No job too small: Anyone can create a sleek haven with Ann-Marie Powell's detailed plans

 

"So lately," says Rob, gazing into the middle distance, "I've been thinking that the problem is that perhaps it needs to have a sort of centrepiece. Like a giant rock." My neighbours and I are having a gin and tonic. There has been some discussion about whether gin and tonic is permitted under their strenuous pre-holiday dietary regime, but caution has been thrown to the wind. So here we are on the terrace, sipping our drinks, sitting in the sunshine, and everything is almost perfect. Almost.

The problem with the garden isn't totally obvious. To the uninformed eye, it's just an average London back garden with a small concrete patio, a big patch of lawn, and a jumbled bit at the end with plants, barbecue and shed. There's a clothes dryer, a sandpit and a number of small plastic vehicles. For some, it'd be a perfect vision of low-maintenance nondescriptness. But for Rob it's a field of broken dreams.

Small-garden owners do have it hard. You've taken out your huge mortgage and just about made it stretch to upgrade the kitchen and bathroom. But there's absolutely nothing left in the kitty for the exterior. Inside, your house is modern and lovely, yet the garden still bears all the visual clues of having been personally designed by Clarence, the previous owner, with all of his glorious and inimitable enthusiasm for bird baths, gnomes and dodgy home-made fencing. And it'll be 2020 before you can afford to do anything about it.

That's why Ann-Marie Powell's new book, Plans for Small Gardens (Pavilion, £16.99), is a bit of a godsend. There have been books about small gardens before, but this one is different: for 10 different garden types you get a detailed plan, a double-page construction brief, and a shopping list that goes all the way down to the number, size and type of screw you'll be needing to do it all yourself. "I suppose I'm doing myself out of a job," she chortles, "but really, it's almost like a cookbook for gardening. And it's also a record of how much work goes into a good garden, because I often think people have no idea."

Powell is no stranger to this sort of project: a Chelsea Gold Medal winner, she nonetheless spends most of the year working on rather smaller designs. In the book there's a slim, sleek urban garden with stone paving and tall bamboo, but also a titchy country garden with a wisteria pergola and a step big enough to sit the evening out on. She knows a dozen different ways to camouflage a petite shed, and she's clear on the merits of a dob of decking, a drip of irrigation and a teeny patch of expensive paving. "In a small garden, everything has to earn its keep. Even in the centre of a town the garden's square metreage can be huge compared with the house, so if you get it right, you expand the usable area for a family by loads."

Yet the modern house-buyer can be a demanding customer, and the book tackles many of the most pressing problems for small-garden owners: "My garden's on a slope", "I only ever go in the garden at night", "I mostly just want to look at it out of the window", "I don't want to have any plants", etc. As a record of Britain's horticultural commitment, it's a bit of a salutary lesson, as it shows what real people want from their real gardens: space to sit, relax, and not think about mowing the lawn.

I especially love the way Powell appreciates and adds value to the tiniest space. A house's side alley is treasured and made beautiful with paving and a miniature planting of Mind Your Own Business; an itty-bitty seating area is raised to James Bond levels of luxury.

"I'm most often asked for 'low maintenance' – it's so hackneyed. But when people think they don't want to maintain their garden, it's often because they've got an ugly garden they don't want to be in. When you put in a garden for them and they're delighted with it, and they find they like being out there, I can't tell you the kick I get out of it when you are turning people into gardeners."

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Jemma Gent: Year End Accountant

£250-£300 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Are you a qualified accountant with strong exp...

Jemma Gent: Management Accountant

£230 - £260 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Do you want to stamp your footprint in histo...

Beverley James: Accounts Payable

£22,000 - £23,000: Beverley James: Are you looking for the opportunity to work...

Beverley James: Accounts Assistant

£30,000: Beverley James: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for a person looki...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower