Design for small gardens is really the same as design for any garden provided a few small things are given a little special attention.
All design is based on a carefully considered balance between form and function. Yes, I know that is meaningless so…
Form is the way something looks and feels. It is the style.
Function is the way something performs – in the case of a garden, how it lets you do the things you want in the garden space.
Many of the exhibition gardens I see are high on style but really they are not gardens to give a home owner a space to live in. The Fantasy Garden, ‘A Garden of Tales’ in the Singapore Garden Festival, Daniel Piper’s ‘Her Beauty and her Terror’ in Melbourne and the utterly beautiful ‘Brewin Dolphin Garden’ in Chelsea are all examples of gardens with lots of form but little function. These gardens were designed to create a style or to tell a story or make a point. They provide little space for activity (even relaxation).
We all want style in our gardens. Something to make us feel great. But we also mostly want to be able to use the space. Maybe just to sit and relax or maybe as another room to entertain or have family gatherings. Maybe a space for children to play or maybe all of these things together.
I get the impression we’re lucky in Australia. Our climate lets us use our outdoor spaces more than in other parts of the world. This daybed in ‘The Gift’ by Phillip Withers is just great for this climate.
In Britain it is often too cold or too wet. In Singapore it is often too hot or too wet.
So in small gardens in Australia, we really need to think about what we want to do outside. But this need not be at the expense of form and the style, feel and beauty of the outdoor space. Scraggy grass and a Colorbond fence need not be the whole story.
I think we all want a garden which is a delight to live in. It might be sleek and stylish or petal filled and beautiful; it might be filled with family and friends or a retreat within which to escape but we are looking for a beautiful serene garden.
Three uttlerly beautiful gardens in the Singapore Garden Festival meet the requirements for that tropical climate and the tropical lifestyle in spades.
Andy Sturgeon from the UK with his ‘Upper Hand’, Paul Martin with his ‘Path of Life’ and Joe Palimeno for the USA with his ‘The Modernist Garden‘ all combine form and function – giving us gardens we would love to live in.
In each function takes up most of the space – seating areas both covered and uncovered, pool and paths all fill the exhibit area. But with what style. The complementary use of stunning planting, garden decor all add up to make the gardens a delight to use.
The smaller the space, the more difficult it is to get the balance between the form and function right. The tiny balcony garden exhibits in Singapore show this to perfection. The balconies must be no more than a meter deep and two wide so they really cannot perform much of a function. But look at what these designers make them do, and with what style.
‘Haven for the Immortals’ simply gives a tranquil tropical green haven, a retreat from the mad rush of Singapore, the second most densely populated city. ‘In and Out‘ is much the same with a very different style. ‘Living Green Balcony‘, however shows how vertical gardens can be used to bring the garden into the apartment and how they can be used outside in a more productive way to grow herbs and vegetables. These balconies bring the green into very small spaces with style and deliciousness.
I think the essence of these gardens is seen in this beautiful image of a lotus