12 Creative Tips For a Stunning Urban Garden
Do you have a typical urban garden?
Usually it’s rectangular. It can be seen from the house. And, although you’d like it to look larger, somehow you never have the time to make it look perfect.
Of course, if you could afford it, you’d get Charlotte Rowe in to wave her magic wand over it. The bindweed – or the begonias – wouldn’t stand a chance.
No Man’s Land, Charlotte’s garden at the 2014 RHS Chelsea Flower Show not only won ‘Gold’, but was everywhere – in all the major newspapers and on the TV, and also featuring in ‘The Archers’. Many of
Charlotte’s clients have typical town gardens – at least they’re typical before Charlotte starts on them. She’s done roof gardens, stylish balconies and larger family town gardens.
When it comes to urban gardens, the rich have the same problems we do. They want their garden to look fabulous, They want to make the most of the space – which is always limited.
And they want a garden that works with their lifestyle, whether they have a young family, travel frequently or entertain alot.
1) Start with the view from the house
‘All my gardens start off the house,’ says Charlotte. With our climate, you’ll be looking at your garden more than you’ll be in it.
We’re sitting in her own garden, which was one of the first gardens she designed. The main focal point is a smart, white fireplace and chimney breast which you can glimpse through the house when you come in the front door.
2) Don’t have curves or a line down the middle
‘I like straight lines,’ says Charlotte. ‘I don’t like curves. Alot of people want to off-set the boxiness of a rectangular urban garden by introducing circles, but I don’t think that works.
Curves create “pinch points” in the planting, where it’s difficult to fit plants in. I line things up, but not symmetrically.
The fireplace in my garden, for example, lines up with the front door not with a central spot in the garden.
3) Break up the space.
‘Everyone thinks that having as much lawn as possible will make the garden look larger,’ says Charlotte. ‘It doesn’t. If you take the lawn right up to the edges of the garden, you’ll actually make the garden look smaller. Break up the space with planting and paths.
Sometimes people don’t want to “waste space” by having big beds, but a few big beds, breaking up the space look better than narrow beds down the sides or along the edges.’
4) Have lush planting
Getting the ‘bones’ of a garden right is the key factor. But once the architecture is in place, then lush planting will make a garden feel more dramatic.
Charlotte has two beds (“promontories”) directly in front of the kitchen doors, which frame the view of the fireplace. Lavish greenery tumbles out of them.
5) But use a limited palette
Charlotte uses a relatively small number of different plants in a town garden, choosing them carefully for a long season of interest. There may be only a dozen or so plants, repeated in generous clumps. ‘Planting that’s too bitty looks fussy in a small town garden.’
She’s also good at finding unusual and stylish variants of well known plants – in her garden Jasmine ‘Clotted Cream’ makes a delightful change from the usual pink-tinged jasmines. And she only uses one kind of Santolina – Primrose Gem.
6) Choose plants which have alot to offer
One of Charlotte’s favourite trees for a small garden is Amelanchier Lamarkii – it has spring blossom, an elegant shape and beautiful autumn colour.
In her own garden she has Pyrus Calleyrana Chanticleer, because it also has blossom and autumn colour and keeps its leaves until November.
Her favourite climbers include the evergreen trachelospermum jasminoides (which is pumping out fragrance as we talk), which looks good all year round.
7) Design the garden round the furniture
You need to know what furniture you’re going to have in an urban garden and where you want to put it before designing the garden, according to Charlotte.
She often uses built-in benches to make the most of space, and she likes modular or funky furniture like Paola Lenti’s crocheted garden chairs with their powerful pops of colour.
Her smallest garden was just a balcony, and they had a table built to fit because there weren’t any narrow enough tables to buy.
8) Build in storage
Charlotte has made the most of every inch with built-in benches that double as log storage and running stylish cupboards down the ‘side return’. Most Victorian town houses in the UK have a back extension that juts out into the garden and the space down the side can be lost.
9) Continue the flooring inside and outside the house
In some of the gardens Charlotte designs, she chooses the paving for the garden ‘first’ and the kitchen floor is chosen to match or to go with it. Running the same or co-ordinating flooring inside and out gives a sense of spaciousness.
10) Line paving up with your focal point or with the house.
Charlotte is meticulous about lining the edges of her paving up so that there are straight continuous lines where she wants them. ‘I’m a bit of a tyrant,’ she says. ‘I’ve made contractors take paving up if it isn’t right.’ In her own garden, the paving lines up with the fireplace.
11) Dark fencing or walls make the space look larger
Dark colours make a space recede, and Charlotte finds that painting fencing black or dark colours helps make the garden feel larger. ‘People worry that it’ll be too dark,’ she says, ‘but it works really well.’
12) Lighting is key in urban gardens
Charlotte is the Queen of Garden Lighting, regularly winning the top garden design awards for her lighting design. She believes that lighting is key to a successful town garden, because – especially in winter – you’ll be looking at the garden at night from the house.
And a bonus tip:
‘Fireplaces work really well in urban gardens’, says Charlotte. ‘They need to be properly built, however, with chimneys that draw properly and are protected from rain. But they really increase the time you can spend in the garden as they provide real heat, provided that you use logs rather than a gas effect.’
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