjoy a G&T or three (her words, not mine)!

I set to work on giving her trees of interest, using some white birch planted in a three formation. Even though it is a smaller garden the principles of planting and design still remain the same. I used a row of bamboo along the bottom of the garden to screen but to also give a peaceful rustling sound and help block out unwanted noise.

Then we added a flush of gentle colours using a palette of purples through to blue and pinks, and adding balls and cones which give form within the small space and also give year round structure to the garden.

We are adding a Mediterranean feel to the garden by laying some beautiful Portuguese style tiles as paving and adding a coloured bistro set to match her summerhouse.

I remember first seeing the large dustbins that Helen Dillon had used in her previous garden in Ranelagh. She had filled them with seasonal bulbs for spring and summer - what an amazingly, beautiful idea. I have used these on more than one occasion in gardens, as it is an inexpensive way to add pots. The garden wasn’t an expensive design and I wanted to keep it within a simple budget of €4,000 in total. We did that nicely but gave my client the garden she was hoping for - and when it is completed I hope she will be just as pleased.

The second small garden was for a new build mews in the city. The brief was to make it look like it wasn’t brand new and soften the space with some planting as well as give the new owners some privacy as the plot is small and overlooked - one of the downsides to city living.

I used two types of tree planting for privacy, as I thought using just one was too much in the small space. So, firstly, a row of evergreen oaks was planted close together to give privacy - but not too close so that you can still see the form of each cylindrical head. We then used espaliered trees along the rear of the garden in beech, to give the owners good cover but also to give them a changing of the seasons. Portuguese laurel hedge was to be planted under the espaliers to again add another texture to the garden. Add a mature Magnolia to the front garden and some topiary planting to the back creates a simple white and green palette, giving a crisp but contemporary look and adding the maturity that the client requested. The garden wouldn’t fit much outdoor furniture, so two simple armchairs with footstools and a coffee table did the trick, as the glass rear of the building housed a good-sized dining table. The glass can be pushed back, bringing the outside in and using the whole space in this pretty mews.

So as you can see there are plenty of ways to create a feeling of space with just the right amount of planting and clever design. If you are having trouble with your small space or any of the issues here, then we would be happy to help, you can find more details on my website www.caraghnurseries.ie/design.