Small gardens between buildings may seem a design problem but, if it is taken with the right approach, it can also be an opportunity to use materials, furnitures, and plants that wouldn’t be usable otherwise.
“Limitations imply possibilities. A problem is a challenge.” Russel Page, The Education of a Gardener
The starting point , even when designing small gardens, lies in the combination of elements that give character to “that” spot which needs design.
- The light
- The wind
- The soil
- The skyline
- The plants (herbs, bushes, trees) that are already present
- The anthropic elements
- The customer requirements
Regarding the last point, the designer needs to adapt and respect a point of view that can be very different from his sensibility. It’s required to be generous, to think out of the box, to let the imagination flow on how small gardens will become great, and to behave like that small garden was our own. As if those benches, those paths, those pergolas where made for us, to spend our time there with our loved ones. Only this way that design will be analysed in depth, in every detail, and the space will be well balanced. We will need some kind of “design rubber band”, can be stretched to keep a tension between what is attainable immediately, what can be attained in a year, and what will be attainable when the garden will have finished its growth.
THE TIME PROBLEM IN SMALL GARDENS
Designing small gardens may seem easy, but it isn’t, and that also because of the “time problem”. Everyone wants his garden to be quickly ready. The famous “ready-to-use” garden. In a garden, being in an hurry for results, is a problem. Plants needs time to reach adult stage. If we opt for a “ready-to-use” garden, the need to use bigger plants from the nursery automatically leads to increased costs. For herbs or bushes we can use smaller plants with an higher density, to be thinned out later, or plants that already have a bushy growth. But prices will remain higher, both in the first case, because of the biggest (and thus older) plants. In the second case, because of the higher number of plants that will need to be brought, and the costs of the subsequent thinning. The other option is to wait, even in small gardens.
TREES IN A SMALL GARDEN
Sometimes for trees planting just a specimen tree (that is, a tree that has already reached a fair size in the nursery) is everything that is needed to make a young small garden immediately interesting. Trees in fact are a cornerstone of every design. They are somewhat alike the foundations of a building. If they aren’t well calibrated, the garden will creak. The number, the species, if evergreen or deciduous. Flowering or fruiting. Because they can be as a nice dress that a friend wears. Elegant, graceful, nice tissue, nice wearability. But it can have a different effect when we wear it. Similarly, we are filled with enthusiasm to silver wattle at the end of the winter, and for magnolias in spring, and so on as the seasons pass and we visit different gardens. “He’s got that in his garden, I want it too!” But sometimes we don’t own a garden with the right environment to allow a good growth of that plant, as in the case that our garden is too small to allow the full growth of that plant.
It just takes a look around and we easily see how often we can see design errors. Or better still: errors due the lack of a design. Especially when it come down to trees, often we see true disasters. How many Christmas trees there are in Mediterranean gardens!!! It’s understandable, when you have some small children and planting out the Christmas tree after the holidays is nice. But it ‘s going to grow! And how so! It is going to become incredibly big for a small garden!!! Often it happens that evergreen trees, as magnolias, are planted very close to houses. But what happens during the winter? A thick canopy in front of a window, that blocks the light and the sun isn’t the optimal solution. Winter is long and it’s so nice, when it is possible, to let some sunlight to reach the room of our house.
A DESIGN SOLUTION FOR SMALL GARDENS
Back to the limits, how is possible that a difficult situation can becomes an opportunity? We have a small garden. We offer the customer some images of already completed gardens, as an inspiration. Once the client recognize his favourite design, if it’s paved, if it has a turf, we proceed with the plant selection, taking also in account the level of maintenance needed. We have to adapt that design to that specific environment, with every limit and advantage of such place. As the news design starts to grow, the easiest way to show how it will become, is to use a render to “enter” in the garden. The next step is to develop drawings with all the detail needed for the construction, including lighting and irrigation systems. A drawing including the pictures chosen to illustrate the design to the customer is always useful and incisive.
For further information on the gardens designed by our Studio, visit our website.
This article was first published on Bullettino n. 1/2017 of the Tuscan Horticulture Society.