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Brilliant Garden Design for Smaller Spaces

Peta Donaldson is an emerging Melbourne Garden Designer producing some outstanding livable outdoor spaces for clients. In recent years Peta has been invited and exhibited her work at the prestigious Melbourne International Garden and Flower Show and later this year at the Australian Garden Show Sydney.

Today people are building larger homes on smaller blocks of land which reduces the amount of outdoor space left over. With this in mind quality new land estates are being designed to provide residents with a lot of communal open space. What priorities and questions should people be asking themselves when considering a design for their compact outdoor space? 

When meeting with my clients for the first time, I always ask the following questions in order to really understand their requirements of the space they want designed.  How do you currently utilise your outdoor area?  How do you WANT to utilise your outdoor area?  Are there any elements that make you particularly happy, relaxed that you want included in the design?  It all about enhancing and/or improving your lifestyle.  A determining design element for me is scale and proportion.  Even in a small space every element needs to be proportional so the space is utilised to its fullest extent and appears larger than it is.

What plants, materials, colors and even furniture should be used to maximise the sense of space in a smaller area?  

Every space and every client is different.  Peoples priorities vary greatly.  But a staple in any small space is to maximise the use of the walls with either textures, such as timber, stone or screens, and the use of plants such as an evergreen climber.  A blend of different materials such as timber, stone, concrete and mixed planting always promotes visual interest.  I also believe that every garden should contain at least one deciduous plant to ensure you get to experience seasonal changes.

Being a smaller space is it possible to finish up with a high quality solution without the huge price tag?

Sustainability is the key here.  I always try to deliver a clean classic contemporary design using timeless materials that do not date.  Using quality hardscaping materials, which may possibly cost a little more, can save you money in the long term.  The design is less likely to date or deteriorate saving money in having to ‘update’ the garden in a few years.

 With most homes built with a 5 metres set back from the front of the lot, wouldnt it make sense for people to look carefully at how they utilize their front yard space?

As all blocks are getting smaller, the entire property must be considered to leverage full utilisation of the site.  Council regulations are becoming more stringent and must be considered when planning a design for your front yard.  Sometimes a council will dictate what can and cannot be done with your front garden.  It pays to check with your local council prior to undertaking any work.

For someone looking for a low maintenance solution for themselves or even their tenants, what would you suggest in terms of plants and materials? 

Gone are the days where planting flax or yuccas were the solution.  There are many plants out there that are extremely hardy, sun and drought tolerant, you just have to do your research.  A popular plant at the moment is the Rhaphiolepis indica ‘Snow Maiden’ for its compact habit and glossy dark green leaves with flushes of lime green growth.  The Lagerstromia indica x L. fauriei Natchez’ is a beautiful small feature tree re known for its white flowers and stunning textural bark.   It is elegant, structural and provides seasonal change within the garden.


Click here to visit Peta Donaldson’s Website:  ND Natural Design


Living Wall Art

Living Wall Art

Small Garden Edge

Small Garden Edge

Small Garden Edge

Small Garden Edge
Beautiful & Inviting Outdoor Space

Beautiful & Inviting Outdoor Space



1 Comment

  • Thanks for this article! These are great tips for thinking about backyard spaces. I saw Peta Donaldson’s latest garden at the MIGF and it was simply stunning. A practical space that was simple yet so elegant. I am sure we will see lots more of this designer in the coming years.

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