Top tips for allotments

Man sitting in a deck chair

Make this year on the allotment your best yet
Image: sirtravelalot

Winter is the perfect time to plan your allotment. And with a little help, you can grow more than ever before. We asked our favourite bloggers for their top tips. Whether you’re an allotment newbie or a seasoned plotter, here’s plenty of golden advice…

How to plan your plot

Carefully organised vegetable plot with plants in beds

What’s the best way to plan your allotment?
Image: T.W. van Urk

Planning an allotment from scratch can seem like a daunting task. Some people use computer programmes to map their beds and plan a rotation schedule while others figure it out as they go along. Here’s how our experts plan their growing space…

“I tend to spend time over the festive period, auditing the seedbox,” says Punam of Horticultural ‘obbit. “I take a look at the seeds that were used… This gives me a good idea of what I have enjoyed sowing, what didn’t quite make it to the kitchen worktop and what I might want to re-visit.”

Other gardeners start with good old-fashioned pen and paper. Liz of Holding on 4 says: “In the past I’ve used online planners, but find the easiest way to plan is with paper, pencil and an eraser.” Alan of Alan’s Allotment agrees that mapping his beds on paper helps him organise his thoughts: “I have a drawing of both of my plots and I use those to plan and rotate my beds.”

Stephanie Hafferty of No Dig Home has a great way of organising her crops. She splits her produce into those that require frequent attention and those that need less time and effort:

I grow food in my allotment, front garden and back garden polytunnel…I mostly grow veg which needs more heat, attention or regular picking at home (herbs, salad, soft fruit, aubergines, tomatoes etc), and plants like sweetcorn, courgettes, potatoes, squash and celeriac at the allotment. A key part of my planning is making sure I’m growing year round, thinking about successional growing to make the most of the space.

Adam of Carrot Tops Allotment takes a much more relaxed approach: Generally, I don’t tend to plan too far ahead. Mainly because life and the weather can often lay waste to the best laid plans…I tend to plan, on average 5M2 at a time, mainly to avoid disappointment.”

How to make your allotment more productive

Closeup of a wheelbarrow being pushed through a garden

What does your space allow you to grow?
Image: ajlatan

Making your allotment more productive means maximising succession planting, rotating crops to get the most from the soil, and using every spare inch of space.

Liz from Holding on 4 plans her summer crops around hard-working vegetable beds that are still full of winter brassicas, root veg and herbs: “So, at the start of the year I plan what will go into the empty beds and also what can go in later, after I have harvested the winter crops.”

Should you worry about crop rotation in your allotment? Not according to Liz:

I don’t worry too much about crop rotation because, with successional planting and interplanting, most beds produce two, three or four crops per year. For planting seedlings and sowing seeds later in the year I just put them in wherever there is a space. I simply try to avoid planting the same family of plants that were in the space immediately beforehand.

At the other end of the spectrum, Sue of Green Lane Allotments takes a high-tech approach to the question of rotation:

“In some parts of the plot we operate a three year rotation and in other parts a four year rotation. Using an application called GrowVeg we have set up a plan of our allotment. Plans are stored each year and the application flags up if any crop is being grown in the same place too soon etc. We also keep notes on when each crop is sown so we have a ready made sowing guide for subsequent years.”

How to decide what to grow at your allotment

Wooden veg box being held full of fresh vegetables

Grow the veg you love to eat
Image: SpeedKingz

Every one of our bloggers recommends planting the things that you most love to eat. But other considerations play a part, like how much water different crops need. It’s also good to concentrate on the things that are expensive to buy, or those that rapidly lose flavour while sitting on a supermarket shelf. Some crops, like lettuce or spinach, taste infinitely better when picked and eaten on the same day. Here’s how our bloggers choose what to grow…

Historically, Adam of Carrot Tops Allotment grew the expected potatoes, carrots, sprouts, runner beans…etc. “However,” he told us, “this year I’m going to be growing things I like to eat. Raspberries were a good start in that, but I’m also going to be growing asparagus, gooseberries and blueberries this year too.”

Michelle of Veg Plotting explains that space is the determining factor, whether she’s growing at home or at her old allotment: “I look for varieties that are productive and can grow in a smaller space. Blight resistance in tomatoes is key, as well as taste, as I can only grow them outdoors.”

Sue of Green Lane Allotments grows a mixture of veg, fruit and flowers on her plot, but she says: “Vegetables and fruit are grown based on what we like to eat. For us there is little point growing things that we don’t enjoy eating.”

John of Allotment Gardening agrees: “I don’t see the point in growing things you don’t like to eat, so that’s my starting point. We decide what we’re likely to want, add a bit to compensate for the inevitable failures and then work out a cropping plan to provide that.”

Allotment growing is the perfect way to provide your whole family with healthy food. Over at Alan’s Allotment, he gets the whole family involved in making the decisions: “When I first got my allotment we had a family meeting to work out what I should grow.”

Some allotmenteers grow extra crops to swap with their neighbours. Others run honesty box schemes or make a little money by selling their surplus. For Liz of Holding on 4, the produce she grows needs to appeal to more than just her own family:

As I grow almost all of the fruit and vegetables for our family and also offer a local veg box scheme (up to 20 families in 2020), I try to choose a wide range to give us plenty of variety throughout the year. Varieties are chosen for their taste and for quality over quantity.

How to choose between old favourites and new varieties

Notebook covered in seeds, trowels and other gardening equipment

Get out your notebook and start plotting
Image: Maria Evseyeva

While it’s important to concentrate on growing the crops you most like to eat, it’s fun to try new varieties as well. If you start small, you won’t have much to lose if something doesn’t work out. The huge benefit to having an allotment is being able to grow things that you can’t buy in the supermarket.

John of Allotment Gardening says: “The best tip I can offer is to grow your ‘bankers’ – that is, the varieties you can bank on, but to try something new each year.”

Alan told us that he likes to mix it up: “I also like to try growing something new: last year was Kiwano, this year I have two varieties of melon.”

Stephanie of No Dig Home expresses a similar excitement at trying out new varieties every year:

Plants are chosen mostly based on what we like to eat but every year I also try out different varieties to explore new flavours, or for recipes I’m wanting to try out. I grow a lot of different kinds of veg – usually around 20 different aubergines, 12 kinds of basil, 20 different squash, over 30 varieties of tomatoes, several kinds of sweetcorn… it is a real passion.

Michelle of Veg Plotting agrees that this is what it’s all about: “Allotment life is about what works for you and finding the tastes you love. Try some varieties you can’t buy in the shops and be amazed.”

8 top tips to get the most from your allotment

No dig garden from Steph Hafferty

Stephanie Hafferty’s beautiful produce thrives in her no-dig conditions
Image: No Dig Home

When it comes to getting the most from your allotment, the quality of your soil has a huge impact on the size and quality of your produce. Feeding the soil and keeping the weeds down will give your crops the best chance to thrive. Then you need to make sure you sow your seeds correctly. Here’s what our bloggers suggest…

  1. Feed the soil
    “I ask a lot from [my] raised beds each year, so I concentrate on feeding the soil whenever I can. During winter I mulch with well-rotted compost, composted wood chips and used duck bedding and in the spring and summer I add nettle and comfrey tea. I also chop and drop comfrey leaves on the beds in between the growing plants.” – Liz from Holding on 4
  2. Keep on top of weeds
    “We make use of weed control fabric and grow many crops through this. It makes the war on weeds manageable and means that our crops have less competition for space, and moisture etc. We also feel there are added bonuses in that the fabric cuts down on evaporation and being black helps warm the soil.” – Sue of Green Lane Allotments
  3. Try the ‘no-dig’ method
    “For the allotmenteer, no dig gardening means less work, fewer weeds (because annual weed seeds are not exposed by digging), fewer slugs and other pests, and less watering: the compost mulch conserves moisture. It also increases biodiversity, the compost mulch supporting many different wildlife including black beetles, which prey on slugs!” – Stephanie of No Dig Home
  4. Follow the planting instructions on seed packets
    “To ensure best crops… read what it says on the back of seed packets and also look on the suppliers’ websites and take notice of the growing advice.” – Alan of Alan’s Allotment
  5. Pay attention to local conditions
    “We time our seed sowing to coincide with when the conditions are right which is often later than specified on seed packets. Later sown seeds usually catch up whereas seeds sown too early when the ground isn’t right rarely flourish.” – Sue of Green Lane Allotments
  6. Invest in strong and healthy plug plants
    “Don’t be afraid to buy plug plants if you don’t have the time or space to grow from seed.” –  Michelle of Veg Plotting
  7. Add some flowers to the mix
    “We grow flowers for cutting, and to make the plot more attractive to pollinators and other wildlife. They also make the plot more interesting for us.” – Sue from Green Lane Allotments
  8. Look after your back
    “I found converting my allotment to a raised bed, no-dig, peat-free system was very rewarding and saved a lot of time. I’m applying the same principles at home with some raised containers. My back’s loving the lack of bending down!” – Michelle of Veg Plotting

Allotments are about more than gardening

Two people sitting in an allotment

Allotmenteering should be a sociable, enjoyable lifestyle
Image: Monkey Business Images

Having an allotment is about more than just growing things. It’s about connecting with other people in the allotment community, reducing your carbon footprint and making healthy, homegrown ingredients the centre of family mealtimes. Here’s how to make your allotment your “happy place”:

  • Be philosophical

“Be prepared to have failures and don’t let this dishearten you. Even the most experienced gardener will have some failures most years. Each year you will find that some crops do better than others.” – Sue of Green Lane Allotments

  • Keep it simple

“Don’t make it a chore. Going with a particular job in mind and completing that job, in my opinion is the way to go. Once you complete that job, not only is that positive reinforcement for the next visit, but means that anything that comes after is a bonus.” – Adam of Carrot Tops Allotment

  • Invest in some chairs

“I take at least a few minutes every day to sit and observe, to appreciate what’s growing and to listen to and watch the insects, birds and other wildlife. [It] isn’t all about work, it’s also about enjoying the fresh air, the plants and everything that lives in the garden… and the freshest, tastiest fruit and veg we’ve ever had!” – Liz of Holding on 4

We hope you’ve enjoyed this expert guide to getting the most from your allotment. Here’s wishing you a productive, fruitful and joyful year on your plot.

 

Tips for growing flowers in your garden

Floral garden border with different varieties of flowers, colours & shapes

The successful combination of shape, colour, texture and height makes this border sing
Image: Paul Wishart

Flowers bring colour, texture and scent to our gardens and provide a welcome source of food for pollinators. With a little patience you can grow many flowers cost-effectively from seed. Short of time? You can also create an instant flower border in just a few hours using garden-ready plug plants. 

We asked some of our favourite gardening bloggers to share their simple secrets for growing spectacular flower gardens. Here’s what they told us…

Know your soil

PH soil indicator

Find out if your soil is acid, neutral or alkaline
Image: Sergey Kamshylin

It’s easy to snuggle up on the sofa with some gardening books or search the internet to find images of flowers that you’d love to grow. But the old adage, “right plant, right place” is never more true than when it comes to growing flowers. Before you get carried away choosing specific blooms, Alison Levey, of the Blackberry Garden advises:

It’s always good to know what the soil is like in your garden. There are tests you can buy to see how acidic/alkaline it is, and you can also check if it’s clay by seeing if you can squeeze some into a ball.”

Figuring out your soil type is one part of the equation, but you also need to bear in mind how much sun your flowers will get and how much water they’ll need. Over at Carrots and Calendula, Ciar Byrne blogs about sustainable gardening. She says:

I think it’s important to work out what plants will grow well in your garden without too much assistance…plants shouldn’t need too much extra watering, even in dry patches. This year I’ll be trying some more Mediterranean plants including Lavandula angustifolia and Santolina chamaecyparissus.

The easiest way to find out what will thrive in your garden, suggests Alison Levey, is to see what’s growing in neighbours’ gardens around you. It’s not a foolproof test, but it will give you a good guide.

Choose a colour scheme

Purple and orange floral colour combination

Purple flowers with orange California Poppy is a striking colour combination
Image: Passenger Window

Planting your garden is a bit like decorating your house,” says Carol from The Sunday Gardener, “you plant to your preferred style and colours – what you like to look at.” You can opt for maximum drama or peaceful unity, but in either case, here are some tips:

  • Choose a style:There are so many styles to choose from ranging from the cottage garden, to stylish prairie planting to architectural plants,” says Carol. Figure out what style you’re most drawn to and keep everything consistent.
  • Choose something to repeat: Carol says, “a good rule to bear in mind, whatever your style, is to have a theme and repeat it. This can be one plant, or a small number or recurring colours – but repeat planting and use of colour gives the design structure and avoids it looking bitty.

Select the right flowers

Dahlia ‘Tropical Breeze’ from Thompson & Morgan

This half-hardy perennial will fill beds and borders with colour from May to October
Image: New for 2020, Dahlia ‘Tropical Breeze’ from Thompson & Morgan

Once you’ve identified your soil type and situation, decided on an overall style, and chosen your colours, it’s time to think about specific flowers. A combination of annuals and perennials usually provides the most successful display, starting with the tallest at the back and the smallest at the front. Holly Taylor, T&M’s online manager adds that the best way to use a website for planning is to refine your flower search by soil type, hardiness, amount of sun and colour. That way, you’ll quickly zone in on the flowers that are most likely to flourish in your garden.

For height at the back of your border, don’t overlook the value of climbing plants on a fence, trellis panel or obelisk, says The Sunday Gardener, Carol:

There are so many different types of climber plants to choose from providing a long flowering period. The Clematis group alone has a wide range of flower shapes and flowering times. Another favourite is the highly-scented annual sweet pea, but there are also some less common climbing plants like the annual Cobaea scandens (the aptly named cup and saucer plant). For cooler northern gardens, Tropaeolum speciosum (the Scottish flame thrower) makes a real splash of colour.

Planting shrubs and perennials in your flower border helps to provide year-round structure and can reduce the amount of watering, feeding and dead-heading required throughout the growing season. Gill of Off the Edge Gardening suggests creating your dream border over time and keeping the costs down with clever use of annual seeds:

Whilst waiting for your shrubs and herbaceous perennials to become established in a newly planted border, you may well have a few gaps. The perfect solution is to fill them with annuals! Many are easy to grow from seed and will quickly, and cheaply, provide you with a summer-long carpet of colour. My favourites are cosmos, French marigolds, cornflowers and love-in-the-mist, but there are so many to choose from you can have fun experimenting. Vibrant or subtle, tall or short, simple or outrageous, there’s something out there just perfect for your garden.

Do you prefer annuals so that you can design a completely new display every year? Mike of Flighty’s Plot knows how to get the longest lasting show for your money. It’s simple: “Sow annual seeds in several lots to extend the flowering season.”

Keep your flowers blooming

Deadheading a flower to encourage more blooms

Deadheading faded flowers will encourage more blooms to appear
Image: photowind

Perennial flowers are generally easy to grow and require little attention once they have established. Annual flowers require a little more care – for the best displays you’ll need to feed and water them regularly, as well as remove faded blooms.

Alison of The Blackberry Garden explains:

Deadheading is a key part of my routine in the growing season, it helps encourage more blooms and also helps most plants get more bushy. I don’t use pesticides in the garden so I try to encourage insect-eating wildlife like birds and ladybirds into the garden. I also like to give some of the more hungry plants a regular feed with liquid seaweed as that seems to keep them healthy and happy.

Planting your flowers close together will help reduce weeds and encourage longer stems. And if you’re growing flowers for cutting, add shrubs with interesting foliage to the centre of the beds to provide structure to your flower arrangements as well as the border.

We’d like to thank all of the gardening bloggers who contributed tips to this article. We hope it has given you food for thought and helps you incorporate more flowers into your garden in the coming season.

 

Garden design tricks that make a big statement

Garden at night with lighting to illuminate

Garden lighting can transform an ordinary garden into something extraordinary
Image: welcomia

If you’re dreaming up big plans for your garden in the New Year and you’re looking for clever ways to create dramatic impact, we can help.

We asked our favourite British garden designers for their top tips on how to make a big statement in your outside space. Here’s what they said…

Choose strong architectural plants

Acanthus mollis from Thompson & Morgan

Acanthus mollis brings dramatic impact to a garden
Image: Acanthus mollis from Thompson & Morgan

Let’s start with planting. Whether you prefer cottage garden style or something more contemporary, professional gardeners understand the power of repetition. Russell Page, a hugely successful twentieth-century landscape designer said: “the most striking and satisfying visual pleasure comes from the repetition or the massing of one simple element.”

Jason of Hornby Garden Designs agrees, and likes to use these architecturally dramatic plants in his schemes:

  • Acanthus mollis with jagged leaves and majestic white flowers that bloom from May to August. 
  • Phormium ‘Maori Queen’ (or New Zealand Flax) with strappy pink and green leaves throughout the year.
  • Anemanthele lessoniana (or Pheasant’s Tail Grass) lending green yellow and orange hues to the garden together with sensory movement.
  • Fatsia japonica (or Japanese aralia) with its large glossy palmate leaves makes a perfect specimen feature plant.

Geoff Stonebanks has some wonderful plants in his award-winning Driftwood Garden, but his favourite is also the acanthus: “Centre stage is taken by a large and imposing acanthus, which has incredible towering flower heads throughout the open garden season. Some years it can produce over 20 heads from the one plant.”

“If you’re looking for architectural impact, it has to be all about the foliage,” says Sarah Wilson of Roots and All:

Large-leaved plants such as cannas, begonias, phormiums, ferns, bergenias and palms all look dramatic. Light them to bring out their best features such as attractive leaf undersides, leaf texture or for the shadows the leaves cast on a background surface.

Add height

Topiary in a garden

Topiary brings vertical interest to your garden
Image: Rachel Benn

Clever garden designers create a sense of privacy, refuge or sanctuary within a larger outdoor space through the use of vertical planting and height. This doesn’t necessarily mean fencing the garden in, but applying 3-D design rules to make use of an entire space rather than just planting patches of ground.

Sarah Wilson recommends trying to create a variety of different ‘levels’ of interest in your garden: “Use a trailing plant on top of a wall to add interest where a planting scheme would otherwise be all on one level. A climbing plant can be used to create a green screen or wall. Evergreen climbers are the best – you can clothe an entire wall or trellis panel with a climber such as ivy, to give you a dramatic backdrop year-round.”

Alexandra of The Middle Sized Garden likes to use topiary to add height and architectural impact to her own garden:

It can be expensive, but you can also grow your own and learn how to topiarise. We have two holm oaks that we bought as £50 young ‘whips’. It took about five years before they were bulky enough to make a good topiary shape but they are now really distinctive.

Plant containers for instant drama

Geof Stonebanks terracotta pots in Driftwood Garden

Geoff Stonebanks has hundreds of terracotta planters in his Driftwood Garden
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Long term design schemes can take time to fully mature. While you’re waiting why not fill gaps and add instant colour with container plants, advises Sarah Wilson:

If your garden’s going through a tatty spell or you need to create instant drama for an outdoor party, draft in some help from containers. Placing a couple of well-thought out and freshly-planted containers in key places around the garden, such as either side of doorways or in front of borders, will draw the eye and they’ll become the flashy focal points.

Sarah recommends packing your containers full of plants and focussing on colour harmonies and foliage contrasts. And be bold with your pot sizes. Try using a few large containers rather than lots of small ones to create impact.

Geoff Stonebanks also recommends the use of container plants for dramatic effect, although he continually moves his around throughout the season:

“My garden contains over 300 different terracotta planters, filled with anything from bulbs, small shrubs, annuals, palms and grasses. The trick to using them is to ensure they contain plants and shrubs that ‘peak’ at different times of the year. That wow factor can easily be achieved by moving a fabulous-looking pot from its regular home to pride-of-place in the garden, just as it starts to look its best!” 

Plan for winter

Winter garden scene from Cheryl Cummings

Ornamental grasses lend an air of Narnia to your winter garden
Image: Cheryl Cummings

One of the things that separates professional from amateur garden design is the ability to plan for year-round interest. Even when the leaves have fallen and plants have died back, a garden with ‘great bones’ will have enough structural interest to carry it through the coldest months in style.

Cheryl Cummings uses ornamental grasses to create wonderful winter structure in her gardens:

In the depths of winter the best and longest lasting ornamental grasses are elevated from supporting artists into stars. In a hard frost their fine lines and elegant shapes are emphasised by a dusting of ice crystals. Left standing with the uncut remains of herbaceous foliage until the very end of the season, they provide essential shelter and sustenance for wildlife. And on sparkling cold days they reward us for our restraint with the stunning appearance of Narnia.

Here are four of her favourite grasses to recreate the magic in your own garden:

Add a focal point

Sculpture in Driftwood Garden from Geoff Stonebanks

Use pieces of sculpture to create focal points in your garden
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Finally, successful garden design is about more than just plants. It’s about using the space to maximum effect and giving your scheme a bit of personality. Here are three tips from our garden designers that will help deliver a professional punch to any garden:

  • Get creative with coloured paint: 

“A pot of paint adds instant wow factor. Give your garden a signature colour and use it on outdoor furniture, fencing, sheds, trellis and pots. It pulls mismatched styles together and can be easily changed when you want something different… Chalk paints can be used on any surface – plastic, metal and wood.” – Alexandra of The Middle Sized Garden

  • Invest in a garden sculpture:

“Instant wow factor can be achieved by carefully placing a stunning piece of sculpture in the garden. I have many, in both wood and metal, and the eye is immediately drawn to them.” – Geoff Stonebanks

“Personal pieces of sculpture hold relevance and give pleasure no matter the price tag. They add focus, meaning and charm whatever the weather.” – Cheryl Cummings

  • Add feature lighting:

“Cross lighting is one of my favourite lighting methods. Place two lamps at different angles to the front of a feature tree or plant to create a natural and three-dimensional effect.” – Jon Gower

We’d like to thank all of these fantastic garden designers for sharing their top tips with us. We hope you’ve found some ideas to inspire your own garden plans for the coming year. 

 

How to make a small garden feel more spacious

Somebody designing a room with a drawing

Clever design and expert planting will make your small garden feel beautifully spacious
Image: Toa55

Small gardens have to work harder than big ones. When your outdoor space is limited, you’ll need clever design and innovative planting to make it feel roomier.

We asked some of our favourite British garden-designers for their top tips on making a small garden feel more spacious. Here’s their expert advice:

Get creative with design

Garden path cutting through a small garden

Planting swathes of the same colour gives a cohesive effect
Image: Moolkum

The tinier your plot, the more creative you’ll need to get, bearing in mind that the end goal is a beautiful space that everyone enjoys spending time in.

“Small gardens are much harder to design than large gardens,” explains Belinda Macdonand of Shades of Green Garden Design:

“Think carefully about what the amenities you need to include in the garden are and consider whether you are able to double up on functionality – e.g. can storage areas be designed into fixed seating?”

Eugene Hill of Dewlands Garden Design agrees that creativity is key to excellent small-garden design. He draws inspiration from the way architectects work within small spaces…“[It’s] all about getting creative with the space to make the most of the tiny footprint. That’s the same philosophy that should be employed when thinking about creating a small garden; getting imaginative to make the most of the space.”

Keep it simple

Simple garden layout with a bottle of wine and a book

Pare everything back to give a feeling of roominess
Image: Jacqueline Abromeit

It’s easy to overwhelm a small garden by trying to fit too much into a tiny area, say our experts. Simplify and strip everything back to achieve a spacious, balanced feel.

“Less is more!” advises Sarah Wilson of Roots and All:

“It’s often more difficult to design a small space than a large one, as restraint is key. If you can hone down the style of your space in terms of colours and style, keep the number of different materials used to a minimum and pare down your planting palette, you’ll find the overall look is more coherent and pleasing to the eye.”

Belinda Macdonald agrees: “the smaller the garden, the smaller the range of materials and plants should be used – use the motto ‘more of less’ to help you to remember this tip.”

“Clear out the clutter,” advises Bo Cook of Bo Cook Landscape and Design: “It is easy to end up collecting pots and other garden objets… Paring back to a few key pieces can help make the space feel calmer and larger.”

Blur the boundaries

Bamboo used as fencing with green shrubs

Use natural materials and clever planting to make garden boundaries ‘disappear’
Image: Delpixel

All of our experts advised drawing attention away from the boundaries and edges of your small garden, to make it look bigger.

Belinda Macdonald recommends softening your garden’s perimeters:

“Blurring the boundaries of a small garden can help draw the eye to ‘borrowed views’ outside the garden. This can be done in a variety of ways: Planting small trees or large shrubs in informal groups along the boundary and in the corners of the garden; staining fences and or/sheds black makes them ‘disappear’ and encourages planting to stand out.”

And Bo Cook also advises clever planting to do this job: “Green up the boundaries to blur the edges of the garden, and borrow from the wider landscape or cityscape. If you can make your boundaries green, the edges are less obvious, tricking the brain into thinking the garden is larger than it actually is.”

Many gardeners get this so wrong, says Eugene Hill: “If you’ve got a small garden, it can be very tempting to push everything out to the edge, which is a big mistake. When you do this, as you walk into the garden, you instantly see the boundaries at first glance, and by doing that, you tell everyone who visits ‘I’ve got a small garden’.”

Finally, Geoff Stonebanks used a clever visual trick to make his award-winning Driftwood Garden look bigger. He fitted a folly door in the perimeter fence and concealed the edges by an arch with various foliage growing up over it. “There is a real sense that there is more garden beyond the door!” says Geoff.

Use curved edges

Curved fencing edging a garden

Curved edges will make smaller gardens feel more spacious
Image: Derek Harris Photography

If you’ve got a regular-shaped garden, softening the hard edges will also make it look bigger, says Jason of Hornby Garden Designs: “The use of curves in a rectilinear garden can make it look wider, and add a degree of femininity.

Clever planting will also soften hard paving edges and bring a feeling of space, advises Bo Cook:

“Remember plants soften paving edges, so even if you aren’t in theory a straight line person, you can still have a simple square paving area that is made more organic in shape with the right choice of billowing and spilling edging plants.”

And, speaking of edges, Alexandra of The Middle Sized Garden recommends having just one border in a small garden: “Decide where you’d like your one main border to be and make it as big as you can – don’t try to have equal borders all around the garden.

Be clever with planting

Purple and white flowers

‘See-through’ plants like verbena bonariensis will make a garden look bigger
Image: Shutterstock

The plants you choose can also affect how spacious your garden feels, says Alexandra:

“Choose plants that people can see through or round, for example, tall thin spires (such as a very narrow fastigiate yew), verbascum, alliums or foxgloves. Plants you can ‘see through’ include verbena bonariensis, many of the grasses, and thalictrum.”

Well-balanced planting is key, says Sarah Wilson: “Having a harmonious space where everything works together and has been placed with purpose can make the space seem calmer and more expansive.

For Bo Cook, pared-back planting is essential: “Keep the planting simple. A single multi-stem or standard tree for height and balance, accompanied by groups of repetitive planting, will create a cohesive refined space.” 

Plant on the vertical

Vertical planting in Geoff Stonebanks in Driftwood Garden

Geoff Stonebanks makes full use of vertical planting in his Driftwood Garden
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

When we talk about small gardens, we’re focusing mainly on the horizontal plane. But it’s important not to neglect all of the vertical space you have available, says Alexandra: “Your garden has space in the air – make the most of it. These vertical plants lead the eye upwards and distract from the boundaries.”

Belinda Macdonald also recommends planting on the vertical:

“If you love plants, make sure you use all the vertical surfaces in the garden for growing – walls, fences, sheds, consider adding an obelisk, arch or pergola – there are many wonderful climbing plants and some shrubs can be trained against vertical surfaces too.”

When it comes to the size of the plants you choose, Belinda feels you don’t need to restrict yourself to the smallest specimens: “Don’t be afraid of using large structures or plants in a small garden – it can help it to appear bigger.

Alexandra agrees: “Add one or two eye-catching larger plants to create impact. And always have at least one tree, however small your garden is. It adds proportion to your garden and uses the vertical space as well as offering a home to wildlife and improving air quality.”

Create different zones

Garden zones in Geoff Stonebanks Driftwood Garden

Make your small garden feel bigger by dividing it into different ‘rooms’
Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Carving out different rooms or spaces is another powerful technique to make your small garden look bigger, says Eugene Hill:


“The trick to designing a small space effectively is to divide it into different functional areas. There might not be a huge scope, but it’s about creating different spaces within the garden so the brain is looking more at compartments within the garden than the actual boundaries.”

Geoff Stonebanks used this technique in Driftwood Garden, creating no less than nine different ‘rooms’: “This solved 2 immediate problems. The garden had to be navigated by moving through each room, instantly giving the sensation of passing through a much bigger plot. Secondly, the various room boundaries helped create different micro-climates throughout the garden.”

Geoff used reclaimed objects to mark out each new room in his garden: “…grey, vintage French shutters pinned to the side of small raised beds almost create a doorway moving from one room to the next. This is achieved elsewhere in the garden with rusty old gates and railings too. The use of tall objects, to create height, works well.”

Choose the best

Garden furniture on decking

Invest in the best you can afford
Image: Ivonne Wierink

Finally, every inch counts in a small garden, so always pick the best of everything that your budget can accommodate: “Use the best quality hardscape materials you can afford as everything is on show in a small garden,” advises Belinda Macdonald.

For huge impact in a small space, Jack of Jack Wallington Garden Design recommends investing in quality furniture:

“It sounds silly but new, stylish furniture instantly makes people go wow if you choose something carefully, so it’s always worth splashing out on good furniture. Also, grow one annual en masse, such as Calendula or Cosmos, and spread it around in stylish pots. Having the same plant in lots of places adds colour, impact and structure that’s guaranteed to knock people’s socks off.”

Eugene Hill suggests that you should approach the design of your garden as if it were a room in your house: “Think about your outdoor space like a kitchen, something you’ll enjoy using every day – it’s an investment so why not invest the same sort of money in your small back garden as you would your small kitchen? Design it carefully to be something you want to be in and it’s money well spent!”

We’d like to thank all of the garden designers who shared their insider wisdom for this article. And we hope you’ve found some tips and techniques that will help you make the most of your own small garden.

Top tips for family gardens

Mother and son gardening in the vegetable plot

Get your kids digging in the dirt
Image: Oksana Kuzmina

Kids have a natural love of nature, but they’re easily lured back indoors by screen time. If you’d like to get your children out in the garden for fresh air, learning and fun, we’ve compiled some great tips courtesy of our favourite family and gardening bloggers. Here’s all the inspiration you need to encourage young people to embrace the outdoors, gardens, and gardening…

How to tempt kids outdoors

Kid in a yellow jacket playing in a forest den

Entice children out with mud and dens
Image: Thomas Holt

  1. Make garden activities age-appropriate 

Lauren of Inspire, Create, Educate says: “Start by asking yourself what child-friendly means for your child. When my three were younger it would have meant keeping tools out of the way and being relaxed enough to let them dig and muck about wherever they liked. Now they’re all in junior and high school, we plant things together and they’re shown how to use the garden tools safely and appropriately.”

  1. Let kids get dirty 

Kate of The Ladybird’s Adventures says: “My kids love mud so it’s never been hard to get them involved in the garden.”  With that in mind, she’s created a mud kitchen for her children to play in: “They have a little play house that grown ups can’t fit inside and a mud kitchen that they adore. We use all sorts in the mud kitchen such as shells, petals, mud, conkers and of course water.”

Vicky of Earth Based Fun is another big fan of the power of mud to get kids outdoors and says a good way to get children interested in spending time outside is to get them building dens: “Children love to make dens – use willow, sticks, mud, just anything you can find to make a den that they will spend days playing in. Use clay to play in and keep it simple making mud pies. The smallest most simple of activities can create the most magic, and those are the things that they will always remember.”

  1. Create space to play 

Space to play unhindered by rules turns your garden into whatever your kids imagine it to be. Kev at An English Homestead says: “Giving them an area to play and just do their own thing is just as essential. Mine have a few different areas and love creating different games between their Wendy house and swings. It’s great for me as well, while they’re outside having fun, I can keep an eye on them while I work on the garden.”

  1. Create a wildlife pond

Lucy who writes Kids of the Wild says: “Whether in a bowl or several metres wide, it’s a brilliant ongoing project for all the family. We started with a bog garden in an old dog bed and now have a fantastic metre-deep pond teeming with wildlife and native fish! The children find it mesmerising.”

How to get kids interested in gardening

child planting seeds in pots

Encourage kids to grow from seed
Image: Mahony

  1. Give kids their own patch 

One of the best ways to get kids to switch off their devices, pull on a pair of wellies and get out into the garden, is to give them a patch of their own. It’s important, says Lucy of Kids of the Wild, to let your children make decisions without your input: “In our last garden my daughter edged her patch with stones, planted daffodils, allowed celandines to grow and hung a sheep’s skull on her patch of fence! Whenever I was outside she’d potter over and weed or rearrange.”

This freedom has clearly encouraged Lucy’s daughter to make more sophisticated choices about her gardening: “In our current garden she’s made fairy paths in her special area – a bigger space than previously – using pottery we’ve dug up, she’s planted geraniums and fallen in love with dahlias! I’m not a dahlia fan but allowing her to have autonomy has allowed her to develop her own gardening loves.”

Are you short of outside space? Catherine creator of Growing Family says even a container can be enough to get a child interested in the garden: “Having a piece of earth to call their own really motivates them to look after it and stay interested.”

  1. Ditch the toy tools 

Kev at An English Homestead writes: “Once they’ve over toddler size they know whether something is useful or not. My three children have proper “trenching” spades and shovels that are used by construction workers in deep and confined trenches. They can dig properly with these and actually feel useful. I think kids have a sixth sense when something is just “busy work” or real work, so give them proper jobs to make them feel helpful.”

  1. Set an example 

The best way to get children interested in gardening, says Lauren at Inspire, Create, Educate, is to let them see you in the garden! She says: “Children take their cues from their parents – even babies will reach for your phone instead of the cute child-friendly toy phone. If you do all your gardening while they’re in school and they never see you doing it, they’ll never take an interest.”

Speaking of maintaining children’s interest, Catherine at Growing Family says: “Don’t expect kids to have a long attention span in the garden either; you can keep things interesting by giving them a series of little jobs, and letting them potter about at their own pace.”

  1. Get kids growing

Kev at An English Homestead says the best way to get kids to engage with gardening is to let them grow from seed and harvest and eat the resulting crop – as he says “my three always think of their bellies and look forward to a tasty harvest.”

Catherine of Growing Family agrees. She says: “Growing plants from seed is my kids’ number one favourite gardening job. I can see why: it’s just such a magical process, and hugely rewarding when those little seedlings thrive.”

Don’t have your own garden? That’s not a problem says Sabina who writes Deep in Mummy Matters. She says: “My mother-in-law has an allotment where she grows fruit and vegetables. The children really enjoy going over to the allotment with her to help out, and of course to eat the fruits of their labour. If you don’t have space in your garden for a vegetable patch then speak to your council about an allotment as they are really cheap to rent and it’s a good family activity to do on evenings and weekends.”

And do let kids take charge, reminds Kev who allows his kids to harvest veg for tea: “They love coming back up with all the goodies and knowing that they had to decide what was ready and what wasn’t. It gives them a sense of responsibility and pride that they’re helping to feed the family.”

Karen at Pumpkins and Bunting has a great idea for combining growing and building dens. She says: “Children of all ages love dens and sweet treats, so try growing your own pea teepee! It’s a simple way to encourage children to get involved with gardening on the allotment and pick and eat fresh veg too. Make a simple tepee leaving a gap between two of the canes big enough for a child to crawl into, tie together at the top securely with twine.”

What’s best to sow and grow with kids?

strawberry 'just add cream' from T&M

Strawberries are the perfect crop for hanging baskets
Image: Strawberry ‘Just Add Cream’ from Thompson & Morgan

    • Easy-to-grow favourites:

“Radishes, lettuce, carrots and beans are all easy and quick to grow,” says Vicky at Earth Based Fun. “Edible flowers seem to always fascinate them. My daughter loves wild flowers. All you need is a bit of dirt and a small pot to watch them grow.”

    • Things they can pick and eat on the spot:

Kev at An English Homestead writes: “My children love running down the garden after school to find enough to snack on. They love all the berries but also go mad for cucamelons, cucumbers, tomatoes, New Zealand yam leaves and a weird favourite is electric daisies [they taste of citrus crossed with an electric shock] which they love tricking their friends with!”

    • Sunflowers:

“Sunflowers are one of the best things to grow with children because they’re fast-growing and fun to race,” says Lauren at Inspire, Create, Educate. She and her children also grow tomatoes during the summer and adds: “My youngest loves to grow colourful rainbow chard (as well as his very own apple tree), and we love to see nasturtiums too. The answer really is, grow whatever your children want to grow!”

    • Peas:

Over at An English Homestead, Kev’s kids adore peas. He writes: “I love growing tall heritage peas just so I know there will be some they can’t reach! I remember looking out the window a couple of years ago and between them they had harvested a bowl full of peas and raspberries and they sat sharing them out between each other, eating both at the same time!”

    • Strawberries:

Try growing strawberries in hanging baskets, says Claire at The Ladybird’s Adventures – it’s very simple and takes little space.

    • Create a container garden:

Create a bit of magic with acontainer fairy garden, suggests Karen at Pumpkins and Bunting. “Use a container with a wide surface area and fill with compost. Add small plants such as heather, succulents, cyclamen or house plants. Make or buy a fairy door and use gravel and small stones to create a winding path. Include small furniture from a doll’s house or make your own. Add solar or battery operated fairy lights for extra magic sparkle!”

With our bloggers’ tips, you now have plenty of strategies you can use to get your little ones hooked on gardening and the fascinating natural world that lies just outside the kitchen door.

 

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