Check your garden's orientation
If you have a small garden parts of it may be in shadow for some of the day. Observe it in different lights – morning, evening, midday – and notice how the sun and shade travel across your garden. Check its orientation – where is north? This will help you decide where to position plants and where you’d like to sit at different times of the day, for an evening drink or midday shade.
Test your soil
Your soil determines what kind of plants you can grow in the ground. Check for texture – whether the particles are fine or coarse – and the pH – whether acidic, neutral or alkaline. Whatever your soil, you can always use containers to grow favourite plants that wouldn’t thrive in the ground soil conditions.
Maximise your space
The challenge when designing a small garden is finding space to fit everything in. However, developments in the technology of living walls and green roofs, folding furniture and multi-use storage benches mean maximising your space is easier than ever. Your ground area is just the starting point – make every surface work for you.
Walls, fences and sheds provide vertical space for climbers or living walls that will draw the eye upwards, obscure the boundaries and make a small garden look bigger. A large outdoor mirror will trick the eye into believing there is further garden beyond. Colour blocking – using a bold colour on a surface - will help define or highlight a feature or area.
Raised beds add a further layer of interest and bring the planting up towards eye level. They can also double as a surface – to sit on, or for perching a glass of something. Stairs or steps make a picturesque setting for a collection of containers and don’t forget the windowsill too! Using plants at different heights – a tree canopy, shrubs, perennials and ground cover - will keep the eye travelling around the space, making it feel bigger.
You can put a trellis on an existing fence or wall to extend the height or use it to divide or screen an area. A flower-filled pergola will add height and interest above eye level. A change of level, for example by putting in a step or raised deck, will give your garden more character.
Decide what you want from your garden
With these possibilities in mind, decide what you need from your garden – do you want a veg bed, a swing seat or a sandpit? Do you need a space to put the bins or something to obscure the view from the neighbour’s window? Prioritise your list because you may not be able to fit everything into your space within a coherent design and style.
Draw a plan
Now for the fun bit – with pencil and paper, draw the rough outline of your garden boundary, remembering to add the outline of the house. Identify which way faces north with a small arrow on the page. Starting with your top priority, draw an appropriately sized circle or ‘zone’. Think about how much space you need around each element, for example a garden seating area needs space around it for people to move. Once you’ve drawn your zones, give thought to the movement within and around the space and from one zone to another. Use a dashed line to represent movement in the garden.
So, does your garden design make sense? Will you be shaded when you’d like to read the paper in sunshine on Sunday morning? Do you want to carry the bins behind the shed, or could you keep them closer to the house and create something to house them? This is the critical stage – coming up with the solutions to give you the garden you’re wishing for. It may take a few attempts to reach a plan you’re happy with.