Typically, London gardens are small for those who are fortunate enough to have an outside space. But what is a small garden? So many of my clients are very conscious and apologise for the size of their garden before I even get past the front door. Often I am overwhelmed by the large open space that I am greeted by as we approach the rear of the property.
After establishing just how big the space is when we roll back the trampoline and clothes dryer we start to get to grips with what the space will be used for and why the relationship with the garden fell apart in the first place. A garden overhaul is often the result of a new chapter of life. Last week my clients had realised that they had an empty nest and selling up and moving on was not in their interests. The children were either at university or were away travelling and the clients could reclaim the small garden for plants and relaxation after years of ball games and den building. Typically, the London garden had the following features:
- Large amounts of dry shade from the neighbouring London plane tree
- Sentimental refugee plants in cracked and undersize pots
- 3 different types of fence panel
- A neglected grassy area (originally laid as a small lawn)
- A good range of semi-mature shrubs and roses
If experience is anything to go by, the clients and neighbours will be on top of the tree pruning every 3-5 years. The tree is a precious resource in the city and will be going nowhere. It also provides a huge amount of privacy from the Victorian terrace over the rear fence that has been split into apartments. My designs are all about selecting plants for the type of situation and designing around existing features, finding solutions and maximising potential. The sentimental plants will be incorporated into the new scheme where possible. One in particular, a Syringa Vulgaris from the clients old neighbours who moved away will be planted in the front garden where the conditions will allow it to thrive and take shape gracefully over the next few years. Most of the fence panels are mismatched which makes the boundary look busy and appear smaller than it actually is. The fence on the right hand boundary has been neglected because the property has always had short term tenants and a mysterious landlord. On the left hand side the fence is new but stark after being replaced by the neighbours who the client gets on well with. The rear fence is weak but owned by a neighbour with strong opinions that the client should not replace it. The rear fence also supports an old rose that is woody and sparse but will get a good prune and a second chance. It has been agreed that as the clients are keen to create a more contemporary garden design, the option of horizontal batons will cover the boundaries on all sides with new supports for the older fences, creating the modern look desired and avoiding any disputes or dragged out boundary enquiries with the neighbours. The neglected lawn area will give way to very elegant buff sawn stone that forms part of a small terrace and stepping stones through a woodland glade style planting of the following amongst many others:
- Convallaria majalis
- Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’
- Hosta ‘Halycon’
- Digitalis purpurea ‘Alba’
- Mixed ferns
- Dicentra spectabilis ‘Alba’
The existing shrubs including Viburnum, Mahonia and Pittosporum will be pruned and thinned where required. They are good structural features in the planting and although it will take time to work around them during the landscaping, the root systems are well established in the dry soil and it would be hard to establish mature specimens from the nursery. Using some of the existing features in the small garden design will also stretch the budget as well as give an established and mature feel to the new garden design. So what is a small garden? The example above was in my opinion, a very healthy 8m x 10m. When all of the features and recommendations by Garden Club London are completed, it will look bigger and it will be used more. The clients will not be ashamed of the size but eager to invite their friends in to the new space. My ultimate definitions for a small London garden are:
- A garden that struggles to accommodate your needs.
- A garden that fails to meet your lifestyle expectations.
- An outdoor space that is badly laid out and rarely used.
If you are have been affected by any of the issues in this small garden blog post then please call or email us for help!