The first thing to think about, regardless of the size of your plot, is what is the garden for? What do you want to do in it?
Your answers might include working on a laptop, sitting and reading and enjoying a glass of wine in the evening. Or you may want to play table tennis on a full size table. Whatever they are, try to form a realistic estimate of the amount of space your favourite activities will take up. You might have to decide that there are certain things you will need to go to the local park to do.
If you want to entertain in your garden you should think about whether your guests will be standing up or sitting down. Will they be sitting down to eat at a table – if so, how many people at a time?
Circular tables tend to be more economical of space. It’s a good idea to measure a table you already know and work out its footprint, including chairs. And don’t forget that you need to include space for a chair to be pulled back so that the occupant can get up without falling into a flowerbed or overturning the barbecue.
Where possible, consider having built-in seating, preferably incorporating storage space. And don’t forget that you don’t have to have six or eight chairs sitting permanently in your garden if for most days of the year you only use two of them. You can always bring chairs out from indoors when your guests arrive.
The secret of good design in most spaces, and definitely in small ones, is to keep it simple. Don’t try to pack too much in. Decide on a theme – minimalist, exotic, traditional etc. – and stick to it. Use only two or three different materials (brick and stone or glass and steel, for example) and repeat textures and colours. This will give your garden harmony, cohesion and a sense of space.
Go for a small number of large things rather than the other way round. This includes plants, planters and furniture. Stick to a restricted colour palette – white through pink to red for example, or white and blue. Too many different colours will appear “busy” and make the space seem smaller. Also consider using plants which have icontrasting leaf colour and texture and grow into interesting shapes. These will almost certainly better earn their keep in your precious small space than colourful “stars” that are only in flower for two or three weeks of the year.
There is a paradox associated with front gardens: you tend not to notice your own because you see it every day whereas, for visitors, it’s the first thing that hits them.
Planters are a great way to maximise impact in a small space while keeping maintenance as low as possible.