Ideas for very small gardens

Synthetic grass has come a long way in recent years and can look surprisingly like the real thing. In a few circumstances, it may even be a better option.

Synthetic grass has come a long way in recent years and can look surprisingly like the real thing. In a few circumstances, it may even be a better option.

Camera in hand, I was thinking of you, dear Readers, on my recent trip to Sydney and Canberra and I gathered up three examples of very small, urban garden spaces.

Artificial grass or synthetic turf is often a source of much derision. The common name of Astro Turf is in fact a brand name of one of the early pioneers of this product. Given that I live in a place where we have green grass all year round, I have been guilty of sniffing snootily at the mere thought and indeed the examples I have seen have been such luminous green as to shout, let alone the nasty, rough nylon texture which bears no resemblance to the real thing at all.

The front apartment next door to where I stayed in Coogee on Sydney’s eastern beaches had artificial grass. I knew it had to be artificial because it was a uniform green with no weeds in it and everywhere else was turning brown. But I had to touch it to confirm. And it made me think that this product has come a long way from the early days. I reviewed my blanket dismissal. I won’t be rushing out to buy any, but in this situation, it had a lot going for it. If you have lawn, you have to own machinery to mow it. If you have lawn on sandy soils, you have to water it just to keep it alive. Where space is small and accommodates an outdoor dining setting and barbecue, the furniture has to be moved to mow the grass and the sections subjected to shade or constant scuffing will suffer. If you lay pavers instead, the area will get hotter and that is not always desirable.

A little leaf and soil litter from the surrounding plants gave this synthetic lawn a far more natural look. I could see why the owners had made that choice and I thought it looked fine.

The gothic revival courtyard had a sense of romantic abandon at odds with its Coogee Beach location.

The gothic revival courtyard had a sense of romantic abandon at odds with its Coogee Beach location.

Further up the road was a front courtyard that had me entranced. Gothic revival, I decided. It wasn’t an area to live on. Nor was it tightly manicured for kerb appeal. It was a courtyard that could have come from a story book. Stone steps led down to a simple, geometric space which, despite its austerity and laissez faire maintenance, had an air of romantic abandon. It is hard to beat stone for long term landscaping. It ages so gracefully. Mind you I have a penchant for Gothic lines which I have to keep suppressed here because there is not a Gothic hint to build upon.

Note the very modern row of wheelie bins to the right. It is a bit of a shame about those but rows of wheelie bins are a fact of life in high density urban situations. The shared bins of apartment living may be necessary but they have the interesting side effect of absolving the residents from knowing how much waste they generate individually. We are so close to our household rubbish at home that I know exactly how much we generate when I carry the bag and the recycling out to the roadside each Sunday evening. Not these city dwellers. All they do is separate their recycling and load out to common bins with no investment in reducing their personal waste.

Simplicity, formality and immaculate presentation gave kerb appeal although there is little to appeal to the creative gardener

Simplicity, formality and immaculate presentation gave kerb appeal although there is little to appeal to the creative gardener

Up the road from my Canberra daughter’s home, I had to photograph a new property. It stood out on that street with its immaculate presentation. The roses were at their peak and there was a seductive simplicity to the scene. The standards are good old Iceberg. I don’t know what the shrub roses were – something similar to one I have here that is a low-growing, white single. There were only two rose varieties plus the clichéd standby of buxus hedging. It bore all the hallmarks of being professionally designed, installed (and I use that word deliberately) and maintained. I am pretty sure that road verge is irrigated and sprayed to keep it looking that good. On the day, I would have to give it full marks for kerb appeal though it was totally derivative. The problem is what it would look like when the roses are not in flower – dull as ditchwater, I suspect. This is not gardening for gardeners. It is gardening for property owners who place a high value on external presentation and there is nothing wrong with that.

This particular property confirmed my thinking that if you are not a keen gardener, opting for a formal layout and a very limited plant palette is a safe choice that, when maintained well, can look most effective.

I just preferred the Gothic revival courtyard but that is personal choice. On which note, I wish all readers a safe and happy festive season.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

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