A bit of thoughtful design and clever planting can do wonders to a small garden. Horticulturalist Helen Young shows us how
Small garden ideas to help you make the most of your space
Having limited space does not mean your small garden ideas need to be boring. It does however present some unique landscaping challenges – how do you make a small garden feel bigger, screen your neighbours and grow food? Find practical solutions to these common conundrums below.
How to make a small garden feel bigger
Mirrors can trick the eye, making us believe a space is bigger than it is. A large mirror can bounce light around a compact, darker space, or even double its apparent size. But it’s critical to check what the mirror will reflect. Position mirrors so they reflect greenery and not just the house interior or the side passage.
Angling mirrors slightly upwards will help reflect more sky and less of people standing in front. And by concealing the edges of the mirror with foliage from climbers or pot plants, you’ll also help disguise its true nature.
Against a blank wall, try mounting a recycled door or window, with mirror fitted where there was glass, so it appears to lead into another garden space.
How to hide the garden shed
Whether it’s the garden shed, clothesline or compost, there’s often something utilitarian in the garden that we’d rather not look at. In larger gardens, a generous garden bed will conceal utilities, but when space is limited the best option is to install a screen built from horizontal timber slats or a decorative lazer-cut panel.
These panels are available ‘off the shelf’ from places such as Bunnings or specialist outdoor screen manufacturer Outdeco, or they can be ordered from specialist metal manufacturers such as Lump Studio. The pre-made screens come in a range of standard sizes, in a range of designs and are reasonably priced. They can be made from painted hardwood, aluminium, or recycled rubber.
You can soften the structure with a climbing plant such as fragrant stephanotis or star jasmine in part shade, or use ivy geraniums, Pandorea ‘Lady Di’, or passionfruit in full sun. In cold climates consider clematis or Lapageria. Alternatively, you could train sasanqua camellias, citrus, olives, or stone fruit trees in espalier style over the screen, which means growing them flat across the surface.
How to make the neighbours disappear
A two-storey house or a block of units next door can mean total loss of privacy. The most difficult situation is where you need screening taller than 3m in a space that’s very confined and narrow. A great option is a clumping bamboo such as ‘Slender Weavers’: it’s a super-fast grower and reaches 7-8m tall, but needs ample water and protection from the hottest conditions.
Alternatively, use a row of slender upright trees, planted like a hedge that doesn’t need pruning. Blueberry ash (Elaeocarpus reticulatus), eumundi quandong (Elaeocarpus eumundi) and pencil pine (Cupressus sempervirens ‘Glauca’) are evergreen, while ornamental pear (Pyrus ‘Capital’) and Prunus ‘Oakville Crimson Spire’ are deciduous. Or use a well-positioned, broad-canopied tree or two to provide good screening and additional shade where needed.
Hedges are a great option for screening up to 3m high: any taller and they are difficult and costly to prune. Most hedging plants sold at your local nursery will easily reach this height, and can be kept to say 0.5m wide, so choose according to what suits your climate, soil and aspect, and your personal preferences.
Best way to accommodate a kitchen garden
Growing food in a small space is about clever planning. Pre-fab raised beds provide ideal growing conditions to maximise plant growth – new premium soil, great drainage, no root competition, and more sun – and many come with fitted covers to protect crops from birds and possums. There’s a wide range of sizes, shapes and materials available, and they’re movable too.
Utilise vertical space by growing climbing beans, peas, cucumbers and even cherry tomatoes against a fence or trellis. Choose fast-growing crops that are small yet highly productive, such as leafy greens (spinach, silverbeet, lettuces, Asian greens), sprouting broccoli and dwarf beans. Herbs are winners here – you can pack a lot of different types into a small space and use them on a daily basis.
How to pretty up an old fence
Old timber paling and Colorbond fences might be functional but they’re not always pretty. To quickly disguise paling fences, a favourite designers’ trick is to paint them charcoal black (try Dulux ‘Domino’, ‘Monument’ or ‘Deep Ocean’). The dark colour makes them recede and is the perfect foil to make foliage colours pop.
With a bigger budget, add panels of exterior fibre cement sheeting (eg Blueboard), rendered and painted to replicate masonry walls. While paling fences always say ‘backyard’, these more formal walls create an outdoor room that’s right on the current ‘transterior’ trend.
If you have a tropical or Asian-inspired garden you might consider fence cladding products such as reed and bamboo, which are sold in rolls to fix straight onto your existing fence.