The Art of Small Garden Design: Why Less is More.

2nd July 2024

In the realm of garden design, the age-old adage "less is more" rings particularly true, especially when it comes to small garden design.

While the temptation to fill every nook and cranny with an abundance of plants and features may be strong, restraint and thoughtful planning often yield the best results. In this blog post, drawing on examples from the Melbourne Garden Show, we'll explore why less truly is more in small garden design.

Visual Clarity: Too much clutter in a small garden can overwhelm the senses and create a feeling of chaos. Adopting a minimalist approach, focusing on a select few plants and design elements, allows each component to shine. This creates visual clarity and a sense of harmony essential for a small space to feel inviting and peaceful. The garden below is one of our favourites from the Achievable Gardens section at the Melbourne Garden Show. It is both simple and highly creative. The designer used the garden's exposition to determine the choice of plants and the colour palette. Playing on light and shadow, two simple colour palettes, silver greens and aubergines, contrast and complement each other. Although there are many different plants and textures, the busyness is calmed by keeping the tones uniform.

Space Optimization: Every square inch counts in a small garden. By embracing simplicity in design, you can optimize the use of space more effectively. Thoughtfully placed plants and features can create the illusion of more space, making the garden feel more extensive and more expansive than it is. Strategic use of negative space can also help to open up the area and create a sense of airiness.

** An additional note on space optimisation: In previous blog posts, we discussed the importance of planning, specifically the importance of taking the time to consider your lifestyle and what you intend to do in your garden most of the time. This essential step helps us to determine space optimisation by honing in on and prioritising the features that will ensure your garden fulfils your expectations and enjoyment levels and, most of all, ensures that you will be spending as much time in your garden as possible, whether that's admiring the view from afar or growing and tending to your vege patch.

Below are two examples of gardens that have their space optimised for entirely different uses. On the left, we have a garden destined for relaxation: the primary focus is the large outdoor bed surrounded by a soothing body of water and a minimal, easy-care planting scheme. I don't know about you, but I'm reaching for my book and cup of tea just looking at this image! On the right is a space designed for the keen gardener: multiple layers, including vertical planters and raised garden beds, provide maximum productive gardening space. Built-in seating provides a space to sit and take a break from gardening but isn't comfortable enough for long periods. For the owner of this garden, the hours of enjoyment come from being productive and connected to the land.

Ease of Maintenance: A garden filled to the brim with plants and intricate features can quickly become overwhelming to maintain, especially in a small space where every plant competes for resources. By keeping the design simple and uncluttered, you reduce the amount of upkeep required, making it easier to keep the garden looking its best with minimal effort.

Focus on Quality: In a minimalist garden, each plant and design element becomes a focal point in its own right. Rather than diluting the impact with an abundance of features, you can focus on selecting high-quality plants and materials that truly enhance the space. This creates a more curated, refined, visually pleasing, and enduring aesthetic.

The garden below is an excellent example of both low maintenance and a focus on quality. Keeping the garden beds to a minimum combined with a hardy and easy-care planting scheme (bear in mind these are Australian plants and not necessarily suitable to our NZ climate) reduces the required maintenance. Two large tree specimens create additional interest and focal points. The addition of Corten steel edging is an excellent example of a quality product, as it is timeless and serves as both a functional and a design feature. Even the use of timber to create a feature wall could be explored (in this case, it's more of a design feature rather than a functional purpose).

Embracing Restraint: By deliberately choosing to include only the most essential elements, you create a sense of intentionality and purpose in the garden. When planning a garden, we always recommend making a long list of features you might like and ranking them in order of priority. This way, we can ensure that the most important features are included. Less critical features may have to be sacrificed or fulfilled by an alternative or creative solution.

The garden below is another example of a focus on function (relaxation) and minimal upkeep with small pockets of planting. The hardscaping colour palette is kept uniform, with a focus on minimalist design features to provide interest. Just imagine if you tried to add an outdoor table and chairs, a BBQ, a shed, or a veggie patch!

In conclusion, less is indeed more when it comes to small garden design. By embracing simplicity, space optimization, ease of maintenance, a focus on quality, and the art of restraint, you can create a beautiful and functional garden. So the next time you're tempted to overcrowd your small garden with abundant plants and features, remember that sometimes, the most captivating landscapes whisper rather than shout.

Our designers specialise in urban gardens, terraced housing, balconies, and decks. If you are considering transforming your outdoor space, don't hesitate to get in touch for a no-obligation consultation.

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