Welcome to my blog takeover, I’m Luisa, Sophie’s Blog Editor. Sophie has kindly passed over the reigns for this week’s post to reveal my long-awaited garden makeover. When we bought our ex-industrial house in the East Sussex countryside, almost nine years ago, we took a hit on the garden as we were surrounded by public footpaths and fields so we would get our fill of the outside. Like many of you I’m sure we had to focus on renovating the house first- you can see my kitchen makeover here. But FINALLY we have got round to renovating our small patio garden so we can enjoy the outside as much as we love the inside of our home. I wanted to create an outdoor sanctuary- somewhere to eat outside, to relax and also a fun place for my daughter to play. And I needed it to be low maintenance as I’m my mum’s full time carer and work from home so time is precious. Quite a lot to ask from a compact space..here is how we did it!
The before pictures show quite a few stages. When we first moved in it was a complete overgrown mess with huge concrete steps that actually served no purpose. So little by little, we chipped away to get rid of the overgrowth, the mess and the concrete and attempted to create one flat area. This was no easy feat but between my husband and I juggling full time work with a baby, it took up all our weekends for a while.
The first thing I wanted to do when we got rid of the all the concrete was to get one area of sanctuary so we could enjoy even a postage stamp of outside space. We threw up some decking so we could have somewhere to sit outside. It was my little girls very own stage for a while too!
With the first section of decking done, we had a bit of a dead corner at the top of the garden and I was sure we could utilise this area, especially when space was so limited. Sketching out a measured layout of the space was crucial so we could work out how we could make the most of our odd shaped garden. I also drew up a wish list of what we wanted to use the garden for; outdoor dining, relaxing and a childs play area, so made sure all these could fit in. Another decked platform was the best option, at least it would give us a flat surface for an out door dining table set. But as you may notice there was a large Acer tree right in the middle, which I loved, but unfortunately it was dying so we had to lose it. However, this did give us some extra room to play with and yep you’ve guessed it – more decking. Decking was a great choice for us as its relatively affordable, can be fitted to any awkward space and helps create flat surfaces in an un even garden.
We tried to install real grass turf but due to the shade and aspect of our garden it wouldn’t flourish. Rather than pave or deck the whole area we chose artificial grass as it feels softer underfoot and would give a punch of colour. It was hard work between the two of us to prepare the ground surface but once we got the ground as level as possible, it was still going to be a slope but we went with it! We then put down a membrane and an Underlayment Shock Pad from Amazon to give it an extra squashy feel underfoot. The Derwent artificial grass from Carpetright, I have to say is absolutely fantastic. I’m impressed with how realistic it looks, but despite my husband’s gasps about leaving stuff on the grass ‘as it will mark’, it always springs right back and looks as good as new.
The main fence has always been a bugbear of mine as its tall and imposing and wraps around the whole garden. After being assured by a few tradesmen that the fence was still in good shape, there was no point in replacing it which was a relief as it would have been quite pricey. So what should I do with it? Obviously painting is a great option but I wanted to break it up and add some interest. I struck on the idea of a ‘living wall’. The real thing was way out of our budget. However I found faux botanicals from Neograss that were perfect for the job of creating an outdoor faux plant wall installation. I’m hugely impressed with it as it was so easy to install and I am thrilled with the results as it is so full and lush and definitely the best quality I’ve seen.
I was still left with the problem of the exposed bog standard fence panels. I came across a company called Screen with Envy which does a multitude of privacy screens and trellises and you can pop ON TOP of an existing fence – perfect! I chose a modern slatted design in a wood composite material in panels of 6ft x 4ft. It comes in black which I felt contrasted beautifully with all the lush green tones we had already chosen.
Why go faux?
This may not be the ideal option for many people and we should all feel encouraged to attract wildlife to our outdoor spaces through natural planting, but with such a shaded garden and poor soil quality it’s especially challenging to make the grass flourish and my personal circumstances require an easy to maintain space. When choosing faux botanicals it’s important to think of the timeline and we’re not planning on moving any time soon and have bought quality non fade products so they will be in use for many years. With the garden in a place we can now enjoy it, I’m looking forward to adding more real plants in pots over time.
With the decking, grass area and all the walls painted, panelled and bedecked with greenery, it was time to play to my strengths…the styling! As with interior design, it’s so important to imagine how you will use the space, what you will be doing, and how you want to feel when it comes to choosing the right elements, colours and textures. I have always loved the idea of a relaxing in a swing seat and it was on my wish list, while my daughter wanted a trapeze to play. Challenged with a tight space, and no trees to hang a swing from, the best space-saving solution was to have a pergola built which could double up as a frame to hang my daughter’s swing and trapeze bar and a swing seat for me!
I remember seeing this amazing floating daybed and had it on my Pinterest board! It offers a very grown-up space to curl up and snooze or read a book, but then the kids find it fun too. The TiiPii comes with a sheer white net which looks so pretty and you can also get a waterproof (anti-mould, anti-mildew, anti-UV) poncho cover which makes it into a cosy little tent. Because it floats above the ground and is easy to remove, I would say that it is the best piece of furniture for a compact garden space.
For the dining area, we had created a decked platform to take a table and chairs for four. We stained the decking black to tie in with the wall panels and to contrast dramatically with the green ‘living wall’. I chose a Terazzo effect dining table for the focal point which had lovely chips of pink in it. Pale pink is a theme throughout my home so it was lovely to pull it out into the garden with the fabulous statement pink ticking stripe parasol. In a compact garden it’s important to zone each area, and a large eye catching parasol creates a visual statement over the table. I then chose fine lined string dining chairs to help keep a feeling of spaciousness.
At the other corner of the garden we were blessed with a rather odd shaped corner, which felt quite redundant. However it was the perfect angle to fit a snug sofa into, another cute corner of relaxation or to keep an eye on the kids playing.
My daughter loves a trampoline, but due to the to the small proportions, I couldn’t promise her that we could squeeze one in. The usual above ground versions can look cumbersome (let’s face it… they are an eye sore!), and I’ll be honest, I didn’t want one to dominate the space.
But my daughter is lucky that I’m a demon of hunting great design on the internet so I started my search. The first place I hit was Plum as they are the go-to outdoor play specialists, and I spotted the in-ground trampolines. I didn’t need to look any further! We went for the 8ft option which was a great fit for the space. This is of course her favourite part of the garden and is always bouncing on it, leaving me more time to relax. Happy Mum!
As every stylist knows the devil is in the little details. There’s something so relaxing about the sound of running water, so as we don’t live near a babbling brook the next best thing was a water feature. I love this compact design by Cox & Cox, it’s the ideal addition to a compact garden.
And finally lighting. This is where the garden really comes alive and there are so many amazing garden lighting options to add that subtle magical mood as the sun sets. How cosy and inviting does this lantern look, I love that it gives a gentle real flame glow and the simplicity of the Scandi design.
I hope this shows that a tiny garden can still be a relaxing and functional space. Renovating the garden has been like giving us a whole new room! With some careful spacial planning, a whole lot of grunt, and sourcing some amazing products, we have a very special place to enjoy family time together.
All photos by Lee J Rouse
A huge thank you to the brands who gifted products for this feature: