From hiding eyesores to compost choice, TV’s Adam Frost shares his secrets with Hannah Stephenson.
DO YOU have a small urban plot in need of some TLC? Perhaps you’ve moved into a city and are craving an outdoor haven of plants and perennials, but you’re short on space?
Top garden designer and TV presenter Adam Frost, who is giving advice at the BBC Gardeners’ World Live show in Birmingham this weekend, offers the following tips to create an outdoor sanctuary in a city space...
Make a plan
Make a plan and, however small, size it out on a piece of paper. Measure the plot up and start to organise it on a little scale plan, which is really easy to do with a small garden. It doesn’t have to be spot on, but it’s a good way of understanding the space.
It’s the same principle as if you were laying out a kitchen or a bathroom. Make sure that whatever you are going to do fits into the space. If you want a table and chairs that sits four people, you’ll need a paved area.
Sun or shade?
Find plants which will grow comfortably in your conditions. How much sun does your garden get? Will you need to green up a shady area? Are your plants going to be sheltered or in a wind tunnel? All this will have a bearing on what you can grow in an urban space:
“A lot of urban spaces tend to be quite shady, so I tend to use quite a lot of woodland plants and hard-working plants such as hardy geraniums, euphorbias and ferns, which work well in shady conditions,” says Frost.
“Climbers for shade also work well, such as Hydrangea petiolaris, while plants with smaller leaves such as trachelospermum can work well in smaller spaces.”
Know your soil
Whatever garden you have, whether it’s the size of a postage stamp or rolling acres, you need to understand your soil.
“As time goes on you need to care for it because while the size of your garden doesn’t matter, the condition of your soil does,” adds Adam. Test it — understand if it’s acid or lime (you can buy a simple soil-testing pH kit from garden centres), get your hands in it to feel if it’s heavy (clay) or sandy, and enrich it with organic matter depending on the condition of the soil and what you want to grow.
If you don’t have soil for beds or borders, think about the soil you’re going to put into containers. Make sure you are providing the right mixes for the plants you want to grow.
Don’t think small
With small spaces, we tend to think everything’s got to be small, but that’s not necessarily true. “Bigger, bolder leaves can work in smaller spaces,” says Adam.
“Just make sure that if you’re going to add a tree to a small space, it’s not going to overpower the space and cut all the light out,” says Frost. “When you buy plants, make sure there’s lots of contrast in leaf and shape, and in flowers.”
Fill your boundaries
“The most important thing is how you fill your boundaries. You either design the boundaries, for instance painting a panelled fence to bring it alive,” says Frost.
“Alternatively, if you add plants which soften the boundaries, you can start to lose the boundaries of your garden. Then if there are plants around you, such as trees in other people’s gardens, you can start to borrow those and bring them into your space. The illusion is that you don’t quite know where your boundaries start or finish. The best small gardens I’ve been to have lost their boundaries.”
Mix pot sizes
Work on the basis that if you are putting a shrub in a container, always put it in the biggest pot, whereas summer bedding and softer tender plants will grow happily in smaller pots. Just remember the smaller the pot, the more you’ll have to water it in summer.
Distract from eyesores
“Sometimes you can’t hide eyesores in a small space, but you can change the perspective of where you look. You could put a large feathery shrub or tall grasses in front of an eyesore but you might be better off with a strong focal point, such as a water feature or a pot or statue, that draws the eye away from an ugly sight,” says Frost.
“Consider if you have space to turn your seating area away from the eyesore.”