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How to create a dream garden in any space

The Majorelle Garden, Marrakech

The confines of 2020 have brought our appreciation of nature home, quite literally. But how do you achieve a connection to the great outdoors when your garden space is limited? KATIE BERRINGTON asks the experts

Lifestyle

“It makes a huge difference to have some connection to nature in the place one lives,” says nature photographer Ngoc Minh Ngo. “[It] is known to have a calming and healing effect on people, reducing stress and promoting a sense of wellbeing.” From the houseplants that thrive inside to the accent items that will bring a new lease of life to a terrace, three experts – Minh Ngo, nature photographer and author of Bringing Nature Home; plant doctor and stylist Maryah Greene; and Isa Hendry Eaton, co-author of Small Garden Style: A Design Guide for Outdoor Rooms and Containers – share their advice.

Le Jardin Secret, Marrakech

First, assess your space

“Ask yourself what you would like to do in your space (entertain, relax, play, meditate) and how you would like it to feel,” says Hendry Eaton of starting the design process. “What time of day will you spend the most time outdoors? And do you need daytime shade or evening warmth? Is it for morning coffee, afternoon play with the kids or evening dinner parties? Spiky, architectural plants are great for an adult patio, for instance, but not so great for a family space.”

Maryah Greene, who specializes in the styling and caring of houseplants through her company, Greene Peace, agrees that a pragmatic approach to choosing plants is necessary to avoid future disappointment. “I often find that people go plant shopping and find something beautiful that they want to bring into their space,” she says. “I try to get my clients to reverse that cycle. The best thing you can do to ensure that you have a successful plant journey is to assess your space first. Decide where you’d like to add a plant and determine how much light that space is receiving. This will narrow down your plant choices and ultimately dictate whether or not the plant survives in its new home.”

But space isn’t the only thing to consider – you also need to think about the effort you’re planning to put in to its upkeep, she says. “I encourage future plant owners to determine how much they’d like to be involved in caring for their plant,” Greene continues. “Some plants require more maintenance and care than others, so it’s always best to find out how often it will need to be watered, pruned or repotted.”

The ficus elastica, or rubber fig, can grow well in low light, making it ideal for indoors

Bringing the outside in

Lacking an outdoor area in your home doesn’t mean you can’t have a connection to nature within it. “Bringing nature inside is a simple process as long as you’re familiar with the lighting in your space,” says Greene. “This will allow you to determine what types of plants will grow best in different areas of your home. It’s important to note that some plants just won’t survive indoors. When caring for a houseplant, you’re ultimately trying to do your best to recreate its original environment to ensure it feels at home and is healthy enough to grow.”

So, which plants work well indoors? “My favorite plant for a small space is a ZZ Plant,” Greene says. “They grow very slowly and do very well in low light. I often find that small spaces have limited light due to a lack of windows, so the ZZ Plant is the perfect addition for a small room. It’s also extremely low maintenance, as it only needs water every three weeks.

“Another favorite is a calathea. They come in so many shapes and sizes and they’re great for anyone looking to add a pop of color. They enjoy high humidity, so a mist here and there is really helpful, along with watering once a week.”

The Moroccan countryside home of Italian author Umberto Pasti is a perfect example of using houseplants to bring the outdoors in

If in doubt, try a floral arrangement first

“Having fresh flowers in your home is a good place to start,” says Minh Ngo. “It doesn’t have to be a huge, complicated arrangement. It could be some wildflowers foraged from the roadside or a single stem. I like to have flowers in my home to observe them up close – most flowers have incredible architecture and amazing details that you might miss unless you study them – and to enjoy their perfume. Some flowers, like tulips and ranunculus, for example, last a long time in a vase, and move and change daily in their appearance.”

Give your garden a quick and easy revamp

People with a penchant for gardening will tell you that patience is usually the name of the game – but there are ways to overhaul your outdoors with immediate impact.

“Take photos of your space and look at what you can eliminate and keep. Then rearrange your outdoor furniture and see if you can create a better or fresher layout,” Hendry Eaton suggests. “Add easy accents like an outdoor rug, throw pillows, string lights, side tables and container plants,” she recommends for creating ambience and comfort with instant effect. “Try arranging container plants in groups of three. Test out your green thumb by planting one small table-top container with succulents for the summer. For planted areas, bigger groups of the same plant will be more impactful than a hodge-podge of lots of mixed varieties. Group plants in threes, fives and sevens, and throw in a sculptural feature plant such as an agave or conical boxwood.”

Isa Hendry Eaton has created a meditation deck in her garden using household props and houseplants

Finally, let yourself daydream about your alfresco paradise

“I think about my dream garden constantly,” says Minh Ngo. “It would have something for all the senses. There would be beautiful flowers for inspiration, including climbing roses outside my bedroom window; fragrant blooms to perfume the air, like mock oranges, daphnes, viburnums; a potager and an orchard to feed me and my family; and a wildflower meadow to feed wildlife.”

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