Small Garden Design

How I Helped Carl To Create His Amazing Outdoor Space!

Copyright image: small garden design with modern pergola.

A small garden design can be very challenging, to say the least, but Carl was determined to have a garden full of vibrantly coloured plants.

Transforming the garden in his new house from a very low maintenance area to a space that reflected his personality and love of flowers needed some thinking through, that's for sure, although, in the end, the design itself took on a life of its own and evolved into the most amazing place to relax after a busy day at work and, especially, weekends.

He knew what he wanted, which was a very good start.

Creating a Small Garden Design

A garden design of this type - small and rectangular -  requires a good deal of thought before the build can begin. Due consideration needs to be given to how it will all come together: features; levels; boundaries; lawn; utility areas; seating and planting; as well as blending everything with the surrounding countryside.

Carl's garden is his own private space, yet, significantly, is semi-communal, in the sense that all the gardens here are open. There is an access path nearest to the house.  The situation throws up extra challenges: neighbours views and boundaries must be respected, particularly those immediately on either side.  If there is a backside to any aspect of the design, it needs to be an attractive backside, so to speak!

Apart from the abundant planting and well-cared for lawn, an area to disguise refuse bins was a must, along with a comfortable seating area covered by a pergola to give much needed height and interest: always important in a small garden design like this one.

Carl loves alpines, too, so, as he had an enamel sink, it was incorporated into the makeover, sitting next to the fence and path where it can be easily admired.

He wanted a lawn to set off borders containing a mixture of shrubs, perennials, climbers, spring and summer bulbs, along with annuals for a bit of spontaneity.

We were going to need to do some serious plant shopping; not a hardship for the two of us at any time. Roll on pay day!

Finding plant ideas is easy, there are lots here, where you can take a look at the height and spread of plants (very important if you're just starting out), a huge variety of all different types, plants for different places, care and pruning. It's a great resource to use just for information and inspiration.


It's always good to re-use existing materials if possible, and there were a fair few in this re-design.

The stone circle, with squared-off corners, was relocated on the front garden, where it fitted seemlessly into the area, and is now surrounded by beautiful perennials, roses, grasses and rockery plants. The large, rectangular, Indian limestone slabs were cleaned and used for the patio under the pergola.

Copyright image: small garden design before makeover.

But First, The Clearance.....

Dropping the shed was the first job. Jimmy and Rich were drafted in to help; it's always useful to have an extra set of hands.....or, even better, two.

Looking like an abandoned flag ship next to the broken hull of the shed, the line of washing added an extra frisson of excitement for the guys at the sharp end of the obstacle course. But a man must have his smalls on a Monday morning, come what may!

Seems to be more chatting than demolishing going on there, Carlos.

Copyright image: small garden design: clearing the site.

Next came the fence. With that down, it opened everything up, letting in the light and revealing the beautiful views beyond. What a bonus.

But, there's a saying, "You have to break eggs to make a cake", and this was a prime example! All the slabs are up. You can just see where I've started to experiment with a bit of a curve for the lawn and borders in the midst of the organised chaos. 

Copyright image: small garden design: clearing the site.

Working With Levels

With the decorative gravel removed, bagged up ready to use elsewhere, along with the stone setts, planned for another small seating area, and with the large slabs lifted, to be used as the pergola base, the levels were now lower than the adjacent hard standing.   

Different levels can make a garden much more interesting in the long run and this played right into our hands.

Here we can see the steps moving to the right at an angle, one slightly below the other, to the level of the lawn.  This gives interest to a very flat space, bringing a sense of journey and interest into the garden. Because the soil is very free draining, there is no danger of standing water.

Both sets of steps - the ones at this end and the ones near the pergola - lead to different levels and are slightly off-set.

Because the lawn stretches from bottom left to top right, passing borders of colourful and architectural planting, the journey to the pergola is really interesting, with different plants, textures, seats, fencing and trellis. Then we arrive at the amazing pergola area: a sun trap on warm summer evenings.

The Finishing Touches

With the lawn turfed, the pergola built, and the recycled stone setts making an interesting base for the seating area at the side, we were well on our way. Both sets of furniture - under the pergola and at the side - match, bringing a coherence to the whole garden design. 

Curved borders spill out against the lawn. Carl loves strong, complementary colours (those on the opposite side of a colour wheel, such as green and red, purple and orange) and, with all the different leaf forms and shades, the garden looks a real treat.

Copyright image: small garden design with modern pergola.

The last job was to fix the trellis. Hiding utilities is always a good idea.

This corner is filling out well, disguising the bins; you can hardly tell they are there now.

Copyright image: small garden design.

This small garden design - often termed a modern cottage garden - has contemporary elements with a cottage garden feel. The area underneath the pergola, with borders on either side, packed with lots of different types of plants, is an enclosed and welcoming space. You can find this particular pergola here.

As an added feature, the pergola frame acts as a window into the beautiful Derbyshire countryside. Amazing!

Copyright image: small garden design with pergola.

Carl added an interesting finishing touch on the pergola rafter.....

Copyright image: small garden design with pergola.

We had a great time building this garden; a little bit on a shoestring, I must say, as Carl cleared most of the the existing garden, and then we rebuilt it together with help from anyone willing to lend a hand.

But what a triumph it is! Much admired by all, it is a truly fantastic transformation, and shows what can be done in a very small space.

If you need a little more inspiration to start designing your garden, take a look at some pictures, plans, kits and ideas to make your small garden design a real hit!

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