Garden Makeover – 4 Tips on How to Design a Small Garden

I found these old pics of the garden. I though that I would share them and also share my learnings from designing a small garden.

First year in the new house was all about cleanup. We removed all things broken and old. Among them was an arbor with ”sticks” stuck to it. Turns out that the sticks were a climbing rose.

Tip #1 – Do not remove any plants the first year in a new garden!
Wait it out a whole season and see what you’ve got. You might be lucky enough to inherit a garden full of lovely plants! Some of them, like bulbs, you won’t even be able to see at first.

Next step was to get grass! I had a romanticised idea of walking out into the garden in the morning and feeling the grass between my toes. What I didn’t know was that grass requires drainage. Rain water needs somewhere to go or otherwise the grass roots, and any plant roots really will have no air and die. Our soil was hard clay with no drainage what so ever. Rain would cause water puddles to form and the grass looked miserable.

Tip #2 – Check the soil type and drainage. Don’t spend money plants before you’ve got those two in place.
The solution in my garden was raised beds. I’ve build 20-50 in (25-50cm) high raised beds out of wood. I’ve lined them with plastic and filled them with well draining soil.

Year two was about planting. Since I didn’t know much about plants I started off small. I planted a shrub in one corner and a handfull of perennials here and there. I remember feeling a bit disappointed. The end result wasn’t what I had imagined. The garden looked cluttered.

Tip #3 – Small gardens need big plants or big groups of plants for impact.
Choose one type of perennial and plant groups of 8-12. It might sound a lot but that’s how many you’ll need to avoid it feeling cluttered. Also, repeat the same groups throughout the garden. For example, I use red Heucheras in several places to create a coherent impression.

Eventually I got fed up of stepping around in wet soil. I wanted a material that I could walk on that felt soft and dry. Wood met that criteria and also was easy to work with. So I built a wooden boardwalk all though the garden and behind the pergola. I’ve described why I put it on the diagonal in a previous post, a design choice I’m very happy with.

Tip #4Challenging parts of the garden like wet areas or shade can become the most interesting with some imagination and creative ideas!

Before and After

My Little Helpers ???