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Garden Designs for Small Spaces

Sarah Naybour creates elegant, timeless country and contemporary urban garden spaces in Oxfordshire and London
The garden is a living work of art, and it has long been established that the mere view of plants though a window has a beneficial effect on the human psyche

A fact of modern life is that gardens are shrinking. More of us are living alone, and new houses and apartments are getting smaller. The knock on effect is that our outdoor spaces are also getting smaller. The only answer is to be more creative with what we do with those spaces. Which is where I come in!


I feel that people really need to value their outdoor space in the same way they do their interiors. When they do, they immediately extend the quality of their living space, improving their environment, as a joy to spend time in and to look at.

The key is often to approach your garden very much as an extension to the interior and another room to enjoy all year round. Once this mind-set is understood and the garden established as a design priority, just as much as any of your other living spaces, your garden becomes an asset to your lifestyle.

Modern architectural features such as bifold doors and glass walled extensions bring the garden fully into view from our sofas,

which is all positive if the garden has been carefully thought out. The garden is a living work of art, and it has long been established that the mere view of plants though a window has a beneficial effect on the human psyche, and that plants play an important role in cleaning and purifying the air of buildings and built-up environments. Gardens, for many people, may be their only point of contact with nature, apart from the weather, of course!

On a less emotional level, a well-designed garden adds value to a property and will often aid in the speed at which it sells, especially the front aspect, with first impressions having a huge impact.

With less room to play with, the design of small gardens is crucial to their aesthetic and functional success. Smaller gardens are always proportionally more expensive per square metre than larger ones, as the area adjacent to a building often involves more hard landscaping, which is costlier than planting. However, this does not mean they have to be completely concreted over or entirely laid to lawn.

Lawn or no lawn?

There is a lot of talk now about the environmental impact of lawns. They need to be weeded, fed, scarified, mown, rolled, levelled with special lawn sand etc. and in small gardens the space for storing the mower is almost as big as the lawn. When space is at a premium finding room for the mower is just one more bit of clutter to find storage for.

When suggesting designs without grass, I am often told that a garden must have a lawn because the children need somewhere to run around/ kick a ball. Take a look at a small lawn used for goal practice and you only see a muddy mess. More of a quagmire than a verdant haven. A lawn really needs a huge amount of care to look really good.

On the other hand, the children could be quite happy bouncing the ball on a hard surface – surrounded by a mix of plants of differing colours, heights, texture and fragrance, which change throughout the year. Surely a more inspiring environment?

For example, in this small garden I designed and built for a retired couple, a series of paths link two terraces on different levels and provide a fun maze for the client’s grandchildren to run around.

The planting is simple, repeated, low maintenance and offers all year colour and texture.

Alchemilla mollis and Anaphalis ‘Summer Snow’ provide low level ground cover along with Geranium wallichianum ‘Havana Blues’,

while bulbs such as Camassia and various Allium and perennials Salvia ‘Mainacht’ and ‘Caradonna’ give height and colour within a limited palette of white, mauve and deep blue.

Because it is such a small space the simplicity of the planting makes it actually look bigger and brings unity to the overall look of the garden.

Dividing a small space up with paths into planting areas and terraces makes a small space interesting and adds surprise and mystery, as well mini vistas along the different lines created by the paths.

Interior & Exterior Designs in Harmony

One of the most important design elements of designing small gardens is the architecture and interior style of the building. Small gardens are in such close proximity to the building that this relationship is of utmost importance. Working alongside an architect or interior designer is very beneficial to a seamless transition from interior to exterior. As in this garden (bottom image) where we decided to make the corner windows of the snug slide back completely into the walls, creating a window seat outside as well as in.

All the materials were carefully chosen to complement the flooring and colour scheme of fabrics and furnishings. A raised black basalt terrace wraps around the corner window, overhanging a pale sandstone path. The upper terrace is under lit to create a floating effect along the edges and a night-time feature.

The division is clear when viewed from the kitchen dining table, but the two areas are visually connected by wide red cedar panels on the walls which form support for Tracheospermum jasminoides whose fragrant little stars will fill the courtyard with heady scent in summer evenings.

This star appears again in a larger form on the small muli-stemmed, feature tree Magnolia stellata, which will flower early in the year.

The interplay of materials is important to this design where a slatted timber bench overlaps a floating basalt bench to create permanent informal seating in the sunny corner of the garden.

I hope that I have given you food for thought. I said it at the beginning of this article, and I will repeat it again at the end. Small gardens need creative and imaginative designs to get them working properly, both aesthetically and for your lifestyle.

If you would like some design suggestions for your own garden, please get in touch, I would be happy to help. Email sarah@sarahnaybour.co.uk or telephone 01865 790678.

Sarah Naybour

Sarah won 5 Star awards at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2013 and 2014, and was awarded Britain’s Student Designer of the Year by the Society of Garden Designers on graduation.

She creates elegant, timeless country and contemporary urban garden spaces in Oxfordshire and London. With a fine art background, her understanding of architecture and love of good design is a hallmark of her work.


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