A home with a garden, however small the outdoor space might be, is high on many homeowners or renters’ wish lists for their ideal house or flat. In towns and cities, where green open space is limited, a sizeable garden is even more coveted. With space at a premium in city homes, we demand the same from our outdoor areas as we do of our interiors; namely, even compact gardens must be multi-functional, practical and well-designed for modern life. We’re not just talking about perennial planting, but outdoor furniture, lighting and garden accessories that turn an outdoor space adjacent to a townhouse into a secret garden retreat! Clever ideas for city gardens (and the furniture that fits in them) are out there – and often they’re more inspiring than designs for larger garden spaces, simply because they’re creative by necessity.
More than just an occasional outdoor space, townhouse gardens can (and sometimes have to) tick a lot of boxes to become an alfresco area with year-round allure. Whether you want your patio or decking to become a more child-friendly play area, or dream of the lawn or artificial grass housing an outdoor zone for entertaining – by making it an extra living room or welcoming dining area – there are plenty of ways to update the walled/ fenced/ rooftop/ balcony garden of a city home to create a secret retreat. Even if space is tight, you can almost certainly install some pretty planters to create a fresh herb garden… or, if you’re lucky, a little inner-city vegetable patch! Can we have it all, you ask? Well we have a few clever garden ideas, ideally suited to today’s city homes, to inspire you to make your outdoor area great…
Link the spaces to avoid a disjointed design. A water feature, running from one level to the next, is a popular ploy. Use repetition: the same materials and similarly-shaped elements of hard landscaping (paths, paving, decking) can be echoed throughout the garden; planting with similar flora can also connect split levels.
Planning permission is needed to erect permanent structures to screen your space. Use trees such as beech and hornbeam that will let light in and make you feel secluded. These need not take up too much space in a confined plot - the trunks can be trimmed of branches up to head height.
Select plants tolerant to wind (these tend to have smaller leaves). Steer clear of a muddle of small plants. Focus on fewer, larger planters, and choose trees or shrubs with sculptural silhouettes. Rubber is quiet, soft and hardwearing - tile your roof terrace or balcony garden with these tiles for easy cleaning and comfort.
Incorporate some fixed seating into your design to save wrestling with numerous chairs, and add shelter, if you want year-round use. Invest in 'party' lighting: spots at ground level that allow guests to find their way around in the dark; dramatic uplights under trees and shrubs, and in waterfalls and ponds.
Low-maintenance gardens are best for busy urbanites; how low you go is up to you. Automated watering systems are popular. Lawns can be swapped for decking; climbers, which need pruning, for a screen of evergreen bamboo; conifers can be substituted for deciduous trees.
Screen off a secluded space large enough for a single lounger, add soothing scented plants such as jasmine, lavender and chamomile; the trickle of a courtyard fountain is the final touch.
Take advantage of the shade and structural support offered by a dividing garden wall to create a corner seating area with an overhead canopy - great for making a private space that is hidden from neighbours' view.
Amalfi sofa and ottoman
Being short on space doesn't have to mean being short on style. Use a large folding screen to act as a dramatic divide between your inside and outside spaces, creating a distinguished dining area for entertaining friends. A graphic design makes a bold style statement.
Table and bench
Screen in Racing Stripe
Build up foliage and planting around a small patio area to create the illusion of a bountiful, blossoming garden. This small courtyard is screened by a laurel hedge, foxglove tree (Paulownia tomentosa), New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax), diamond grass, heliopsis and Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy'.
Even the smallest of gardens can be used as a fully-functional space. This plot has been transformed into an outside kitchen complete with a dining area and a barbecue.
Shelving, a food preparation area and even a clock on the wall add to the feeling of an outside room.