Tips for creating a great garden in a small space

Project// Garden Room House, Architect // Clare Cousins, Builder // Provan Built, Landscape Architect // Eckersley Garden Architecture, Photography // Tess Kelly Photography

Landscape designer Matt Leacy gives his six top tips on how to make the most out of your pocket-size garden.

Urban dwellers might dream of big gardens with sweeping lawns and room for water features, pergolas and flowerbeds galore but, in reality, most city gardens are much more modest. With increasingly smaller spaces given over to backyards, and apartment living on the rise, the back garden has become a precious commodity.

Fortunately, with some careful curation, even a pocket-size garden can yield its own unique charm and become one of a home’s most used and loved spaces. Here are a few tips to get you started, including insights from Landart’s director and principal designer, Matt Leacy.

Photography // Toby Peet, Products featured// Urbanstone in Travertine, Bowral Bricks in Chillingham White, GB Masonry: Wedge Breeze Blocks in Porcelain

Shades of pale

A colour palette of pale neutrals can help create an illusion of space. Light-coloured pavers such as Urbanstone’s Travertine, and walls or fences painted white, will lend an airy sense of lightness to even the most constrained space.

That’s not to say, however, that dark colours shouldn’t be used at all. Matt says, “Sometimes dark colours can help objects recede more, which is useful when there’s a lot going on in a space.” A dark wall, for example, can be the perfect backdrop to an oversize pot or sculptural tree. So, while conventional wisdom says dark colours close a space in, used carefully, they can have the opposite effect.

Privacy, please

Plants can be privacy’s best friend and make a refreshing change from traditional fencing. Lilly pilly, Leyland cypress and bamboo all give excellent coverage without sacrificing light.

Depending on the layout of your block (and your relationship with your neighbours), there might be an opportunity to make your garden feel like part of the space beyond. Matt suggests using a hedge to camouflage a fence and installing a tiny door or decorative gate to give the suggestion that the garden continues beyond that boundary.

Layer up

Creating levels and layers in your small garden space can be an excellent way of defining the space. A sunken lawn could lead up to a deck, or a seating nook could be recessed into a courtyard.

Matt is especially interested in creating definition via texture and pattern, a trend he predicts will be increasingly embraced. “Imagine a courtyard of sawn stone with a ‘rug’ of textural pavers or cobblestones cut into it,” he suggests. Including textural variation can be a wonderful way to add interest and draw the eye.

Product featured // Austral Masonry Grey Blocks

Multitask

Make your retaining wall double as a seating area. Top Austral Masonry Grey Blocks with some timber capping or try a style of wall block that features a wider capping edge – throw on some outdoor cushions and you’ll have transformed form into comfortable function.

Size matters

While the generally accepted thinking is that small spaces call for small furniture, Matt encourages those who like some drama to choose an oversized statement piece. It’s just a matter of experimenting with balance but sometimes a large feature can make a beautifully striking statement.

It’s (not always) easy being green

The trend for vertical gardens has exploded in recent years but Matt cautions that it’s something for people who really know what they’re doing – otherwise, ask an expert. “Done incorrectly, vertical gardens can start looking very ordinary very quickly,” he says.

With water restrictions in most cities and increasingly harsh weather conditions, small-yard owners wanting to nurture some greenery will be wise to choose hardy, fleshy succulents such as cacti and even frangipani. While you wait for the hot water to come through, “pop a bucket in your shower and you’ll have more than enough water to look after sturdy but sculptural succulents”, says Matt.

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