The first step in designing your garden is to draw an accurate ground plan so you know exactly how much space you have to work with. One mistake many people make after measuring the length and width is to forget that there’s another important dimension – height. Extending your garden upwards adds visual interest, can make your garden appear larger, and provides additional growing space, which is especially valuable in a small garden.
If you have a flat garden with the majority of plants at the same low level, consider using any boundary fences or walls to support climbing plants. A long, blank wall can provide year-round colour and interest if it’s covered with a carefully chosen selection of climbers. Some plants and shrubs will need trellis or guide wires to help them reach the heights while others can scramble up perfectly well on their own.
If you are planting against a fence be aware that some mature climbers can be quite heavy so check that the fence posts are firm and the fence itself is strong enough to take the extra weight.
Arches, pergolas and obelisks are popular ways of introducing some height. You can buy them ready-made, choosing a design to fit in with the overall style of your garden, or construct your own. A wide range of plants, decorative, edible or both, can be trained over them. One word of advice: a rose-covered archway looks romantic but you won’t love it if you get scratched every time you pass through! For roses without tears make sure you choose from the many thornless climbing and rambling varieties that are available.
Introducing tall plants is an easy way of introducing vertical shapes into your planting scheme. For summer colour, hollyhocks and giant sunflowers are fun to grow and impossible to overlook. Bamboos are fast growing but might need to be contained, and many ornamental grasses are not only tall but also come in some striking colours.
Trees are the tallest plants you can grow, but must be chosen with care if you have limited space. Large trees too close to buildings can cause expensive problems. They will also shade a large area and take a lot of water from the ground, which will affect other plants in the vicinity.
Before you buy a tree check the maximum height it will reach and how far the roots will spread. If you have any doubts it’s always best to get expert advice. The good news is that many specialist tree nurseries can offer small and dwarf varieties that will live happily in restricted spaces.
A relatively new idea in garden design, but one that is generating a lot of interest, is vertical gardening or creating living walls. The idea is to grow plants close together in individual pockets formed in a panel that has a built-in irrigation system. One or more of these panels are then fixed to a wall. Once the plants are established the panel is hidden beneath the foliage giving the impression that the plants are growing out of the wall. The possibility of growing strawberries next to your bedroom window is certainly intriguing!
Planning new features to add height to your garden is the easy part. Carrying out those plans can involve skills you might not have and time you cannot spare. Discuss your ideas with a professional landscape gardener and benefit from his or her experience.