How to design small gardens: RHS Young Garden Designer of the Year William Scholey reveals his top tips for tiny outdoor spaces

William Scholey in his Working From Home garden  (Handout)
William Scholey in his Working From Home garden (Handout)

London-based horticulturalist William Scholey, 26, has just been crowned RHS’s Young Garden Designer of the Year for his Working from Home garden at RHS Tatton Park Flower Show.

Scholey’s winning garden was designed to be achievable, using natural and reclaimed materials. “I wanted to create something that was realistic and could be achieved by anyone, not just a porcelain show,” Scholey explained.

The 8x11-metre garden, created as a restful living space, goes easy on the hard landscaping by using old granite kerb stones from the streets of London, tied in with a buff-coloured, self-binding gravel.

“It’s really all about the plants, and about anticipation,” he said. “In July, I could have filled the garden with flowers, but a lot of the plants in the garden were later flowering, giving a sense of something to come”.

The judges were especially impressed with the maturity of the design and the three-dimensional feel of the garden, which reveals itself as you progress to the garden studio ( at the end of the space.

With trepidation, Scholey was considering another show garden of a sort, but was very aware of the environmental impact that comes with building a garden for just a week. The winning garden has been relocated to Northamptonshire.

Cutting into a space means you don’t reveal the garden in one go, and means interest can be added to borders (Mark Spencer)
Cutting into a space means you don’t reveal the garden in one go, and means interest can be added to borders (Mark Spencer)

Scholey’s tips for designing small gardens

Be brave with borders

Avoid the washing machine effect that comes from having tiny borders around the edge of the garden with a lawn in the middle. Instead, be brave enough to make your borders wider and let them cut into the space so you don’t reveal the whole garden in one go.

Lose the lawn

Gardens feel better with plants in them and lawns are hard to tend, especially in London. Gravel is a great alternative — it’s low-cost and looks good all year. You can plant in it and, with a hardcore base, you can avoid using plastic membrane.

Pick a theme

It doesn’t really matter what theme you go for, but stick with it. It could be naturalistic, it could be Mediterranean. Focus

on the bigger palette rather than picking up individual plants from the garden centre.

Use what you have

If you find yourself with excess soil or stone in your garden, try to make use of it instead of removing it. Build mounds, walls and paths. Limit your materials to one or two; it might just be stone and wood.

Call in the pros

If you are really stuck, consider talking to a professional garden designer. Many offer a range of services depending on your needs and budget.