Diarmuid Gavin on how to make your garden bigger
Most of us don't have rolling acres in which to create our dream gardens - but size isn't everything, writes the renowned gardener, who sets out six clever tricks for making even the tiniest of plots feel like a grand estate
1 Add a garden destination:
Gardens need to be inviting. Most miss a trick when they reveal all their beauty at a glance from the kitchen window. When you set out to create a plan or work to upgrade an old plot, the aim should be to entice the casual observer to take a ramble, to explore and to happen upon a place, an ending, a final destination…
Begin to consider your garden as a story and examine if its ending is worthwhile or a letdown. Take inspiration from the great gardens of Ireland, where the discovery of a new area delights visitors and adds a wonderful extra layer to the garden.
Which garden features will become the new discovery in your personal Eden?
It needn't be something elaborate. A simple seat or bench set under the shade of a weeping willow can be a delight. As soon as it's viewed, it suggests rest - a reward for undertaking the voyage. When you do sit, you enjoy a fresh view, back down the garden, and a different perspective.
For those with the space to do so, the seat may be set within a summerhouse, prolonging the time you enjoy the garden in the autumn and into the winter months. A simple covered arbour can also act as place of rest - or an umbrella over your head!
2 Renew your planting:
Many of us plant our gardens when we move into new homes and allow them to settle, grow, mature and… stagnate! It might be time to renew some planting and update your garden style. Some shrubs morph into boring shapeless blocks of green over time. Big decisions may be necessary to restore some garden glory.
Begin to consider what plants would add impact to your garden - be they all-singing, all-dancing species full of dramatic blooms, or trees and shrubs which make statements by producing beautiful foliage, bark or dramatic shape.
Do some homework. Visit local gardens of note where there may be accomplished plant groupings. Observe what you see, analyse colour, form and foliage as well as flower. It may be that you spot an Azara with a variegated leaf, an unusual pittosporum or a beguiling witch hazel with its intoxicating scent. Begin to imagine some of these species in your own plot, then cut back, clip, dig and prepare and add some new beauties which, over time, will change your garden shape and scenery.
3 Liven up your lawn:
Many of us love our lawns but we can take them for granted when, in fact, they are what give structure and shape to our gardens. A little care and attention, some seasonal interventions and, thereafter, regular maintenance, will keep them ship-shape.
Firstly, make sure the underlying drainage is good - lawn turf won't thrive in swampy conditions. If this has been an issue over a period of time, it's worth considering installing a drainage system. In serious cases of water-logging, get a grounds contractor to install drainage pipes, leading the excess water to a soak-away or drain. Generally, drainage problems won't be so serious and can be dealt with as part of a schedule of maintenance. Spike the lawn either using a machine from a hire outlet or even a regular garden fork.
Every 9in, press the prongs down to a depth of 6-8in and move the fork in a forward and backward motion opening up a series of long hollow holes. Once completed, sweep in some sharp sand which will maintain the drainage channels and help improve the health of the root systems of the grass plants.
Another way of rejuvenating the appearance of your lawn - and making your garden look bigger in the process - is to create a new shape that visually pushes the boundaries of the garden backwards. Create an interesting shape, such as a circle or diamond, or possibly by imagining your lawn as a wide pathway. Be brave - create wide curves which can lead to dynamic new lines, drawing people into and around the garden, thus making it feel larger.
Regular cutting with the mower set at an appropriate height is the best lawn maintenance, as it stimulates new shoot growth and removes weed flower heads before they can set seed. Finish with freshly trimmed sharp edges.
4 Introduce water:
Water is a wonderful addition to any garden, no matter how big or small. As with the hidden seats I've already set out, a water feature can be a destination that draws people into the garden. The one big caveat is safety - water can be dangerous if there are young children around, so if you have toddlers yourself or grandchildren visiting, make sure any aquatic feature is inaccessible to little ones.
A simple water feature can be constructed using a half oak barrel that has no drainage holes. Fill with water and plant some oxygenators which you will get from the garden centre along with water lilies. Add some dwarf nympheas - their leaves will float on the surface and their exotic blooms in midsummer are a joy.
Moving water can also be wonderful. Lion-head fountains set into a wall with the flow created by a hidden pump can look attractive, especially if peeping out from an edging of ivy or honeysuckle. A simple fountain in a pond can create a lovely ambience sound, very refreshing on a hot day.
5 Get potted:
A sure-fire way to make your garden look bigger is to add lots of points of visual interest, and this is easily achieved by adding some instant colour in a pot.
Planted containers are fantastic as long as you look after them. Firstly, make sure they don't dry out. In winter, if they're set in an open situation moisture abounds so they'll survive happily for months. During the growing season from April on, water every few days or, when it's hot or windy up to twice a day. Deadhead constantly to promote the appearance of more flowers, and top up the nutrients with instant feed.
Of course it's not only colour that comes in pots - you can introduce trees, shrubs, roses and climbing plants which will sit happily in pots for many years if you keep them watered, fed and top-dressed on a regular basis.
6 Enhance the entrance:
'Kerb appeal' is a phrase we have gotten used to from watching property shows on television. The received wisdom is that a property that looks good on the outside will probably have been well looked after inside. The problem with many front gardens is that they're small in size.
You can combat this by using height to draw the eye upwards and make the garden feel more spacious. This is easily achieved through clever planting. Use columnar trees such as Irish yew (Taxus baccata fastigiata), juniper or a shaped hornbeam (carpinus) to add some statuesque qualities to an area at the front door. All the big DIY stores will be crammed full of cone-shaped clipped bays which work very well in pots.
Lighting brings a small garden to life. For special occasions or Christmas, potted plants can be dressed up with white lights to create a focal point. In mid-summer how about lighting some standard roses on a stem bursting with blooms?