Making the Most of a Small Plot

Many modern houses stand in a relatively small plot, which can pose a few challenges when it comes to producing a garden design to make the most of the available space.

Since many new-build developments leave bare soil, all the landscaping work is entirely down to the first owners, but the good news is that this leaves them with a tremendous degree of freedom to allow them to achieve exactly what they want.

Whether or not you start with this kind of a blank canvas, or have inherited a small but uninspiring garden from the previous owners, there are plenty of ways to make sure you get the best out of your plot.

Careful Planning

The one thing that landscape design for limited amounts of ground does demand is careful planning; having only a small amount of space to work with makes it essential to think things through very carefully before you begin. One of the most important things to take into consideration at this stage is how you intend to use your garden – and what features you consider to be absolute “must-haves.”

Once you have decided on the larger essential elements – such as a patio, a shed or a pond – that your plot needs to accommodate, then designing the rest around them becomes easier.

Planting Schemes

A small garden imposes its own limits on any planting scheme, but there is no reason why even the most restricted of spaces should not be able to enjoy any of the features of its larger counterparts, with a little care in their selection.

It is often said, for example, that trees have no place in a small modern garden. However, though many kinds – especially native broad-leafs – do grow far too large to ever be contemplated, there are many smaller varieties which will only make 20 feet (6m) or so, which makes them ideal candidates.

Even if your plot really can only offer a home to a single specimen, there are still plenty to choose from and nothing beats a tree as a focal point in the overall design. Suitable varieties to consider include Japanese maple (Acer palmatum), rowan (Sorbus) and snow gum ( Eucalyptus pauciflora), though perhaps the best of the lot is the Japanese crab apple (Malus floribunda). This offers a long period of seasonal interest, starting with a wonderful display of red buds, which bloom into a show of pink-white flowers before finally setting a crop of yellowish-red fruits in the autumn.

For the small garden, it is especially important to concentrate on an overall theme if the whole effect is to work. If you choose as many different types of plants as you can, then rather than making your garden seem expansive, the end result can tend to emphasise how small it really is – so pick a style and stick with it. Developing a series of repeated elements which reinforce the colour, texture or form of the design makes everything look planned and can fool the eye into believing that the space is far larger.

By the same token, resist the urge to stuff every available inch of soil with plants; every garden benefits from a few low-key areas to give the rest of the scheme a bit of contrast and this is especially true when space is limited.

Adding Features and Points of Interest

Small plots need features and focal points just as much as large ones – though they do often need to be selected more carefully if they are to work to their best. Whether you are planning to include a water feature, pergola, ornament or statue, as a quick visit to almost any garden centre will soon reveal, there are plenty of different types available, many of which would be at home in the smallest of gardens.

However, like the planting scheme, it is best to concentrate on one, or perhaps two ideas, rather than trying to shoe-horn everything and the kitchen sink into a small area. Too much will make the plot look cluttered, but get the balance right and your additions can make your garden seem very special indeed.

There is no escaping the fact that getting the best out of small plots can be a challenge, but with careful planning, a clear idea of how you intend to use your garden and what particular features you want to include, it is by no means an impossible one. It may take a little effort to translate your ideal vision into practical reality on the scale of a pocket handkerchief, but it is certainly worth taking the time to get it right and create a garden you can really enjoy.