8 of the best small gardens to visit this summer

If you’re a newbie gardener yearning to make the most of a small outdoor space, but not knowing quite where to start, garden owners who are opening up their gardens to the public this summer may provide some inspiration.

There’s a feelgood factor to visiting an open garden in the National Garden Scheme (NGS) too, as your ticket entry helps to raise money for nursing and health charities.

Small gardens which are opening up to the public in conjunction with the NGS feature everything from glorious windowsill pots to quirky recyclables, including brightly-painted ladders, reclaimed mirrors and bird cages, and there’s even an impressive little railway cottage front garden, that’s been transformed into an edible paradise.

If you can’t get to the gardens, many of them are open virtually through the NGS website (ngs.org.uk), to give you ideas for your own planting, colour schemes and style. If you do want to go, you’ll need to book a pre-timed entry slot and check the NGS website and its Scottish counterpart SGS (scotlandsgardens.org) for updates on Covid-19 restrictions.

Some of the highlights include…

1. 42 Falconer Road, Herts

This is such a quirky garden, replete with painted ladder, bird cages, mirrors and other antiquarian ephemera and objets d’art, which interior designer owner Suzette Fuller has picked up from her customers’ cast-offs over the years.

Planting comprises old-fashioned favourites, including hollyhocks, foxgloves and dianthus, along with more than 25 hanging baskets, which are peppered throughout the garden.

Small garden featuring a coloured ladder (National Garden Scheme/PA)

Fuller advises budding gardeners to use height to the maximum: “Get your eye to go upwards, using rustic poles to give you height and then put climbers around them. You might put rose bushes or clematis or honeysuckle on to them, which brings a height to your garden. Everyone does it on the ground, but you need to make the most of height.”

2. Cupani Garden, East Sussex

Cupani Gardens, narrow garden with pathway to summer house (Leigh Clapp/PA)

This small, tranquil haven is known for its gorgeous, scented sweet pea obelisks which frame the garden (hence the name Cupani, taken from one of the oldest known sweet pea varieties) and its fantastic planting, including agapanthus, roses, salvia, lavender and echinacea.

The garden houses a mix of shrubs, trees and perennial borders, as well as sculpted water features and a new dry/gravel garden with tropical planting. Wander around the courtyard and admire the summerhouse, the fernery and a cutting patch.

3. 19 Fir St, Sheffield, South Yorkshire

Mixed plantings at 19 Fir Street in Sheffield (National Garden Scheme/PA)

This is one of two small urban gardens, designed and owned by members of the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Sheffield.

Anyone interested in naturalistic planting will appreciate the meadow-style design packed with plants, many of which are native to South Africa which are usually considered too tender for a northern city, but which will give you colour and leaf interest from February to November.

4. 24 Bede Crescent, Tyne & Wear

Buddha nestling into a fern at 24 Bede Crescent, Tyne & Wear (Susie White/PA)

Don’t despair if there’s a lot of shade in your garden, because this small courtyard style garden, with its beautiful acers, shrubs and box balls and wispy ferns will inspire, along with the added summer colour given by astilbes, lilies and clematis. Late summer welcomes sizzling crocosmia and dark-leaved begonias, while there are also a few statuary surprises among the plantings.

5.  Spitalfields Gardens, London 

Colourful pots fringe a window at a courtyard garden in Spitalfields Gardens (Julie Skelton/PA)

This charming collection of courtyard gardens behind the terrace of Huguenot merchant houses features a vertical garden and roof terrace in Elder Street, three small courtyards in Fournier Street with clusters of ornamental pots and brightly-coloured summer blooms, and a larger garden in Princelet Street. Each owner has been creative in adapting their specific urban space to complement an historic house.

6. Green Bough, Gloucestershire

Green Bough garden in Gloucester (National Garden Scheme/PA)

This small but beautiful informal country garden has been lovingly developed over seven years and features plants for every season, from the masses of bulbs in spring, to the many annuals raised from seed to provide summer colour, while borders are awash with wild geraniums, salvias, dahlias and Verbena bonariensis.

7. 18 Highfield Road, Macclesfield, Cheshire

Terraced garden fringed with agapanthus in 18 Highfield Road, Cheshire (John Hinde/PA)

It may be a small terraced garden, but it packs a huge punch if you love structural planting featuring agapanthus and other striking plants in pots, at the front of an impressive vista of shrubs and herbaceous plants. The owner knows her plants – she’s an RHS Certificate holder and it shows, as she combines formality with a more relaxed look, inspired by Christopher Lloyd.

8. 1 Burnton Road, Dalrymple, Ayrshire 

Tropical planting at a Scottish garden in Ayrshire (David Blatchford/PA)

If you’re after some exotic inspiration, this garden, opening for the first time under Scotland’s Gardens Scheme, features tropical ideas in a tiny slice of jungle, nestled within a small triangular plot. Planting includes palms, bamboos and tree ferns, as well as hardy and tender bromeliads, while flower highlights are provided by lilies, cannas and gingers.

For more information, visit the National Garden Scheme website at ngs.org.uk and Scotland’s Garden Scheme at scotlandsgardens.org.

The Independent Gloucestershire