Town Gardens – Small Garden Ideas
Patios and Small Gardens Ideas
Town dwellers often have to content themselves with little gardening space, but with imagination forideas, the most unlikely site can be transformed into a place of beauty with flowers and foliage provided by a surprising range of plants.
Very tiny gardens can be turned into patios, and even in flats, gardening can stretch beyond houseplants to window-boxes and hanging flower baskets, and perhaps the balcony or roof.
The plants and techniques used in confined-space gardening are equally useful outside towns of course, and a patio sitting-out area is often appreciated even in a large garden, while window-boxes and hanging baskets are universally appreciated.
Everyone seeks something slightly different from a garden, but the chances are the owners ofin towns will want a place for relaxation and perhaps an escape from the world around him.
The first need is usually for privacy; the town garden should be a private garden, an enclosure where nobody can overlook you, and where the world can be shut out.
Before erecting new screens, see what use can be made of existing boundaries, and any interesting features. An old pink brick wall would be a gift on such an occasion, but even a dirty town wall has value when painted or whitewashed and planted with something like the mauve-lilac Solanum crispum (although this is not hardy except in the south), together with the coral-pink crimson-shaded climbing rose ‘Mme Gregoire Staechlin’. A brash, modern brick wall will also be transformed by this treatment.
Climbing plants can be trained to a trellis or wide-meshed netting, in panels fixed against the wall, or by special wall nails with soft attachments that can be bent around the shoot to be supported.
Pear trees or espalier-trained apples planted against walls also make a delightful background to early-flowering.
Brick walls suit a garden well as a boundary or screen, but can be very expensive if they are built specially. If cost rules out brick or stone, good timber or open-work concrete walling could be considered.
Trees and shrubs affordfrom wind and noise, and also strengthen the garden’s defence from onlookers.
Forest trees should be avoided as a rule, by reason of size, but fastigiate or upright forms take little space and are well suited to most gardens.
Some of the fastigiate trees worth consideration areBetula pendula ‘Fastigiata’ (an erect form of silver birch),‘Columnaris’ (a slow-growing, columnar form of common hornbeam, and useful for a clay ), Crataegus monogyna ‘Stricta’ (an erect form of common hawthorn), Quercus robur ‘Fastigiata’ (the cypress oak), and Gingko biloba ‘Fastigiata’ (a columnar form of maidenhair tree).
Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Frisia’ , a golden-yellow form of the false acacia, is one of the best trees for a town garden. Its only drawback is brittle branches, and exposed sites must be avoided.
Two weeping frees that are always admired are Young’s weeping birch (Betula pendula ‘Youngii’ and the golden-yellow willow Salix x chrysocoma (but only plant it where there is sufficient space).
Another favourite tree for a town garden is the Indian bean tree (Catalpa bignonioides). The golden form C. b. ‘Aurea’ is the most attractive, but is not so easy to buy.
The Judas tree (Cercis siliquastrum) with rosy clusters of pea-shaped flowers borne on the naked branches in May, has great charm. The magnolias are also highly desirable trees or large shrubs; most are deciduous, but M. grandiflora is an evergreen with huge cream, sweetly fragrant goblets.
The Prunus family provides many decorative forms of cherry, peach, almond and plum, all of which adapt to town conditions.
Conifers can be difficult in town gardens, but there are some dependable kinds. That lightning grower the Leyland cypress ( xleylandii) is one of them. It has an unbeatable record for rapid screening, and makes an excellent, if rather dull, splaying grey-green hedge. But it can be brightened considerably by interplanting with a golden form ‘Castlewellan’.
Window Flower Boxes
All town houses and flats have windows, and that usually means a suitable window-ledge. That is valuable growing space, and a priority when it comes to designing small town gardens.
Until fairly recently, windowboxes were as unchanging as the windows; today there are many kinds, from Florentine pottery to plastic, and there should be something to suit all tastes.
Wood is the traditional material, teak, oak, ash, elm, or deal all being used. They are listed in order of durability. The advantage of wood is that the box can be made to fit a particular space.
The prime consideration with any windowbox is safety. Decorative boxes are a delight: safe ones an obligation. Always make sure they are firmly anchored, ideally by securing the box to fixings screwed into the wall or timber frame.
A shallow watertight tray placed underneath the box will catch surplus water and protect the timber beneath.
Compost should not be overlooked in the urge to plant the box with flowers. As ordinary soil seldom brings good results, buy good, and place this over a substantial layer of damp peat, with rough drainage material such as stones and pot shards at the bottom of the box.
Watering must never be neglected. Use the watering-can regularly, but be careful not to overwater. The compost should be allowed to become reasonably dry, but never parched.
Feeding is usually most appreciated before the plants come into full bloom, and a liquid fertilizer is the most satisfactory way to feed windowbox plants.
, or ‘geraniums’ as they are popularly known, are ideal windowbox plants. Upright kinds can be planted at the back of the box, with trailing ivy-leaved kinds tumbling over the front.
Aspecialist will offer many cultivars from which to choose, but some good ones are ‘Galilee’ (rose-pink), ‘Charles Turner’ (pink, feathered maroon), and the pick of them all, the superb ‘La France’ (semi-double lilac with distinctive maroon markings on the upper petals).
Ideal for the kitchen window. As a start, try marjoram, lemon thyme, mint,, rosemary and sage. Mint and thyme are trespassers and will have to be kept in their place. Plant each of these in individual pots concealed within the box.
Plant in three layers. Daffodils at the bottom, golden early doubleVan der Hoef’ lightly covered with soil as the second layer, and small bulbs on the top, such as reticulata, scillas, and others that do not flower later than April (to avoid interference with summer planting).
The choice is legion. Petunias should be high on the list, together with pansies,, drummondii, stocks and heliotropes.
Use dwarf conifers such as Juniperus communis ‘Compressa’ orlawsoniana ‘Ellwood’s Gold’, surrounded by variegated ivies.
The problem of shade can be overcome by using tuberous-rooted, and . Hostas and London pride ( umbrosa) are other possibles.
Terraces and Patios
The dictionary has it that the patio is an inner court open to the sky. It is a place for eating, drinking, sitting and, perhaps, thinking and working outdoors. It is best sited near the house, and when the summer is kind it can be treated as an extra outdoor room.
Any paved area in the garden can be converted into a patio, or a start can be made from scratch. The choice of paving material can be all-important. Old brick paving is warm and friendly, but is almost impossible to come by, and expensive, but modern bricks in dull blue, ochre and purple-brown shades are becoming fashionable.
Real stone paving is perfect in any garden, but generally beyond the budget. On rare occasions, however, second-hand paving stones are to be had from local councils and should be bought if possible. As the slabs often vary in thickness, it may pay to have them laid by a professional.
Precast concrete paving slabs make a very acceptable patio or terrace, and should certainly be considered if more mellow alternatives are not available.
Gravel is a possibility, but may not appeal to many people; however it can be very effective in the right setting. Patches, squares or strips of gravel, cobbles, or even grass, between paved areas can be effective provided the area is not too large.
Once the floorscope has been settled, the next priority is to screen against wind and draughts, and to hide any eyesores. Walls, of whatever material, should be at least 1.8m (6ft) high; but before going too high, check with your landlord or the deeds of the property, as there may be height restrictions.
Lighting adds an extra dimension, and this exciting element should not be overlooked. A spotlight trained on a well-grown tree or shrub will give it fairy-like glamour.
Laying the cable, which should be specially designed for the job, and wiring outdoor lighting, is one of those tasks definitely best left to the professional.
Protection is often desirable. Although a true patio is open to the sky, most people would vote for some kind of protection, at least in part. A wooden frame fitted with a PVC blind is a blessing, but a pergola covered with a wisteria, vine, honeysuckle or rose, to provide some shade, is all that’s required in a fine summer.
Barbecues are popular with many eager cooks, and can be the centre of a summer evening party. A metal grid over bricks can be put together quite simply, but many ready-made kinds are available.
Furniture needs to reflect one’s own taste, but a table and chairs are basic requirements. A bar, and mattresses to relax on, are extras that provide a luxury touch. A dashing, giant sunshade will give the scene extra colour and continental gaiety.
A courtyard situated at the front of a house or a back-yard are both perfect settings for tubs, baskets and possibly windowboxes.
Dummy windows are not difficult to erect and are excellent for relieving the depression of a blank wall, especially if windowboxes are spilling over with flowers. A decorative seat built into the wall should also be considered, while a series of wire brackets fixed to the bricks, from which flower pots can be hung, is another technique for relieving a dull wall.
The central area could well be used for a flower bed, planted in a formal pattern or confined as a solid block of colour. Nothing is more successful in such a position than pansies or a mixed collection of ivy-leaved ‘geraniums’ (peltatum).
Water is attractive, and a garden pool is quite easy to construct. There is plenty of scope for marginal plants round the edge, and a fountain or water gurgling out of a lion’s mouth is always a telling focal point.
Among other attractions, there are old stone sinks for growing miniature plants, old lamp posts, tall terracotta jars, plaques and sundials, all of which add interest. However, some are difficult to obtain, and they can be expensive.