In London, the word ‘garden’ is often misleading. Often the American term ‘yard’ would be more descriptive. Plenty of town back gardens are merely small square or rectangular patches between two rows of back-to-back terrace houses each one, probably, with a frontage of no more than 15ft. Sometimes, too, such a garden is found in the central well formed by an extension or as an integral part of an architect-designed complex of new housing. These mini-gardens need treating in quite a different way from larger ones. For a start, paving almost always looks better than grass in a confined space. (A combination of children and wet grass can result, anyway, in a sea of mud in no time at all.)
A scaled down version of the conventional herbaceous border planted down one side looks not only boring but cramped. And left completely alone such a backyard is nothing but an eyesore,especially when seen through living room or dining room windows.Employing professional Landscaping and Gardening companies should make a big difference, rather than attempting some DIY gardening.
Almost always, a tiny garden is enclosed; and one or two of its walls may be formed by the back or sides of another house. This enclosure is often an advantage. High walls shut off noise, besides giving privacy plus a lot more gardening space. But as the brickwork will be seen when the last leaf has fallen from the last creeper, it is important that walls are treated as an integral part of the garden itself. If you wish to extend your walling, woven wooden palings (which need creosoting to protect then from the weather) are comparatively cheap, but not particularly versatile.
A good brick wall is much more satisfactory. In many places, too, the heights of side walls, and the materials in which they may be built, are limited by local authority regulations; fireproof materials are often preferred, or compulsory, when a wall is on a boundary.
Brick walls, provided they are in good repair, can be colour washed in any of the pale, pretty, sugar-almond colours that are almost as light-reflecting as white. Although white itself is fresh and clean, it goes dirty extremely quickly; and on a grey winter’s day looks cold and depressing. The hint-of-a-tint given by the admixture of pink, ochre, or turquoise -even a cupful or two to the gallon makes a difference-to the basic white paint gives a warmer, slightly ‘Mediterranean’ look. In warmer, crisper climates, white walls or palings look brilliant in sunlight. This Mediterranean look can be backed up by using pretty bits of ceramics or glass-for instance, lining an alcove in the wall with tiny, brilliant blue Italian glass mosaic tiles. Then there are small, fairly cheap, weatherproof ceramic ones that could cover a projecting ledge to make a plant table.
Even an unpromising basement area wall can be prettied up by painting it a light, gay colour and hanging a few random Portuguese or Spanish patterned tiles. A piece of mirror in the garden is another simple but effective idea. Try a tall one to reflect a narrow little cypress tree, or a square one angled behind an urn full of spilling geraniums. A generous slab of mirror on a wall behind a wide-spaced trellis supporting a tangle of blue morning glories, for example, can appear to add yards of beauty to a tiny garden. Be careful, though, to use mirror just far enough from a cultivated area that the rain cannot splash it with mud streaks. Levels In a tiny garden, you should ‘think vertically’ as well as ‘thinking horizontally’. In other words, it is important to create a series of points of interest at different heights.
If you want to pack the garden with plants and flowers, this means aiming for the effect of standing in the middle of a flower basket, with a lot of blooms at eye or shoulder level, rather than looking down on flat, ground level beds, such as you might use in a larger garden. Achieving different flowerbed levels usually means a lot of hard work at first. Topsoil must be carefully removed. A foundation of rubble, gravel, or builders’ debris must be built up and shaped into a miniature landscape of hills and valleys, then the topsoil replaced over this foundation. As there will now be a greater surface area to cover, more topsoil must either be bought, or brought up sack by sack from the country. (Most town topsoil is stale; so take advantage of this preparing stage to add whatever is needed, from moisture-retaining peat to fertilizer.) Once the beds are made, they can be broken up into small separate areas by brickwork, or paths made from flagstone pieces. These paths are not just decorative: they provide firm squatting-stones when you want to plant or weed. Lilliputian teraces, like small fields or vineyards descending a hill, can be equally effective, especially with hanging or trailing plants. Brick edging can be used here, or dry stone walling made from pieces of flat stone, or paving chips too small for any other use.
A corner the garden for leisure
If you prefer to devote the whole of a tiny garden to a flat space for children’s play, sitting about,a tree house or sunbathing, it becomes even more important to concentrate a lot of the interest higher than the basic ground level to avoid a ‘walled-up’ feeling. Should you be lucky enough to have a tree growing in one corner of the garden, you have a ready-made solution; if not, you could plant your own tree; concentrate on climbing plants perhaps growing a vine or wisteria right up the side of the house; fix pots to the walls; or site plant boxes on the top of walls to trail foliage downwards.
Materials for gardens
A plain sweep of lawn looks magnificent in the open spaces of a large garden; in a tiny one, a certain amount of cunning and intricacy works best. Even the Japanese, masters of the simple, single-spray-in-a-vase school of flower arranging, avoid this approach in their tiny gardens; each one is a balanced, but complicated, little masterpiece. In a paved garden, try a few contrasting materials. A sunburst of bricks around a tree, a miniature patio area near the house, covered in heather-brown quarry tiles, or old fashioned cobblestones to outline or emphasise the paving itself, add a richness to an otherwise boring area.
In Britain, beautiful old paving stones with varying grey-gold colours and slightly irregular surfaces can be bought cheaply (especially if broken or damaged) from local councils who are replacing pavement surfaces. Almost anywhere, you can find mellow old bricks from a house that is being demolished or converted. Although this material can be chipped or broken, and sometimes needs hours of work to strike off old mortar, its textured surface or matured colouring are much more attractive than the flat regularity of cement or concrete paving. In a paved garden, allowance should always be made for drainage. You can arrange this by making a very slight slope towards a central drainage hole or small grid, or towards several cracks between paving stones which are not cemented together, but loose-filled with gravel or sand.
Providing a garden focus
All tiny gardens need some kind of focus if only to remove the impression of standing in a small square box. Trees, water, plants, statuary, all (though not all together) make good focal points. A focal-point tree should be the sort that is a good shape even when the branches are bare, or should be an evergreen. Views vary on the use of water in gardens. Streams and small lakes are one thing; small stagnant-looking pools covered with a floating debris of leaves and insects are another. Part of the charm of any garden is movement (think of swaying branches, bird flight) so that running water is always a delight-the sunlit fountains in the stone courtyards of Spanish houses are perfect examples.
Fountains may be beyond our reach, but a birdbath is within reach of all perhaps an old stone one, perhaps a new but weathered-looking fibreglass one, placed on the edge of a banked-up terrace bed. Plant a small shrub, some ferns, or a few small, bright flowers nearby, and you almost have the effect of a miniature pool. Statuary, which can mean anything from an exquisite small bronze to a stone urn, heightens interest in any garden. Few people can afford really superb pieces-but anyone who can afford to consider a piece of sculpture might reflect that it is often seen at its best out of doors.
There are, too, all sorts of smaller items that enhance a small space, from a sundial bought when an old house is demolished to a modern fibreglass urn whose shape and pattern are taken from an eighteenth century mould. Large terracotta flowerpots, in different shapes and sizes, are particularly flattering-and are cheap. Even a clutch of chimney pots or drainpipes, of different widths and heights, grouped together and planted with ivy or geraniums, can make a decorative and interesting focal point.
Plants and flowers
Focal-point plants should have a very definite shape. The stiffness of a large yucca, the dark formality of a little cypress, are good examples. Remember that pencil-shaped trees, such as flowering cherries, block out less light from the rest of the garden. The sort with angular bare branches, like figs or magnolias, let light through in a dappled pattern, as well as providing interesting shapes. Although what can be planted in a garden depends to a large extent on the type of soil, climate, rainfall, and so forth, successful planting of a small garden depends on certain other factors as well. As most very small gardens are in London, with high walls surrounding them, they usually get very little light indeed. This means using plants that thrive in dark conditions.
This, in turn, means depending on greenery rather than blooms. Space is usually so limited that bare earth looks much more desolate than in a larger garden. Coat flowerbeds between plants and shrubs with tiny, quick-spreading ground level green plants; this will also stop weeds growing. In a mini-garden, each plant is an individual. A permanent one must pay its way in terms of shape or foliage for most of the year, if it is not to leave a gap like an extracted tooth when flowering time is over. Others may be best planted singly, or sparingly, otherwise their effect may be to pull the rest of the garden out of scale, when they are not in bloom. In a tiny area, three yellow crocuses give just as much of an effect of spring as an orchardful in a country garden. For brilliant colour, or scent, a few bedding-out plants or seedlings can be installed in chosen sites, in tubs or urns.
Lighting and lights in the garden
One of the advantages of a tiny garden is that it can so easily be floodlit. Just one lamp, tucked beneath the house window, and beaming on to the plants opposite, may be all that is needed. Or it could be set at ground level behind a statue, to throw this and the surrounding shrubs into relief; or spiked into a flowerbed to illuminate some particularly decorative bloom. The dramatic effect of the interplay of light and shadows in a small, lit-up garden creates a living picture-wall for anyone indoors in the dining or sitting room. It is especially effective if you are entertaining and is, incidentally, a burglar-deterrent. For outdoor lighting, always use the correct, specially designed, outdoor plugs and sockets, installed by a qualified and professional electricians,a safety precaution which really must be taken.