Small, but perfectly formed

PUBLISHED: 12:23 14 August 2008 | UPDATED: 15:23 20 February 2013

21 Simon's Lane is an organic garden

21 Simon's Lane is an organic garden

You don't have to own acres of land to create a beautiful garden. Naomi Slade looks at some of our smaller gems that are open to the public this month and offers inspiration...

The Berkshire and Chilterns area is blessed with more than its share of glorious country gardens with vistas, avenues and even lakes to offset sumptuous mature planting schemes. But in rural cottages and urban streets, gardeners and their gardens are thriving with just as much vigour, passion and talent as their grander neighbours.

There are certain challenges inherent in designing a small garden. You are less likely to be able to influence the wider landscape. There are unlikely to be unlimited supplies of horse manure on tap. You are inevitably gardening close to buildings which can make the surrounding soil very dry. And that stately avenue of mature trees is totally out of the question.

On the plus side, it is easy to create an outdoors living area as an extension of the home. Niches and microclimates offer planting possibilities for tender and exotic specimens that would get frozen or blown away elsewhere. And there are endless opportunities for adding personality to your plot with furniture, statuary, paving and other details.

Across the region many modest-sized gardens open under the National Gardens Scheme. Well designed and often making inspired use of their location, they make the most of their assets and can have just as much interest as their larger brethren. Here are three of the best.

Whitewalls in Marlow is a garden in the classic English tradition. Packed with lavender and alstromeria, begonias and dahlias, canna and delphiniums, there
is something going on at all times. Backing onto the river on the edge of town, it makes the very most of a superb view of Marlow weir and a riverside setting so although the back garden is fairly small, it makes the most of this 'borrowed view'.

Unusually, the front garden is larger than the back garden. Bordered by flowerbeds there is a driveway to one side and the lawn down the centre. Here, clever planting that increases in height from the lawn towards the drive blends visually with the yet-taller planting by the hedge on the other side, effectively reducing the impact of this otherwise dominant feature. Plenty of seating enables the viewer to enjoy the garden from different locations at different times of year. Urns, plinths and statuary, together with a few rather appropriate bronze frogs, complete the scene.

Number 17 Clevedon Road in Tilehurst is a distinctly different prospect. Its previous, rather tired and overgrown, incarnation has been developed over four years and it is now a distinctly modern confection. It works with its landscape, set on three descending levels and borrowing the view of mature trees in the park beyond. Flamboyant it is not, using instead fashionable shades of green, with a hint of mauve or bronze foliage. It incorporates an outside dining area, and shabby-chic metal chairs sit invitingly under a tree, while punctuation is provided by the occasional urn or birdbath nestled amongst the foliage.

This garden makes the most of its urban location, generally drier and warmer than the surrounding countryside, to impart a decidedly Mediterranean flavour. Phormiums and palms, bamboo and tree ferns all add texture and visual excitement. A vine-clad arbour frames a view beyond, tempting one down the garden path and there is plenty of structure: an octagonal vegetable plot, a circular lawn, terraces, steps and evergreens, so it works all year round, earning its keep in winter too.

Down the road in Wokingham, 21 Simon's Lane is an intensely horticultural experience. Tended using organic principles and as much manure as is feasible, the plants are paramount; each sun, or shade, lover is carefully located in its optimum position and self-seeders are welcomed.

Mature trees add height and clever plant combinations create juxtapositions of leaf form and texture. In the pond, round Caltha leaves flourish alongside spiky irises, curled Acanthus leaves add an Arts and Crafts William Morris touch in the border, and fruit and vegetables are mixed in with the shrubs and flowers.

By the house, a cool courtyard is packed with hostas on specially made stands and honeysuckle and jasmine scramble up a pergola nearby. Collections of pots, the occasional sculpture and a few well-chosen ceramics from local artist Christine Morgan act as focal points and draw the garden together with a tasteful and personal style.

10 design tips for small gardens

The small gardens at the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show help provide ideas
and inspiration.

Borrow the view Use your surroundings to make the garden seem bigger than it is.

Give the garden a structure In most small gardens everything is on view all the time, structure will help maintain interest, particularly in winter.

Create an illusion Mirrors, fake vanishing points or a trompe d'oeil can add depth and make for a pleasing deception.

Add height Plant up vertical surfaces, add an obelisk or plant a tree.

Add a personal touch It is your garden, so add features and colours that make you happy every time you look at them.

Create a focal point Lead the eye on with a judiciously placed pot, sculpture or architectural plant.

Hide or minimise eyesores If you have ugly sheds, compost heaps or don't like the neighbours extension, screen with evergreen shrubs or trellis covered in climbers.

Frame your picture Draw attention to a desirable feature with a frame of plants or matching pots with clipped evergreens placed on either side.

Punctuate Create visual texture. Round 'full stops' at the end of the border cause the eye to pause while tall slim 'exclamation' marks draw the eye upwards.

Steal some ideas Get out and about, visit a show or other gardens to get ideas that you can adapt.

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