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Garden magic: how to make a small garden feel great

Think big and work some magic in a small garden

You might think that garden lovers would want a big garden in which to indulge their passion. But sometimes small is not only beautiful, but better. Why? Because a small garden can be designed in a way that brings exactly what’s wanted, without breaking the bank. It can also be micro-managed and maintained more easily, thus bringing the ultimate in satisfaction.

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Modern day living

Modern houses generally come with small gardens which present a range of predictable problems: lack of privacy; lack of space, boring design; little or no storage space; seemingly few planting opportunities; fiddly shapes to negotiate when mowing; and more. But one person’s problem is another person’s challenge and these diminutive gardens present a huge opportunity to be creative, inventive and imaginative.

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Moving up or down

Where should you start? If you are prepared to make a little investment, you could consider introducing some sort of height or change in levels. Moving from one level to another increases the feeling of space and lends the feeling of three dimensional shapes. You could incorporate steps up or down to the main garden from the patio, or at least install some planters in order to give height and enable planting on a different level.

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Clothe fences in climbing plants

If you are merely looking to improve the planting in order to create a more luscious garden experience, vertical planting will be the way to go. All gardens have a boundary, and these can be planted with an array of interesting climbers. Don’t pick just one: even a small garden can accommodate dozens of climbing plants.

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These can be carefully chosen to flower at different times of year so that you gain the maximum benefit of interest. A garden mirror, cleverly inserted onto a fence and surrounded by climbers can reflect some light back into the garden and make it look larger. It also creates the illusion that there’s a doorway or space beyond. Tricks and intrigue: you have the chance to work some garden magic!

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Shapes, structure, and subtle tweaks

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You really don’t want to be able to see everything at a glance. Even in a tiny space, it’s possible to create an incentive to explore. Try to eliminate the rectangular lawn, edged with a thin strip of planting. It’s dull and boring and offers no reason to want to walk around the garden. Instead, a circular or oval lawn tends to draw you around it. Where the beds are necessarily wider because the square corners of the garden are more distant, insert stepping stones to a ‘destination’. Maybe a bench; perhaps a statue; a bird table or even a water feature. But make sure the surrounding planting obscures part of it because this will really make you want to go there.

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If you decide to do away with the lawn altogether, make sure you give sense and direction to an outdoor space so that the eye can comfortably roam around the garden. This means you will need a circulation route, maybe a path through planting to a seating and dining area. Avoid too many types of hard materials as it creates a haphazard atmosphere. Consider demarcation between the patio next to the house and the start of the garden. A raised planter or at least some tall planting achieves this rather well.

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Seven climbers that will clothe your fences in joy

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Number one on the list has to be Clematis. There are more than 200 different Clematis from which to choose. Selection is tricky! Consider the flowering time, the ultimate height, the direction in which it will face, the dryness of the site and whether you want it to be evergreen or deciduous. You’ll have no problem choosing several.

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Star jasmine, Trachelospermum jasminoides, is a great evergreen climber.

The star jasmine, Trachelospermum jasminoides, is invaluable for a sunny fence. It’s an elegant, evergreen climber that bears white, star-shaped, richly scented flowers throughout summer. What’s more, the glossy foliage turns a pleasing coppery bronze in autumn, an unusual feature for an evergreen.

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Actinidia kolomikta is an ornamental kiwi, grown for its unusual foliage.

Foliage with a curious ‘wow’ factor is Actinidia kolomikta. This is a type of kiwi, grown for its foliage which looks as if it has been splashed with paint. Some, but not all, of its green leaves are edged or seemingly ‘dipped’ in creamy-white or pink. The random splashes appear on slightly older foliage, so be patient after planting!

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This unusual white Passiflora is called 'Snow Queen' and it is considered to be an excellent climbing plant.

Passiflora, the passion flower, is a climber to which it is worth allocating some fence-room. It likes sunshine and now comes in different colours including the normal blue, plus rosy red and even white. It produces fruit that are edible but best left on the vine as an ornamental attraction.

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A great vine for a taller fence: Parthenocissus henryana. It has good autumn colour and an attractive leaf shape.

Parthenocissus henryana is a Chinese Virginia creeper that is more suitable for small gardens than its larger Virginia creeper cousin. It’s still capable of growing to 10 metres high, however, so it’s a good idea to keep it in check. With lovely autumn colour and the capability of growing in shade, this is a highly versatile and rather beautiful plant.

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Campsis, or trumpet vine, makes a summer splash of yellow and orange.

Campsis radicans, the trumpet vine. This is self-clinging, once it gets going, and it produces the most appealing trumpet-shaped orange flowers in late summer. Give it a sunny wall and allow it to climb up to at least four metres. You won’t regret planting this beauty.

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Abutilon is a great climbing plant with interesting flowers. One of the best is 'Kentish Belle'.

If you have a sunny, sheltered site, consider planting Abutilon ‘Kentish Belle’. This is a charming shrub which can be grown as a climber, reaching heights of up to 2.5 metres in time. It is semi-evergreen and produces bell-shaped orange and red flowers during summer and into autumn. Needs protection from very low temperatures.