Garden hacks to transform your city garden into a cool urban space

With summer just around the corner, it’s time for alfresco dining, patio lounging and outdoor entertaining.

But for city-dwellers, creating a leafy paradise in the middle of an urban jungle can seem like an impossible pipe dream.

To the rescue comes London-based garden designer Michael Coley, who’s a pro when it comes to transforming city spaces.

Ahead of the RHS Chatsworth Flower Show, where he will be exhibiting a garden on behalf of Macmillan Cancer Support, here are his top tips on how to add character to any urban garden.

1. Look for the sun

Consider where the sun will be at any given time of day (Thinkstock/PA)

In a small garden, the spot where the sun is shining at 6pm on a Friday in July is the most important part – so whatever your design is, it’s basically got to revolve around that golden spot. If you want to enjoy the early-evening sun, put some seating there so you can enjoy your sundowners.

2. Don’t be afraid to be bold

One of mine from earlier this year. #gardendesign

A post shared by michael coley (@mikecoley) on

Don’t think that just because you have a small space all you can do is put a 50cm flower bed around the outside of the area you’re designing. Break up the space with planting jutting out onto pathways – that way your journey through even the smallest of gardens becomes interesting.

Careful planning will help you use the space to your best advantage. I always describe designing a small urban garden like a game of Tetris. You have a list of essentials and it’s all about fitting them into the garden in the best possible way. I try to keep my material selection down to three – that way the space is much more harmonious and less cluttered. Structure is key. Planting trees gives any garden good vertical character and really helps to create the framework for a garden.

3. Incorporate self-seeding plants like foxgloves

Plant self-seeders like foxgloves (Hannah Stephenson/PA)

Self-seeders will fill holes and create their own planting plan without you having to lift a finger. There is a lot to be said for just letting certain plants do their own thing. Nature will find a balance and if you keep the edges under control, you’ve got a low maintenance garden that has created itself.

Michael Coley’s Chatsworth garden is inspired by the importance of legacy donations to Macmillan, which receives almost a third of all funding through gifts left in wills. For more information, visit

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