Helen has been an online writer for over six years. She is a Cardiff-based artist who loves gardens and all things botanical.
A Lovely Garden Sanctuary in a Small Urban Space
You may think that enjoying a meal and a glass of wine in dappled sunlight surrounded by birdsong and scented flowers is a luxury, but the smallest city space can be transformed into a green idyll and there is room for a small tree in the tiniest garden.
Plants are particularly important in our densely populated urban areas. They soften the hard lines of city landscapes and lift people’s spirits with their living colour, scent and movement. Planting hedges, shrubs and trees helps cut down noise from traffic (and neighbours!) and also attracts all sorts of birds and insects that are otherwise struggling to find habitats. With a bit of effort anyone can create their own little bit of heaven.
My interest in gardening became an obsession after my partner and I bought a terraced house in Cardiff 20 years ago with a south-facing garden. The main area was tiny—about 14 ft wide by 30 ft long, bounded by 5 ft high stone and brick walls with uneven ground and a fine crop of weeds. The space has gradually been transformed and is now a leafy and private paradise with a wildlife pond and a small dining area.
The garden is a source of inspiration for my paintings as well as a sanctuary and a playground for our cat! I love to sit out there with a book and the scent of the flowers and enjoy the last rays of evening sunshine. Using my own experience I have set out some ideas, guidelines and tips on creating your own garden haven.
What Would You Like Your Garden to Be?
First of all you need to decide what you want your garden to be—a peaceful place to relax after a days work, a wildlife haven, a place to entertain friends and family or all the above. Do you like hands on gardening or would you prefer it to be low maintenance? Do you need to consider the needs of children, pets or the disabled?
All these things will have an impact on how you design your garden.
- Boundaries: Are they adequate, or do they need renewing? It's a good idea to consider this at the start of your project.
- Privacy: Do you need to add height to prevent being overlooked.
- Bad views: Do you need to mask unsightly views?
- Noise pollution: A hedge will help cut down noise levels. Background noise can be disguised with the sound of trickling or bubbling water from a water feature.
- Access: To gates, sheds and bins etc.
- Soil type: Is your soil sandy or clay or something in between? This will dictate which plants do well.
- Soil pH: You can buy a cheap soil test kit from any garden centre—this will also help you to choose the right plants.
- Direction: Are you sun drenched or in shade for much of the day. Make a sketch of where the shadows fall to help you decide where to put seating and dining areas.
- Storage space: Do you need somewhere for your compost bin, water butt, refuse bins, greenhouse or shed?
- Views of the garden from your windows: Consider what you will be looking out upon from inside the house.
- Flooding: If any areas suffer from this, you could consider digging down to find out what is causing it and add a soak-away or other type of drainage.
A Garden Pond
When thinking about what to do with our small space, we wanted to attract wildlife and decided to put in a pond. Having dug down to make a hole big enough to install a moulded fibreglass kidney-shaped pond we found a WW2 air-raid shelter which took some work to dig out! Having removed most of the bricks and corrugated iron we put down a thick layer of sand to cushion the fibreglass and made sure the pond was level before filling with water. Pieces of granite found in the garden were cemented around the pond to hide the edge.
After a few days, the water had settled and we added oxygenating plants, a dwarf water lily and a couple of irises. Wildlife will soon start to colonise your pond and birds will be attracted to drink and bathe. If you know someone with an established pond you could ask for a small bucket of water in order to introduce pond life more speedily, but make sure you don't introduce anything you might regret later. It's a good idea to provide something—sticks or stones—to help non-aquatic creatures to climb out if they fall in!
- Formal or informal: Hard edges or flowing lines. Formal designs look great if you want a contemporary look, are growing vegetables in raised beds or want to use clipped box edges around flower beds.
- Garden furniture: For relaxing or dining. Consider whether to build some seating into the plan using seat-height walls to contain flower beds with scented plants.
- Edible plants: Fruit, vegetables and herbs in beds or containers. Herbs in pots and window boxes look great, while thymes and camomile can be planted in paving. A potager combines edible and decorative plants to great effect. A fruit tree will add height, attract wildlife, and make a great feature.
- Water: Wildlife pond, formal pool, spout or bubbling rock . . . there are many features available to suit all tastes.Water can add sound which may serve to mask other noise or provide a soothing atmosphere.
- Pergolas, arbours, arches: To add privacy, more seating, height and interest with climbing plants.
- Lighting: Do you want spotlights or LEDs or solar powered lamps—maybe something to consider before laying paving . . .
- Art: Placing sculpture or art in key places creates a focus, draws the eye and can add interest to an otherwise featureless spot. Clever use of mirrors can create the illusion of space. Looking for that perfect piece of art can be fun too.
Designing Your Garden
Once you have decided what elements to include in your garden, and taken all the practical considerations into account, you can sketch out where you want your beds, paths and hard surfaces. If you can, mark out these areas with a length of hose or sand in a bottle. If you are planning a seating or dining area make sure there is enough room for the garden furniture. Consider adding verticals such as arches or small trees, where
In a small space you need to make the most of every available surface. Think about planting walls with plants such as saxifraga and campanula. Primroses have naturalised everywhere in the garden providing lovely scent and colour in April. If a plant really likes your garden (and you like the plant!) go with the flow.
My garden is on the coast of South Wales in UK—an area with fairly mild winters and wet summers. Choose plants that are suitable for your particular climate, as well as taking sun, shade, water, wind and dry soil into consideration and you will be rewarded. A lot of plants will tolerate any sort of soil but some are more demanding and in order to avoid disappointment it is best to do a soil test to gauge acidity and work out whether you have sandy, gritty, chalky soil which is free-draining or heavier clay soil which can be prone to water-logging.
Whatever you have, there will be plants that love those conditions, although areas of deep shade can be challenging. If the soil is very poor you might want to improve it by adding organic matter or topsoil. We have clay soil which can get water-logged but on the other hand retains a lot of plant nutrition which can get leached away in sandy, gritty soil.
Use evergreens and trees as the bones of your design to give a permanent structure around which you can add your flowering perennials, bulbs, grasses and ground cover.
Those of you who want a low maintenance garden could choose slow growing shrubs and evergreen plants rather than perennials that need cutting back and dividing regularly, or roses that need regular pruning, feeding and dead-heading.
When choosing plants here are some things to think about:
- Evergreen plants add structure and interest all year round
- Seasonal interest from flowers, foliage, bark and berries
- Plants in containers can be used to fill areas with colour when needed and removed when not flowering. Window boxes and hanging baskets allow more colourful planting areas at height.
- Texture: Varying the types of foliage makes for textural interest.
- Scent: Use scented plants around a seating area and near the house.
- Wildlife: By using plants such as lavender, scabious and Echinacea and avoiding some of the fancy “double” flowers you will attract more butterflies, bees and other pollinators. If you leave an area untouched, (behind the pond in our garden), it will give insects and amphibians their own little sanctuary.
- Fruit and vegetables: From herbs in pots or paving to a specimen fruit tree or growing peas and beans on a wigwam, there are many options. The latter are great for children to try out their green fingers on.
- Trees: However tiny the space I believe there is always room for a small tree—perhaps a native tree—to add height, privacy, interest from bark, foliage, fruit or flowers, and a habitat for birds and insects.
Plants Used in My South-Facing Garden
Here is a list of some of the key plants I have used in my garden, pictured here:
- Pittosporum tenuissifolia “Irene Paterson”
- Olea europea—European Olive
- Hebe “Pascal”
- Ilex “Silver King”
- Clematis armandii “Snowdrift”
- Buxus sempervirens—common box
- Viburnum davidii
- Camellia—single red
- Mahonia x media “Winter Sun”
- Lavandula angustifolia
- Lavandula angustifolia “Hidcote”
- Heuchera “Palace Purple”, "Rio", "Pewter Moon" and “Marmalade”
- Athyrium niponicum pictum—Japanese Painted fern
- Lysimachia ciliata “Firecracker”
- Lobelia “Hadspen Purple”
- Ophiopogon planiscapus “Nigrescens” - Black Lily turf
- Festuca glauca
- Anemone “Honorine Jobert”
- Sedum spectabile
- Iris—various, including Kaempferi and laevigata “Variegata” in pond.
- Dahlia “Nuit D'ete”
- Rosa “Cardinal de Richelieu”
- Rosa “Radio Times”
- Lonicera peryclimenum “Serotina” - honeysuckle
- Akebia quinata—Chocolate Vine
- Clematis: Niobe, Eriostemon and H.F Young
- Rosa “Iceberg”
- Lilies—various, including Regale
- Tulips—various, including “Queen of the Night”, “Ballerina” and Bleu Aimable
- Narcissus “Mount Hood”
- Allium atropurpureum and “Globemaster”
Gardens are continually changing—that is part of their beauty. When you step out into your garden there will always be something new to marvel at. Some plants outgrow their space and some die because they are short-lived or not happy—I always see this as an opportunity to search for just the right plant to replace it! There is something so rewarding about making a garden and enjoying the fruits of your labour. Have fun creating your own private paradise and watching it evolve.
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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Isla Fanning on January 21, 2020:
Wow, really beautiful garden
Louise89 on August 05, 2019:
Really great information, thank you!
Helen Lush (author) from Cardiff, Wales, UK on July 04, 2013:
Thank you Garlic Angel and Devisree - your comments are appreciated :)
devisree from India on July 04, 2013:
A well written Hub with attractive and informative photos. I love gardening . Through your hub I got a lot of ideas. Thanks for sharing.
Christine from Dublin on June 28, 2013:
Beautiful photographs DaffodilSky and a well written hub. Thanks for sharing. Voted up and pinned
Helen Lush (author) from Cardiff, Wales, UK on June 21, 2013:
Hi Dannie - that does sound like a challenge! It is always a good idea to look at the native plants of your locality and have a look at what plants are thriving in other gardens in your area. I notice there is a Colorado Native Plant Society website, which might be helpful. As your house casts some shade on the garden, you may be able to get away with some less "suitable" planting. It would all depend on the type of soil you have too. I hope this helps :)
Danielle Schumaker from Boulder, CO on June 18, 2013:
I live in the high desert of Colorado. In the summer, temperatures typically vary from 55 degrees F (13 C) at night to 90 degrees F (32 C) at the hottest time of the day. Sometimes we get an afternoon shower but it is always short-lived; dryness is the primary characteristic of this climate. Our first snow will probably hit in September, the last in May. My house blocks some of the sun to my outdoor space. What would you recommend for plants? Is there anything that wouldn't die come September?
Helen Lush (author) from Cardiff, Wales, UK on June 17, 2013:
Thank you Danni. I think that, no matter how small the area, you will be rewarded by adding plants - and a couple of larger specimen plants can look better than lots of smaller ones. Even a small tree ( in a container if necessary) can transform the space. Or you could consider vertical planting - use your walls to suspend planting pockets - there are plenty of products on the market nowadays. Have fun!
Danielle Schumaker from Boulder, CO on June 16, 2013:
This is such a lovely Hub. I was drawn to it because I'm torn on my own underwhelming outdoor space, which would require so much work for such a small area that I'm torn on whether to do anything at all. Thanks for pushing me in a creative direction.
Helen Lush (author) from Cardiff, Wales, UK on June 14, 2013:
Thank you very much SpaceShanty and welcome to Hubpages!
SpaceShanty from United Kingdom on June 14, 2013:
Helen Lush (author) from Cardiff, Wales, UK on June 14, 2013:
Thank you - much appreciated:)
Writer Fox from the wadi near the little river on June 14, 2013:
Very well done. Your photos add so much to this.
Helen Lush (author) from Cardiff, Wales, UK on May 04, 2013:
You are welcome Kevin - and thanks for your lovely comments :)
Kevin Peter from Global Citizen on May 03, 2013:
A well arranged and beautiful hub. I have only a small space in front of my house and hence never thought of preparing a garden before. Thanks a lot for the useful information included in the hub.
Helen Lush (author) from Cardiff, Wales, UK on April 30, 2013:
Thanks Thelma and Mylinda- it's good to have your input. Glad you enjoyed the article:-)
Thelma Alberts from Germany and Philippines on April 30, 2013:
Wow! I have missed this. Congrats for the HOTD award! This is a very informative, engaging and useful hub. I like this. Voted up and more. Thanks for sharing;-)
mylindaelliott from Louisiana on April 29, 2013:
What a lovely little space. I love to decorate small spaces.
Helen Lush (author) from Cardiff, Wales, UK on April 24, 2013:
Thanks for all your lovely comments, and thanks to those that voted for this for a Rising Star - it won !! So pleased!:)
Arizona's Restoration Experts, LLC on April 23, 2013:
Enjoyed your hub very much. Good information and ideas no matter where in the world you live. Thank you for helping to encourage others to find and embrace the beauty in a not so nice world.
Anne from Spain on April 23, 2013:
Hi Daffodilsky. I already voted for you. Many thanks for the link, good luck with the award, and i´m pleased you are able to enjoy your beautiful garden at long last. All my family and lots of friends are in the UK so I know how bad the winter has been. We had a wonderful time until about new years eve here in Spain, unseasonably warm, but then we had gale force winds almost daily until now, and I do mean gale force, it was really wearing for months on end.
Helen Lush (author) from Cardiff, Wales, UK on April 23, 2013:
Thanks so much everyone for all your great and positive comments. Bac2basics I have just visited one of your hubs on a similar subject and will be happy to link up with it! The weather over here in UK has cheered up at last and I am going to be enjoying the garden while it lasts!
Today is the last chance to vote for this hub as a Rising Star if you want to... https://discover.hubpages.com/living/ Thanks :)
Gabriela Hdez from Valencia, Spain on April 22, 2013:
I loved your hub! It answered a lot of questions I had and some that I hadn't thought yet. I love the way your garden seems to have space for everything. You designed an area for wildlife, another for flowers, dining, there's even space for insects!
And congratulation on the HOTD!
RTalloni on April 22, 2013:
Lovely hub that is a superb guide for creating a small space garden that can be enjoyed through its evolutions. Congrats on your Hub of the Day award for a beautiful post!
Yvette Stupart PhD from Jamaica on April 22, 2013:
Very beautiful, and its great that you included an outline of the design elements.
Rebecca O'Reilly from California on April 22, 2013:
Great ideas and fabulous hub! I noticed you using a flower pot for an umbrella stand--great idea. I am going to try it. We live in limited space with not much of a backyard. I recently planted potted herbs, tomatoes and some flowers. Added a water fountain and suddenly an oasis.
Voted up and useful.
Stephanie Bradberry from New Jersey on April 22, 2013:
Congratulations on your Hub of the Day.
In my area, there is a part of the main city that has a garden tour. Since all the yards are really small and located in the back of each residence, it is interesting to see what they create with their space. One of the most interesting yards has a trellised apricot tree growing on the back fence.
Better Yourself from North Carolina on April 22, 2013:
Nicely done! Your garden is beautiful and all of your tips, advice and info are great and very helpful! Congrats on hub of the day!
Kathy Sima from Ontario, Canada on April 22, 2013:
What a beautiful and useful hub! I enjoyed reading it and look forward to reading more of your hubs. Congratulations on the well-deserved Hub of the Day!
vandynegl from Ohio Valley on April 22, 2013:
These are great ideas! Thank you! I like that you offer ideas for different needs, such as noise pollution, privacy, and bad views! I had all of these at my old house and wanted to build a 20 foot wall around my house!
Anne from Spain on April 22, 2013:
Hi Daffodilsky, my vote is in and my fingers crossed. Maybe you could find the time to check out some of my hubs and maybe you would like to link too, just a thought.
Kathryn from Windsor, Connecticut on April 22, 2013:
This is beautiful! I love the idea of making a garden, even in small spaces, and you set out plenty of information for planning a garden escape. It looks like you put a lot of work into this article, and the photos are beautiful! Congrats on HOTD- I can see why you won it!
SuperiorInteriors from San Diego, California on April 22, 2013:
Such a perfect Hub for Earth Day! Loved the info you've presented here and those pictures are just lovely. Thanks for sharing!
Helen Lush (author) from Cardiff, Wales, UK on April 22, 2013:
Thanks! Your comments are much appreciated. Thanks for the Rising Star vote too sflorsch :)
MelonieGilchrist on April 22, 2013:
This is an amazing article full of useful information. I don't think it even leaves room for questions about gardening with limited space! Congrats on HOTD! I look forward to reading more of your hubs!
sflorsch from Fort Worth, TX on April 22, 2013:
Beautiful! My vote has been cast for the Rising Star Award.
Subhas from New Delhi, India on April 22, 2013:
I think I am going to change the whole setup of my plants and herbs after going through this hub. You treated the subject thoroughly.
Robyn D Bera from California on April 22, 2013:
Beautiful hub and congratulations. I am just diving into the gardening world and about a year ago it became an obsession for me too. This is so inspiring! We are well into spring here in Northing California. Thanks for sharing!
Toy Tasting from Mumbai on April 22, 2013:
Hey DaffodilSky, this is a wonderful Hub. I could not take my eyes of the beautiful pictures here. Congratulations on HOTD, truly well deserved! Cheers :)
Helen Lush (author) from Cardiff, Wales, UK on April 22, 2013:
Thank you so much everyone - I'm overwhelmed! I hope you haven't been put off trying out another tree Mary615 - there are some lovely small trees out there that don't get too big and don't mind being underplanted. Thank you bac2basics for putting a link on your hubs. This hub has been put forward for a Rising Star award, so if you would like to vote for it, it would be much appreciated! https://discover.hubpages.com/living/
Comfort Babatola from Bonaire, GA, USA on April 22, 2013:
Lovely images, great hub! Congrats on the HOTD award. Well deserved.
Sally Gulbrandsen from Norfolk on April 22, 2013:
Well done on your HOTD award. Great Hub with some interesting ideas. Thanks for sharing.
Stephanie Henkel from USA on April 22, 2013:
You definitely deserved the HOTD award for this lovely hub! Your tiny garden is a gem. It's probably taken years for it to reach that level of maturity, but what a great example of what can be done in a small space! I love flowers, and try to plant them so that there is always something blooming, especially around the patio which can be viewed from our kitchen and dining table. You've given me some great ideas of plants to add that will enhance my space. Voted up and shared!
Anne from Spain on April 22, 2013:
What a fantastic hub and well worth winning HOTD.
I am living in Spain just now and have a huge garden which I created myself around the swimming pool but am soon to return to the UK and a downsize. I am planning more of a courtyard garden when I return and if it turns out even half as beautiful as yours I will be very happy indeed. I am going to link this hub to all of mine on gardening, hope that´s Ok, will also share and have voted up to the heavens too, it really is superb. You have also earned another follower. :)
Angelo52 on April 22, 2013:
Great article! It has given me a lot of ideas for enhancing the garden in the small space around my home. Thumbs up and shared.
Mary Hyatt from Florida on April 22, 2013:
This is a garden to die for!! Congrats on HOTD. I have a small garden and have tried to incorporate some of your ideas. I have a small water fountain and patio area but nothing like yours.
I have made the mistake of planting a tree that grew higher than I expected and the roots became invasive, so I had to have it removed.
Voted UP, and will share and Pin.
Ameliam Michelle from London, England on April 22, 2013:
Loved reading your hub..
lot of information.. good job.
Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on April 22, 2013:
Isn't it nice to know that a sweet garden can be yours even if space is limited?? Thanks for sharing your tips with us. This reminds me of the little garden my Aunt had years ago. The walk down memory lane was welcome.
Sending Angels to you this morning and congrats on HOTD. :) ps
Helen Lush (author) from Cardiff, Wales, UK on April 22, 2013:
Thank you cat on a soapbox, CZCZCZ, and Klavdija - your comments are much appreciated and I am delighted you like some of my ideas. Klavdija, I am sure you will one day have an outside space to enjoy and it will be well worth waiting for!
Klavdija Frahm on April 22, 2013:
Great hub, voted up. I love gardening - vegtable and decorative garden. Currently I live in apartment and all I have is some plants (orchids). I miss the garden we had back at home (when I was still living with my parents). I hope that in my future I will be able to have my own garden.
CZCZCZ from Oregon on April 22, 2013:
I loved your ideas. We have a few small areas around the house that would be perfect for trying a couple things you mention. Thanks for sharing these gardening tips for small spaces.
Catherine Tally from Los Angeles on April 22, 2013:
A wonderful hub from start to finish! I loved the personal accounts of your space transformation , the great selection suggestions, and the lovely photographs of your garden. Congratulations on earning this very well-deserved "Hub of the Day."
Helen Lush (author) from Cardiff, Wales, UK on April 18, 2013:
Thank you flourishanyway! I don't mean to make it look too simple as gardening is one subject where everyone has their own way of doing it and even when you are doing it right things can go horribly wrong! The thing is once you've got the bug it's so rewarding :)
FlourishAnyway from USA on April 18, 2013:
What a wonderfully written hub with excellent photos. You make it seem so simple.
Helen Lush (author) from Cardiff, Wales, UK on March 28, 2013:
Thanks all for your lovely comments. Here in Wales the problem tends to be too much water! There are some lovely plants available that tolerate drought that might make your life easier sgbrown. Happy gardening!
Sheila Brown from Southern Oklahoma on March 28, 2013:
We have a huge yard and I have incorporated more flower beds than I can keep up with. It gets very hot here in southern Oklahoma and I have had to cut down on some of my flower beds as I can't keep them watered well enough. (We are on well water only, I can run the well dry!) I love some of the plants I have seen here and plan on going shopping for many of them. I love this hub! Voting up and more! :)
Deborah Neyens from Iowa on March 28, 2013:
What a lovely garden space you have, and a great list of considerations for someone who wants to design their own space. Very well done hub!
Paul Edmondson from Burlingame, CA on March 27, 2013:
Wow. I loved your hub. Very cool. We have a good sized backyard, but the only place that gets sun is on the deck. We are trying to figure out how to get a garden on it.