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Top 5 tips to make your outdoor space an oasis


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A small garden can be turned into an outdoor room. Picture: Jason Ingram/Mitchell Beazley/PA
A small garden can be turned into an outdoor room. Picture: Jason Ingram/Mitchell Beazley/PA

For those of us lucky enough to have an outdoor space, whether it’s a garden, patio or balcony, we will be spending as much time as possible in it just to get out of the house.

So how can you make the best of your outdoor space and turn it into the perfect little oasis?

With some thoughtful planting and innovative additions, you can create a dream design says award-winning designer, Ula Maria.

"Try to understand your space and what will grow there, the light levels, how much sun you get and where the shade falls, as well as the type of soil you have to work with," says the former RHS young designer of the year, whose new book, Green, offers design ideas for small spaces.

"Take inspiration and learn from nature, whether it's artwork for colour or an aspect of past holidays, or something else which has inspired you. Don't be too scared to bring in larger plants, because they always seem to make a small space appear grander," adds Maria.

"If you are worried that planting a big tree may block your light, think about another statement plant, such as a tall grass. If you have a balcony garden, you may just want to include tall-growing perennials or something that will make a big impact."

The book features a mixture of small and innovative gardens offering a range of design ideas. Here, Maria shares tips on five styles for inspiration...

1. Interior approach

This style is for those who want their outside space to look like an additional room, featuring comfortable seating framed by flora and fauna.

"There may not be many plants but there should be enough to create a sense of a garden," says Maria. "It's ideal for people who are too busy to maintain many plants."

An inward-focused space enables you to forget what happens outside its walls. Outdoor rugs have also become a trend in recent years, giving the sense of extra outdoor living space.

If you're worried about storage of garden cushions, consider buying furniture with in-built storage inside the seating framework, Maria suggests.

2. Romantic Idyll

Create layered planting with soft, gentle hues, and use fragrance to create a small romantic space, she suggests.

"Layers create interest because you have something to discover in every corner," says Maria.

"Hydrangeas are great because they have these big, soft blooms. Ornamental roses also look brilliant, along with campanula and ivy, to create a fairy-tale garden."

Create a contemporary Mediterranean garden using graphic tiles. Picture: Jason Ingram/Mitchell Beazley/PA
Create a contemporary Mediterranean garden using graphic tiles. Picture: Jason Ingram/Mitchell Beazley/PA

3. Contemporary Mediterranean

Use materials such as graphic tiles, presenting them in a contemporary way, she advises. Look for companies which sell reclaimed tiles and furniture for ideas.

"You don't have to do a whole wall. You could cover one section of a wall, creating an artwork," Maria suggests.

If you have a busy wall, you may want to play safe with planting, sticking to green rather than going for an eye-popping colour contrast.

"Try not to introduce more than two colours at a time, and see how it works. Ferns are good stalwarts. If you are using busy tiles, keep the planting simple."

4. Balcony garden

Merge florals inside with the balcony outside, she suggests, maybe in the form of a chair covered with a floral material which echoes the flora and fauna on your balcony.

"It's important to make the transition between inside and outside seem as seamless as possible," says Maria.

Place houseplants close to the window of your balcony to enhance that connection and blur the boundary between outside and in.

5. Container cottage garden

For people with a city garden or roof terrace with no natural planting area, but who still want to feel like they are in the countryside, make the most of containers. These will soon have your space overflowing with plants, Maria assures.

"Large agapanthus, verbena and rosemary add accent colour, texture and scent and you can even grow a fruit tree in a large pot," she says.

"Plant a mixture of cosmos, lavender, foxgloves and lupins for a joyful and informal look. Experiment with growing herbs, vegetables and fruit in large containers for the full cottage-garden experience.

"Again, allow many layers for different types of plants. Containers also provide flexibility for those who one day might want to relocate their garden to a different home."

Climbers such as clematis or jasmine will cover privacy panels and fill the air with fragrance.

Remember, though, containers can dry out fairly quickly, so consider installing a simple automated watering system if you're not going to be able to water your pots regularly, she says.

Green by Ula Maria. Picture: Mitchell Beazley/PA
Green by Ula Maria. Picture: Mitchell Beazley/PA

Green by Ula Maria is published by Mitchell Beazley, priced £20. Available now.


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