10 Inner City Gardening Tricks to Get the Most from Small Plots This YearColin Campbell-Preston
The garden is an extension of your living space and the perfect place to relax and unwind after a tiring day. It can also serve as an outdoor ‘pantry’ if you’re a keen cook, giving you fresh herbs and delicious fruit and veg throughout the year.
Of course, city space comes at a premium and if you’re lucky to have your own inner city garden, there’s a good chance that you won’t have much space to play with. People often view small gardens as a negative, but even the smallest space can be transformed into an amazing haven with a few design tricks and some careful choices.
Plant in proportion
If you were planting a large plot, you’d aim to dedicate around three quarters to open space (a patio or lawn for example) with one quarter dedicated to plants and features. This proportion won’t work in a small plot however. Most plants will grow and spread out over time, taking up more of your lawn or patio – and while this may be less noticeable in a large garden, it will be very obvious in a small plot. In small gardens, it’s important to be selective, allowing more open space than usual and giving plants extra room to grow so that the garden feels more spacious.
A large tree in a small garden will emphasise the small size of the plot – instead, choose plants with miniature proportions to create the right perspective.
The same applies to your choice of paving stones, tiles or decking – a large number of smaller tiles will trick the eye into seeing more space than is really there. On the flip side, large tiles will make the garden feel much smaller around them.
Scale down any furniture, avoiding large bulky items and choosing lighter pieces where you can see the garden through the frames.
Choose a direction
If you have a narrow garden, run the decking from side to side to make the space look wider. If you have a wide but short garden, run the decking from top to bottom to make it look longer.
We all know that objects closer to us appear larger than objects further away, and you can use this trick to create the illusion that a garden is larger than it is. For example, if you cut your lawn into two circles, making the one closest larger than the one further away, this will make the garden look longer. You can also use the size of pots, plants and features in the same way.
Use your surfaces
With small gardens, any surface can be an opportunity for planting – whether it’s a fence, the side of a shed or the house wall. Using these spaces rather than overcrowding limited ‘floor’ space will make the garden feel less enclosed.
Half hanging baskets and flower pouches are a great way to create flower displays without taking up valuable room.
For a cheap and easy herb garden, fix a household organiser designed to hold shoes and accessories to a fence or wall. The pouches are perfect for creating an herb garden or holding pretty flowers. Be sure to create a small drainage hole in each pouch to allow excess water to run away.
You can also use a hook or screw and some wire to attach any jar, pot or container with an adequate rim to wherever you have space for a display.
Choose varieties of plants and vegetables that like to climb and use trellising to encourage upward compact growth. This not only saves valuable space but also keeps your harvest fruit and veg off the ground and prevents it from rotting. Consider tomatoes, pole beans, cucumber and squash – all plants that work well with trellising.
Create a hideaway
Creating a partly hidden secret area in the garden can help trick the mind into thinking the garden is larger than it really is. This might be an arbour that leads to a seating area hidden from view. Or, in a really tiny garden, simply plan the border so that it juts out in places, visually blocking the border behind. This simple trick will fool the mind into imagining that there is more garden beyond what you can see.
Make a pallet planter
Pallets make great upright planters and you can often pick them up for free from furniture shops, supermarkets or Gumtree. Taking up so little room, they are perfect for making a herb garden or a lovely, colourful rustic display of cheery annuals. Staple a double layer of weed control fabric firmly around the back, sides and bottom of your palette, putting plenty of staples in to make sure the soil doesn’t escape. Lie your palette flat and plant the top first, packing the plants in tightly. Then, pour potting soil into the rest of the palette, ensuring it is packed firmly and completely full. Next, plant the remaining gaps. Leave the palette lying flat for a couple of weeks to give the plants chance to establish (watering as needed) – then stand it up against a wall. Water and feed as usual.
Where space is at a premium, vertical displays work really well. Look for tall, thin containers that allow you to plant at multiple levels – or make your own. Buy a selection of terracotta pots in varying sizes, large to small – making sure that the sizes are not too similar. Take a thick cane or dowel rod and push it through the bottom hole of the largest pot. Fill the largest pot with soil to about three-quarters of the way up (the weight of the other pots will push it down). Then put the next largest pot on top, threading it onto the cane or dowel, and again fill it to about three quarters with soil. Keep going until you have a tower of about five pots. You can then plant around the edges of each layer and plant some lovely trailing flowers at the top to finish the display. Cut your dowel or rod so it isn’t visible.
Garden structures – pergolas, arbours and arches – all provide hanging space and opportunities for yet more delightful plant or herb displays that don’t take up any room. Hanging baskets are the obvious choice of container, but hanging lanterns also make great quirky pots for plants – with a loop already attached, ready to be strung up. Alternatively, string up a thin rope and loop it around any available container for a cheap, quick hanging display.
We’re used to incorporating mirrors in the house to create a sense of space but there’s no reason why you can’t use them in the garden too! Well placed, a mirror will reflect an area of the garden, creating the illusion of more space. Try to position the mirror so that it blends into the background, covering the edges with foliage so it looks as natural as possible.
Similarly, shiny surfaces can help to create a sense of space. Metallic pots, planters and furniture will all help to reflect what is around them rather than cutting into your field of vision.
At Capital Gardens, we stock everything you need to make the most of inner city spaces. Head to one of our three store locations to find all the essentials for your small plot.