PROBLEM: I don’t know where to begin

SOLUTION: Start by the door

The advice of seasoned gardeners to newcomers is reliably the same: wait. Hold back and observe as a whole year plays out its seasons. What have you got? What grows well in the neighbourhood? Trees, hedges and wild flowers along the road are as instructive as the plants that occur and recur in other people’s gardens. There will be a reason why ferns pop up everywhere, for example, or why nobody in your district is growing vines or figs.

 The front porch at Great Dixter, East Sussex (greatdixter.co.uk) features seasonal treasures chosen for their height and shape. Large, structural plants are contrasted with smaller pots to soften the edges.

The front porch at Great Dixter, East Sussex (greatdixter.co.uk) features seasonal treasures chosen for their height and shape. Large, structural plants are contrasted with smaller pots to soften the edges.

STONE PLANT LABELS, £37 for eight, Bloomingville, bloomingville.com
SWEET PEAS SEED BOX, £18, Petersham Nurseries, petershamnurseries.com

STONE PLANT LABELS, £37 for eight, Bloomingville, bloomingville.com; SWEET PEAS SEED BOX, £18, Petersham Nurseries, petershamnurseries.com

URN PLANTER, £39, Oka, oka.com
URN PLANTER, £39, Oka, oka.com
Planter, around £104, Bellila, bellila.fr/en
Planter, around £104, Bellila,
PLANT POTS, £4 each, Anthropologie, anthropologie.com
PLANT POTS, £4 each, Anthropologie,

The feeling of the house and its surroundings will help to suggest a theme or atmosphere for the garden. Pay attention to the space around you. Whether the topography is leaf-filled or densely built up, it’s important to keep the main concept of your garden simple. A dark courtyard could become a garden of pale plants, for instance; a walled, sunnier space would trap scent. Edit your plants towards this central idea.

Keeping new plants in pots for their first season will allow you to study them at close quarters while deciding slowly what to do with them. They will help you to keep the garden in mind. Beyond the back door, a young garden in its early stages can look very bare. Sowing annuals in these gaps will give you a quick, temporary substitute and help to suppress weeds.

PROBLEM: My garden is too small

SOLUTION: Think big, be ruthless

‘The tiniest garden is often the loveliest,’ wrote poet and novelist Vita Sackville-West from her writing tower at Sissinghurst Castle in Kent (nationaltrust.org.uk). ‘How much I long sometimes for a courtyard flagged with huge grey paving stones.’ With her impassioned style, she claimed to dream of it day and night. This is encouraging – forget the castle and love your small space.

A narrow choice of materials creates cohesion and emphasises shapes and textures in this town garden; for example, mixing rounded and glazed with horizontal and smooth
A narrow choice of materials creates cohesion and emphasises shapes and textures in this town garden; for example, mixing rounded and glazed with horizontal and smooth
STORAGE SHED, £199.99, Bosworth’s, bosworthsonline.co.uk
STORAGE SHED, £199.99, Bosworth’s, bosworthsonline.co.uk
BAMBOO STOOL, £39, Design Vintage, designvintage.co.uk
BAMBOO STOOL, £39, Design Vintage,
FOLDING TABLE AND CHAIR SET, £95, Habitat, habitat.co.uk
FOLDING TABLE AND CHAIR SET, £95, Habitat, habitat.co.uk
BENCH SEAT, £314, Maisons du Monde, maisonsdumonde.com
BENCH SEAT, £314, Maisons du Monde, maisonsdumonde.com
TRELLIS plant ER, £149.99, The Garden Style Company, gardenstylecompany.co.uk
TRELLIS plant ER, £149.99, The Garden Style Company,

A courtyard garden means no lawn and many plants. It must be permeable, with cracks for flowers to self-seed into, sending their roots under the cool shelter of the stones. There are plants that love to be walked on, such as creeping thyme, which also has the advantage of being aromatic. Away from foot traffic, there are leafy plants that hold dewdrops on their surfaces, such as alchemilla mollis or succulent sempervivum houseleeks, and spiky verticals and tall flowers, including sisyrinchium striatum and iris, that might seem counterintuitive, but which remind you that this is in fact a garden, not just a yard. These are all available in most reputable garden centres during the summer months.

A small garden does require more focus. Choose only the best trees and shrubs, as they will provide much-scrutinised height and volume. Think about their silhouettes and leaf shapes. Simplify materials (for paving, paths and seating areas) and make sure they relate to the house. Likewise, choose simple colours and pots and use garden furniture that can be folded up and put away. Use it to your advantage.

PROBLEM: My garden is a passageway

SOLUTION: Think of it as a stage set

A passageway potentially gives two vistas; neither one should be of a collection of plastic refuse bins. If bin storage is the main purpose of your outside space, construct a fence with a door to keep them behind, shortening the length of the passage. The quality of walls and paving is important. In this garden, cleaned brick complements the painted pale grey walls at either end, which also close the space.

This Northwest-facing sliver of garden is free of clutter and small pots that can catch the wheels of plastic bins. Every element has been considered, with evergreen box balls to provide structure in winter and summer self-seeding plants such as poppies, foxgloves and verbena in gravel
This Northwest-facing sliver of garden is free of clutter and small pots that can catch the wheels of plastic bins. Every element has…