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Small Spaces & Garden Rooms

Editor Sally Butters, NZ House & Garden Collector’s Edition, 2015

With careful planning and an eye for detail, a pocket-handkerchief sized plot can be beautiful, easy care, intimate, and even productive.

With careful planning and an eye for detail, a pocket-handkerchief sized plot can be beautiful, easy care, intimate, and even productive.

Trying to achieve too much in a tiny area can result in a dilution of the overall effect; pare down the design and assess what you need.


Designing a small garden can be a challenge: when space is confined there is less room for error or untidiness – nearly every detail counts and it’s difficult to camouflage mistakes. But there are also benefits: the limit on size makes the whole task easier to deal with, maintenance in smaller gardens is generally less, and it’s easy to create a feeling of intimacy. A lack of space can also provide an opportunity for creativity and lateral thinking, which can bring extraordinary results. Often it’s possible to turn perceived short comings into incredible attributes.


Like all gardens, small gardens need a plan. Many who have been there through the process stress the value of getting a professional on board. Unless you know what you’re doing, paying for a landscape designer is usually money well spent and can save you headaches and costly mistakes down the track. The nature of small properties means that small garden is often an extension of the house itself. The most successful designs are those where the inside and the outside flow together, creating extra living space. In order to achieve spatial harmony, it is important to consider the style of your interior as well as the views seen from inside, when planning your garden design.


When considering views, don’t overlook the potential of what lies beyond your section – perhaps a glimpse of the seaor a rolling landscape. Often it’s possible to “borrow” a view by structuring things so that it appears to blend into what’s on your side of the fence. And remember that a small garden doesn’t necessarily mean small plants. All gardens need variation in scale and there is always room for trees. Form and proportion matter the most when deciding what will work best.

Small Garden Tips:


  • Make boundaries and fences melt into the landscape by keeping them green with hedging, rows of trees, or climbers scrambling over them.


  • Choose trees that are light rather than heavy in form, with open branches or dainty leaves, such as kowhai or maples.


  • Keep planting and garden structures around the perimeter and avoid filling up the centre which will clog and close in what space there is.


  • Ring the changes with pots planted with annuals, vegetables or anything you fancy, so you don’t get bored looking at the same plants.


  • Be sure to include garden furniture – tables, chairs, benches, perhaps a fireplace – so the outdoor area becomes a useable extension of your indoor living place.


  • Consider how plants will look year round and avoid any that go through lengthy periods of looking straggly.

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