Creating a small, lush oasis in harsh climate and poor soils may seem like a pipe dream however its certainly achievable with a few clever design tips.
Every good garden starts with a plan so make sure you give the garden purpose. Try to think of how you would like to use the space and focus on that. In smaller gardens you need to focus on one or two elements and do them well rather than trying to fit lots of different ideas together. If its outdoor entertaining, you are after then try to fit a space for a table and chairs and perhaps a sperate lounge area, having something like a central fireplace or fire pit will help to sperate the areas into individual break out zones yet give the garden flexibility to bring the spaces together for larger gatherings.
Having different levels in a garden will help you to create separate zones as well as making it feel larger. A set of simple steps has the ability to slow you down, give you a different perspective over the garden and also help create sunken intimate areas. If you have a level garden and want to use steps to create interest then consider decking as the frame work will bring the levels up and allow you to create a stage for gathering.
In a small garden getting your material choices right is vital as there is nowhere to hide from them. Hues of grey, white and charcoal will give a contemporary feel that is timeless. Play with textures rather than colour in a small space and that will avoid a feeling of clutter. Smooth finish paving combines beautifully with rougher wooden finishes but you could also combine larger and smaller format paving for an interesting effect.
Soil preparation is key in any garden, especially in tough climates. Compost, organic matter and manures will be your best friend to help build a soil profile, allowing it to hold onto moisture and nutrients for longer. Regularly check your PH levels and adjust accordingly as well as using a wetting agent to avoid hydrophobia.
Even the smallest of spaces feels bigger with the addition of plants but to maximise the feeling of space you need to follow a few simple rules. Try to cover the walls using climbers, these can be the hardy star jasmine on wires or self-attaching climbers like Boston ivy and creeping fig. The benefit of a climber is the green impact it gives without taking up precious ground space.
Don’t be scared of trees. Of course, getting the right variety is of the upmost importance in a small area, things like crepe myrtle, Capital pears or even a Bauhinia will give scale, shade and a sense of an oasis.
When planting out your understory focus on texture and shape and try to limit colour as this will increase the lush verdant feeling. Viburnum suspensum grows well in harsher climates and will give a deep green leaf that will transport you to wetter more tropical climates. Succulents such as crassula spp. Give a feeling of shrubbery whilst providing excellent texture and shape all whilst being water wise.
To finish off your small space garden don’t forget to Include lots of ground covers as this will bring the planting down to help soften your hard elements and add even more texture to the design. Native violets are a great option as they perform well in shade and semi sun but for hot spots why not use some creeping thyme or chamomile for added fragrance.