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How to Make the Most of Your Small Garden Space - The Essentials of Planning

Updated: Apr 27, 2022

Creating both a beautiful and functional space in a small garden comes down to good planning, good listening and lots of creativity! Luckily, that's what we love! In this blog post, we'll take you through the important aspects of garden planning so that you can create a space that adapts to you and your lifestyle.

Above: Following our initial consultation, we prepare 2D, and 3D draft plans to help you visualise the design before starting the installation.

"Before anything else, preparation is the key to success" - Alexander Graham Bell.

We certainly agree with Mr Bell! A design that reflects your needs requires good planning and preparation. For us, this begins with good listening.

To uncover the full potential of your outdoor space and develop a design that performs both functionally and aesthetically, we will spend time with you to gain an in-depth understanding of your needs.

During our initial design consultation, we look at three key areas:

  1. Your lifestyle

  2. Your desired features

  3. Your style

(In this article, we'll cover lifestyle and features. Our next blog post will cover garden styles.)

Some of our clients have this well thought out in advance, others aren't sure where to start.

We provide you with a handy planning guide so that you can consider some of the questions we will ask during the consultation. So before our consultation meeting, we highly recommend taking a few minutes or hours (depending on how much time you have) of your busy schedule to think about what's important for your outdoor space.

Your Lifestyle - The Three W's.

If you've already read some of our blog posts, you may have noticed that we often precede the content by asking, "how will your space be used?".

When thinking about a garden design, we tend to jump straight to the problems and the practical elements we would like to include. However, without first asking ourselves the question, "what is my lifestyle and how do I want to spend time in my garden?" we risk ending up with a design that doesn't reflect our intentions.

As a quick example, in my (the Marketing Manager's) own backyard, I included an outdoor dining table at the top of my list of needs. While outdoor dining is pleasant, I soon discovered that the number of hours it takes up in the day is far less than the number of hours that I could be relaxing, reading a book, or having a snooze on a comfortable couch! Thus, I find myself inside, wishing that I was outside! While this is a relatively easy fix in the grand scheme of things, the essential factor is not decks, structures, or plants but how you intend to use the space daily. A good designer can then take the brief and provide creative solutions that you might not have considered.

Critical to the success of any design process, the three W's are at the top of our list:

  1. What will you be doing in your garden?

  2. When will you be outside?

  3. Who will be sharing the space with you?

What will you be doing in your garden?

A smaller garden footprint may mean there isn't room for your entire wishlist of features, so we focus on creating space for the activities that you want to do in your garden.

For example, you might be a bookworm who loves to read in your spare time, or perhaps you're a born entertainer who loves a good BBQ with many guests. Maybe you travel for work and need a low-maintenance lock-up-and-leave. Remember, your garden should be a space that brings you absolute joy, where you can go to get respite from the busy world.

Understanding how you spend your time will help us identify the various elements that will complement and enhance your garden experience — considering the "how" encourages a creative approach and allows us to do more with less.

In addition, when considering your budget, it makes sense to allocate the highest percentage to elements that will play a central role in how your garden is enjoyed.

Who will be sharing the space with you?

Understanding who will be using the space, both now and as your family expands or shrinks, will ensure that your investment serves you well into the future. A garden for a family of four will have entirely different needs than a garden for one or two people. If only one or two people use the garden, you'll have more freedom to create different zones for dining, relaxing, reading, etc.

A note on children.

If you have young children, consider how their activities will evolve - as they get older, you might want to have enough space to add a spa to keep them (and their friends) entertained, or they might pester you into buying them a trampoline!

If you live close to a local park or playground, you may not want to waste space on swing sets or a lawn that will be too small for most children's games anyway; instead, consider how you might use the space for more creative play like sand, water, crafts or even gardening.

Once the kids grow older, what can be created in the space where the trampoline once was? A full design that considers future uses in the yard (depending on how long one plans to hang around in their home…) can really save you money in the long run, or at least give some vision for the future.

A note on entertaining.

For frequent entertainers, think about how often you host guests and the size of the gatherings. Do you need an extendable outdoor table or folding chairs?

If your garden is tiny, consider whether a dedicated outdoor dining space is even necessary. Consider reserving the dining for the inside and dedicate your outside space to comfortable seating for drinks and relaxation.

A note on pets.

Let's be honest, not all pets are created equal! Some are big, some are small, some are calm, and some are crazy! You may have a chewer (poisonous plants risk!), or a digger (goodbye garden bed risk!). Do they use the yard as a bathroom? A lot of cats like to toilet in mulch and some dogs can be notorious for ruining lawns and garden beds. We'll take this into consideration and design around your pet accordingly.

When will you be outside?

Depending on your household, your schedules, and your preferences, you will most likely find that you tend to be outside more consistently at certain times.

If you're a family with children, your space probably gets used on weekday afternoons and weekends. Working couples might find that the primary time is in the evening after work and weekend afternoons.

Factoring in outdoor conditions, particularly at your popular times of day, is essential for planning the space. This can include the need to filter out the sun at certain times of day, adding weather protection, lights, heating, or even an outdoor fire pit if you enjoy toasted marshmallows on a brisk autumn evening! This is also important when considering the planting plans, as we may need to consider taller shrubs for shade or privacy.

Determining Features.

Once we understand the function of your garden space, we can then determine and prioritise the features that you'll need. While we may have uncovered a long list you would like, your budget will significantly impact the feasibility of the features you require and the types of materials you can use. Prioritisation is important at this stage. We can work with you to determine what your most important features are and where you are willing to save or splurge.

**Stay tuned for the next blog post where we will talk about the different garden styles and how we use visual Moodboards to help you define and refine your desired style.

Our designers specialise in small urban gardens, terraced housing, balconies, and decks. If you are thinking about transforming your small outdoor space, don't hesitate to get in touch for a free, no-obligation consultation.

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