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Gardens of the Future: Oasis Gardens and how to maximise your urban retreat

Landscape designer Franchesca Watson talks about small-space gardening and how to maximise the effect in your own urban oasis

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By Heidi Bertish  | August 12, 2023 | Gardens

Many of us live in small spaces these days, whether by choice or expediency. That absolutely does not mean we must live bereft of greenery and the magic plants bring to our lives. There are many ways to bring style and glamour to your small-space planted mix while being practical at the same time.

If it has to be contained, I’m a firm believer in investing in good- looking pots and planters. If it’s just a pair at your front door, choose pots as big and good-looking as your budget allows. If you have space for many pots and don’t have a huge budget, opt for a scheme that hangs together, like keeping to a single colour or finish. I like all the pots in terracotta, with the addition of a few glazed ones in a single colour. Black often creates a sassy contrast. Plant boldly and use out-of-the ordinary combinations such as big grasses and trailing groundcovers, or bamboos with the bottom leaves stripped off, to make the effect more sculptural.

For indoor plants, the same principles apply. Indoor plants are happiest in high-light situations, they do need air circulation but do not enjoy a draught. Remember, indoor plants suffer from dust and grime build-up, and need to be given a shower at least once a month. My favourite indoor plants at the moment are fat-leaved Begonias, hanging Rhipsalis and Calatheas, and Marantas, especially the variegated ones.

I think of tiny gardens as bijou jewel boxes - only treasures should get space. Forget about a feeling of space and fill them to the brim with wonderful greenery, anything from trees to mosses. In a tiny space one gets up close and personal to each plant, so only allow the best – there is no space for low-impact fillers. Keep your maintenance up to scratch as each plant bears scrutiny. Often, one has to delete some of the everyday elements of a conventional garden and add something special instead; maybe a hammock with a stepping stone and groundcover, instead of a patch of lawn. Use creepers to cover your walls - they add romance and create depth by averting one’s attention away from your boundary. Plant a small tree - or a large shrub, and train it into a small tree. I’m doing this at the moment with a Bauhinia bowkerii, it allows you to play with the scale of the space.

Consider a water feature to add the calming, tinkling sound of water. This can easily be done by installing a submersible pump and tiny fountain nozzle in a waterproof pot. You can even add a few fish and waterlilies, and it’s surprisingly low maintenance and fun.