Small Garden Makeover

Considerations in Planning My Small Garden Transformation

Not everybody has the luxury of having a big enough garden to relax, entertain, have a barbecue, or simply exercise their green thumb to satisfy the pleasure of being surrounded by beautiful and colourful planting.

Like many proud owners of an Edwardian terraced house, I am part of that group which has to make do with a small outdoor space, where the prospect of practicing my most primitive pastoral desires are very limited.

While for a few years after I moved in, I concentrated in improving the indoor space, I recently felt the need to venture into the confined outdoors to satisfy a wild craving for a visual as well as a practical creation, which could complete and be a continuation of the rustic cottage living concept I recently achieved indoors.

The relative space I could work with, undoubtedly constricted and provoked my imagination. Yet, at the same time, it stimulated and challenged me to stretch my perception of space to be able to understand what I could accomplish and how. To contemplate, understand and exploit the room I had available to its extreme and to provide me as a result, with a design, which not only ticked all the boxes, but also gratified me for just being there.

And going back to "ticking all the boxes"...well...there were lots of boxes to tick!

A brief selection of the aforementioned is as follows:

  • Provide effective screening from nosey neighbours
  • Allocate space for al fresco dining
  • Dedicate shed space for bicycles and camping equipment
  • Create room for log storage
  • Accommodate potted herb garden and small green house for small chilli production (one of my many passions!)
  • Address some space for a large barbecue
  • Give plenty of room for trees and more tress...and flowers and more flowers...
  • Allow enough space for a small bistro table in front of the french doors in the kitchen (see my previous article Kitchen Remodelling—From Basic Design to Small Scale Luxury).

Considering that my back garden measures L7m x W5m plus a side return of L4m x W1.2m, it was obvious from the start that to accomplish and gratify all the listed requirements presented an indisputable challenge.

So, how did I do it?

Finished Makeover
Finished Makeover

Perception of Space and Ground Preparation

Needless to say that first of all I embarked into an in depth and exhausting internet search, trying to find a way to organize my tangled ideas into a realistic yet effective solution. Also, needless to say, trying at the same time to practically approach the design without being side tracked by pretentious developments.

What I was working with was neither glorious or exciting, therefore I needed to perceive the space in a certain way, forgetting the negative visual impact of what was in front of me while concentrating on the possibility of a completely different setting.

Before Makeover

Back garden, west view.
Back garden, west view.
East view.
East view.
Side return before makeover.
Side return before makeover.

First of all I was faced with the problem of having a very large shed, which I previously used as a workshop, but that was now downgraded to an extravagant storage area.

As listed above, I still needed some sort of outbuilding to provide housing for bicycles and camping equipment, but surely I could make do with a smaller establishment!

Luckily, being a woodworker, I had the knowledge and the experience to recycle the existing shed and transform it into a more appropriate shelter.

I dismantled it and rebuilt it on a smaller scale to fit its new purpose and free some valuable garden space.

Unfortunately there was very little I could do with the side return.

A small brick built cabinet along the wall could still be valuable to store various small objects and most of all wine bottles and beers! Nevertheless I improved the fencing and gave it a new lick of vintage willow paint and employed a plumber to move the tap on the wall in front of the shed...I had a few ideas for the entrance of the side return and the tap was in the way....

At this point I finally got to do the fun work. Working down my long list I first started tackling the most important bullet point of them all: create some effective screening to protect my privacy and sanity from nosey neighbours.

Planting to Exploit and Maximize Available Space

Plants are not only a beautiful and relaxing visual solution but also and most importantly, when living in a residential area, a wonderful alternative to fencing or brick wall partition.

My side return unfortunately runs along the ugliest lean-to one could ever imagine. A lean-to, which is also unfortunately used for hanging my next door's washing.

Needless is to say that while I am enjoying a meal outdoor with the family, I certainly do not want to be looking at my neighbour's underwear.

This is why my first priority was to find a way to hide and screen this monstrosity, ensuring, at the same time, a successful, although purposely designed, planting element.

And what a better plant than bamboo could have I used?

After Makeover

Side return bamboo screening.
Side return bamboo screening.

Bamboos are not only evergreen, but they also grow at a very fast rate and provide a generously thick wall of wonderful intricate leaves, which gives you total enclosure.

Of course my bamboos are all potted so that I can control their rapid expansion. In fact I strongly suggest to never plant them in the ground especially in a small garden, because they can very quickly take over the landscape.

Nevertheless if potted and carefully maintained they are definitely the cheapest and most effective solution to screening.

Of course the side return could not be just a jungle of bamboos. I needed to make it a bit of a statement to create the illusion of space and perspective.

I therefore decided to create an entrance to the side return, using a wooden arch where I let grow fuchsia and jasmine plants.

Small cupboard in side return.
Small cupboard in side return.

The painted brick cupboard not only complements the row of sage coloured pots but also provides handy storage for beer and wine bottles.

Adding a few solar lights also stylishly fulfilled the quirky cottage look I was after.

Now that the side return was completed I was amazed about how much can be accomplished with little money and buckets of imagination.

Wonderfully green all year round, generously colored by vibrant flowers, sufficient to provide some household storage as well as log space, this little piece of garden was transformed from a boring and fairly grim and useless outdoor corridor into a crucial element of my new makeover.

A simple but effective achievement that provided the whole project with a hidden but attractive secret alley, along with framing the dining room window with an ever changing outdoor picture.

Using Plants and Small Trees to Distribute and Allocate Space

As much as reducing the size of the shed helped me achieve a bigger area to exploit in different ways, it also presented me with the difficulty of creating an useful habitat without compromising my craving for a bucolic environment.

Shed screening with small trees.
Shed screening with small trees.

I first decided to disguise the shed using some bamboos and small potted trees.

Again these wonderful plants are not only evergreen, therefore able to provide all year round disguise, but they also mostly grow upright and, most importantly, need very little maintenance.

Of course screening the shed wasn't the only goal I wanted to accomplish.

I needed to create a big enough space to give room for a good size wooden table and benches to enjoy Summer dining al fresco in a private and pleasant surround.

Al fresco dining area.
Al fresco dining area.

The already existing decking, a potted cherry tree in the corner, a large unbrella and the barbecue also contributed to the cottage country look I was determined to generate.

My garden was now a small paradise where to take in the amazing creative changes while savouring a well deserved glass of cold white wine!

Nevertheless, there was still a part of the project I hadn't plunged into yet, a part of the project, which was in fact paramount: develop and take the most of the available space in front of the kitchen's French doors!

I still wanted to create a potted herb garden and find some room for a small greenhouse for my chili production. The remaining space was definitely the most appropriate one (being in front of the kitchen), but I still wanted to make this area exceptional, without settling on an unimaginative outcome.

I also wanted to be able to sit under my brand new awning and enjoy a good cup of coffee, without compromising on space.

Outside the kitchen.
Outside the kitchen.

A gorgeous bistro table, bought for not very much in The Range, provide a most appropriate solution, while the corner behind the left French Door (which is hit by the sun all morning until lunch time) was the perfect space to house my small greenhouse.

Potted herb garden.
Potted herb garden.

I then placed a few pots in another corner just behind the bistro table to satisfy my need for the potted herb garden.

And with the addition of a potted Acer tree, given to me as a birthday present by my 2 boys, (a tree that being potted wasn't supposed to grow much but grew in great measure) the transformation was complete!

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© 2016 Emanuela Suraci-Neve

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