Summer is here at long last, meaning it’s time to make the most of your outdoor space. For those with smaller gardens or balcony areas, it can be difficult to know where to begin. Do you add more plants? Or is less actually more?
Could livening up an old fence with a lick of paint give your yard a new lease of life? And if so, what colour should you opt for? What kind of plants should you opt for in a more confined space? So. Many. Questions.
Here, garden designers and landscapers share their tips for giving your small outdoor space a makeover without breaking the bank.
1. Keep it minimal
“Small gardens or balcony spaces might seem like difficult spaces to design on a budget, but one trick is to keep it simple and think big,” says garden designer Mark Lane, a presenter on BBC Morning Live and Gardeners’ World.
It might seem counter-intuitive, but he recommends introducing large-leafed plants and one or two large pots to make your outdoor space feel larger.
“Avoid lots of plants, keep to a handful at most,” he says. “Keep to a colour scheme for pots and furniture – painting your existing ones is a cheap way of getting the look. And think big: small designs make a space feel smaller, while large patterns and materials make it feel bigger.”
2. Reach new heights
When space is in short supply, think about how you can draw eyes upwards. Lane recommends utilising bamboo canes with climbing plants to make a space feel large. And for furniture, he recommends investing in folding tables and chairs as these can be moved out of the way when not in use.
Alternatively, consider creating a green wall. Isobel Spandler, of Wiltshire Garden Design, says: “Green walls have been popular in commercials settings for some years, but they are now finding their way into our gardens and homes.
“There are many ways of achieving this, from DIY structures made from pallets (look online for ‘how-to’ videos) to planting pockets that are fixed to vertical structures like the Wonderwall from Crocus.co.uk.” Fill it with herbs, trailing cherry tomatoes and strawberries if you want to grow-your-own or go for evergreen ferns and succulents for a jungle feel.
Sam Norris, a garden design consultant at Garden Street, recommends tiered planters to add height. “This helps maximise floor space on balconies, and creates the illusion of space through a mix of colours and textures at different heights,” says Norris.
3. Paint your fence (or wall) black
“So often, small garden boundaries are a mismatch of brick walls, fences and hedges,” says Spandler. In order to give your garden an instant designer feel, she recommends painting walls and fences almost black – or very dark green.
“It provides a dramatic backdrop for planting and seating areas alike,” she says. She recommends Cuprinol’s 5 Year Ducksback ‘Black’ Matt Fence & Shed Wood Treatment or Little Green’s ‘Obsidian Green’ National Trust range.
4. Invest in hanging baskets
“One of the quickest ways to update your balcony without taking up too much space is to hang pots from balcony railings and fill them with large trailing flowers that create an overspilling effect,” says garden designer Jo Thompson.
When it comes to the flowers, she recommends opting for bright pinks or sunny yellows, creating a style reminiscent of Italian balconies.
5. Get to grips with herbs
The beauty of filling your space with herbs is that they not only look good, but you can also eat them. Flower farmer Roz Chandler, who runs Field Gate Flowers and founded the British Flower Growers Association, advises investing in blooms that are multi-purpose. And as a plus, the bees love them too.
“We recommend you grow roses, lavender, borage and sage. All of these are edible too and can be used in amazing recipes,” she says. “The blue flowers of borage are fabulous in ice cubes – just right in that refreshing summer drink.”
Thompson also recommends growing rosemary – if your garden or balcony is a bit of a sun trap, the plant will flower and also attract bees. “Rosemary and lavender have a beautiful fragrant scent, creating a sensory space, and are a practical addition to use as ingredients in the kitchen,” she says.