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Small But Perfectly Formed Gardens

Your Weekend, The DomPost &, Fairfax Media, 19 September 2015

Who says you need loads of space to have a good garden? These compact gardens prove that you can fit just about anything into a small outdoor space, if you’re clever – even a pool.

Who says you need loads of space to make a good garden?

Old French street lamps and a row of pleached limes planted hard against the wall create an uncanny sense of distance in a space that's actually no more than six or seven metres long. Photo: Sally Tagg (and regretfully, this beautiful garden was not designed by HEDGE but we love it!!!)



A strong design concept is the key to making the most of a small garden, says Rachael Matthews of Hedge Garden Design & Nursery.


"Clean lines and contemporary landscaping, green structure, and foliage lend themselves to a peaceful harmonious garden," says Matthews. "When you get home from work, you want to step into your private sanctuary when you go through the gate."


Create structure with solid materials such as timber, concrete and stone in strong geometric lines. Draw the eye upwards with a tall, narrow sculpture and add unexpected furniture such as a hanging chair or a round, covered day bed for two.


Think layers, says Matthews. Layers add depth and lushness; and you can use walls, airspace, soil space, and garden edges to create many layers within a small space. With walls, you can add textures, paint or stain, framing, climbers and espaliers. That's four layers in 100mm deep space.


If you've always wanted a swimming pool, there's no reason to dispense with one just because you've got a small space; a plunge pool is great for cooling off on warmer days and is a clever way to use the run-off from a water feature.




Choose pots and planters wisely. Lots of small pots will look cluttered, plus their soil will dry out quickly in summer. A few large planters will have more visual impact, hold moisture for longer and will make the space feel bigger.


Troughs or tall narrow pots take up less room and will not intrude into precious seating areas. Stylish containers made of lightweight materials are essential for apartment dwellers. Look out for glass-reinforced concrete, fibre cement and even reconstituted rubber made into sleek eco pots.


Fill pots with potting mix that contains water-retaining granules or add more environmentally friendly pea straw pellets that swell on contact with moisture and retain it. They also attract worms, which somehow magically arrive in pots, even several storeys above ground level.

Use evergreen shrubs to create year-round structure. Shape Buxus "Green Gem" or Pittosporum "Golf Ball" into balls, cones or something more original.


Contrast this with looser, flowery planting that will add colour and life to your outdoor space and provide nectar for bees. Grow for your kitchen, too. Salad greens, herbs, "Tiny Tom" tomatoes and other edibles can be managed in a trough.




Start small; planting one mixed punnet of lettuce every couple of weeks is more than enough to start with. You can simply squeeze in vegetables among other plants if need be.


Make sure that you use each plant to best advantage, says Matthews. "I don't think of fruit and vegetable any differently to other plants. They need to fulfil a design purpose first, and then they have the added bonus of being edible."

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