How to make the most of your garden, whatever the size

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By Francoise Murat of Francoise Murat & Associates

With space at a premium we now demand our gardens to be able to fulfill a whole range of functions: we may want year-round outside entertaining space, a vegetable patch, space for the kids to play in, a compost heap, a rubbish bin area, space for trees and wildlife friendly planting, the list goes on. But all this needs to look stylish and inviting as well as being practical and not – literally – to cost the earth.

How to have it all
Can you really have it all? Well… yes you can, if you plan ahead and consider the function and appearance of your garden, all is possible. What will it be used for?

Make a list:

1. Entertaining or relaxing?

2. Kids’ football training?

3. A vegetable planting area?

4. A pets’ area?

FRANCOISE’S TIP: Think about the style you like – a contemporary garden design or perhaps a more traditional layout to enhance your older property? Think about the hard landscaping features you need and want such as paths, patios, buildings and the style of planting you like — informal, formal, cottage, wildlife. When will it be used and where is the sun at those times?

Getting professional help v DIY
Hiring a garden designer can help turn your ideas and wish list into achievable and workable reality within your budget. They can also give you ideas about layout and even introduce you to things you may not have previously considered, such as a water feature, covered walkways or even sculpture.

1. Work out a plan on paper. Working out a plan on paper before starting out is always a good time and money saving exercise. This is the garden designer’s first stage as they go through all the design permutations that may appeal to you. They will also cost it out as well as help with finding a suitable contractor to do the work.

2. Think about the soil and sun or shade. As well as measuring up accurately, if you are doing the design yourself, remember to consider soil pH and which way your garden faces to ensure you select the right plants for your garden.

FRANCOISE’S TIP: Improving your garden is within everyone’s reach whether you pay someone to help you or you do it yourself – it just need as little planning.

‘Must have’ features
A flexible space will add value to your property so make the space work really hard for you. Think of this as putting furniture in a house:

  • A level patio outside the back of the house near the kitchen, big enough to place a table and chairs and even a BBQ on.

FRANCOISE’S TIP: One feature might also fulfill another requirement. For example, a deck might conceal a sand pit for children or even a pool! Good storage space allows children’s toys to be put away easily when the adults need an entertaining area without clutter.

  • A green area for the kids to play in – if you have smaller children, but it’s not so important for teenagers — they might want a special area for them and their friends
  • A big enough area for some clever planting that will add interest and furnish your outside room for most of the year.
  • A path to connect all the functional areas of the garden, such as from the patio to the herbaceous borders to the shed.

FRANCOISE’S TIP: This will link your whole garden together but also make it easier to navigate wheelbarrows or indeed wheelchairs from one end to the other.

‘Wish list’ features
There may be other features that, at first sight, your garden doesn’t look as though it can provide. Be creative!

  • A vegetable and fruit garden. No space? Use containers!
  • An area for pets to roam in.
  • An area where you can hang out your washing.
  • An outdoor kitchen? Why not? If you have the space and the budget and love cooking, this is a real addition to any larger garden.

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Useful links: As well as interior and garden design services, Francoise Murat & Associates runs regular garden design workshops.