BBC Gardeners’ World Live Expert Joe Swift’s Design Tips for Urban Gardens

BBC Gardeners’ World Live Expert Joe Swift’s Design Tips for Urban Gardens
BBC Gardeners’ World Live Expert Joe Swift’s Design Tips for Urban Gardens

City life offers many benefits, but is often synonymous with little time and modest space, two elements that have traditionally been considered key to creating and maintaining a garden.  BBC Gardeners’ World Live, the show for keen gardeners and novices alike, provides inspiration for those seeking to create an attractive urban garden with help from celebrity gardening expert, Joe Swift.
“Gardening is a great way to relax and with the time constraints and pressures of city life it couldn’t be more ideal,” comments Joe Swift. “Many people think that space restrictions mean that they will not be able to enjoy a garden, but gardens the size of a postage stamp can be beautiful - one of my favourites is my own urban garden.  Small urban gardens are not only a possibility, they can be very straight forward and provide lots of enjoyment.”

Getting Started
First of all you need to decide what you will use the garden for and how much time you will have to maintain it, this will provide you with a guide for which materials and plants to use.

You then need to look at the space you are working with and specifically the boundaries as they immediately catch the eye when entering a garden. It is important not to have an untidy fence or border, as this will be the first thing people see. You must either have interesting boundaries or visibly ‘lose’ them through peppering the boundary with plants and climbers.  However, be careful not to cram lots of materials or plants into small spaces - it is essential to be aware of space and work with it, not against it.

When thinking about the materials to use within your garden it is really important to keep your choices simple, especially in small spaces. 
Decide on a theme, for example if you want to create a rustic look then try using reconstituted stone.  Tavertine stone, a light coloured, off-white stone is a good choice as it allows light to bounce off of it creating a spacious feel.  Alternatively for a more modern, urban style try using metals to give the impression of space.  Aluminium chequer plate, used sparingly, is an ideal choice to create a great contemporary feel as well as reflecting light into the garden.  Or try copper piping to create a stylish fence effect; it is perfect for supporting climbing plants and ages well.  In urban gardens you have more scope to be creative because you don't have to merge with existing settings or themes, which can be problematic in larger gardens, so why not try placing a mirror behind some tall plants or shrubs to maximise the illusion of extra space. 

Paving or decking are perfect for an urban garden.  Small areas don’t favour turfing as heavy wear can easily turn the grass to a muddy mess.  Punctuate your choice with a variety of plants which will prove beautiful to you and local wildlife alike.

When choosing plants it is important to remember that they must be robust in order to cope with the strain of city atmosphere and pollution.  Evergreens are a good choice, as they require minimal maintenance. In particular the shade tolerant, Pittosporum tobira ‘nana’ is a great plant for an urban garden.  It has a lovely dome shape that doesn't need clipping to maintain its shape, with the added benefit of creamy white scented flowers which appear from late spring to early summer.  Also try Silver Spear (Astelia) this silver leafed plant from New Zealand loves both shade and sun and can make a dramatic feature in the garden due to its elegant spear-shaped leaves. 

Climbers are also a popular choice for urban gardens, in particular Maidenhair Vine (Muehlenbeckia Complexa).  It is a tough, small leafed textual climber that creates complete green cover.  It is perfect for small garden boundaries as it provides the perfect backdrop.  Try growing this around your copper pipe fence.

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