Small Cottage Garden for a Young Family

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Small Cottage Garden for a Young Family


A happy safe haven for the children and an attractive functional garden for the whole family. A place to play. A place to relax. A place to while away those endless summer days.

Client Brief


This young Northampton family wanted to change their small cottage garden into a pleasant and usable space. The couple and their two girls, love their cottage and pleasant country location and therefore hoped to stay in the property for many years. Although in their words the garden is ‘tiny’ it is enclosed and not overlooked meaning it had the potential to be turned into a cosy and functional space for all the family to enjoy. The garden has the benefit of an attractive secluded location and some striking views across the rolling Northamptonshire countryside. It has a number of healthy and well established shrubs around the boundaries, which the clients hoped to maintain. A key benefit from a design point of view is the attractiveness of the cottage and the warm glow of the beautiful Northamptonshire stone.


The clients had three main requirements. They wanted the garden to be more usable as a family space. They wanted the garden to be robust and easy to maintain, meaning the children have the freedom to enjoy the space without having to worry about delicate prize winning blooms or a perfect bowling green lawn. They also wanted as much material as possible to be recycled, from both an environmental and cost point of view.


Given their limited budget, the clients intended on doing the majority of the landscaping themselves, despite not having much previous experience. They concluded that the most important element to creating their ideal garden would be a beautiful and effective design to work from. Therefore, they deemed the most efficient use of the budget was to employ me as their professional garden designer.


The specific requirements of the garden were to have a cosy dining area for the adults, an easy and relaxing family seating area near to the house and as large a lawn as possible for the children, while still maintaining some areas for planting. In addition there are a number of access points that needed to be allowed for, including the back door, the back gate and outhouse/shed.


Design Process

This garden was a prime example of how often a small garden is a lot more challenging to design than a large spacious one. The particular demand of this garden design was trying to accomplish all the requirements within the scheme, while maintaining as many aspects of good spatial design as possible. Any landscape or garden design requires a certain amount of compromise, but for a small garden, a willingness to compromise is vital.

Although from the outset, this appealing little garden displayed plenty of a potential, there were numerous challenges to contend with. Firstly the back of the cottage is North East facing meaning that the area around the house never sees any direct sunlight. The garden previously consisted of a lawn around the house and a patio area at the rear of the garden. This meant that a large part of the lawn never saw any sunlight. In addition, as this dark and often wet grass area was positioned around the house and provided the only access to the back gate and outhouse, it was regularly walked on. This meant that, at best, in the summer the grass was patchy and rough and, at worst, in the winter it could become boggy and difficult. The patio area at the back of the garden was raised by roughly 300-400mm above the lawn and given the size of the garden could be considered too large for requirement.


My first consideration was therefore to partially reverse the situation meaning a portion or all of the lawn would be placed at the rear gaining the benefit of the sunny aspect while some element of hardscape would be placed around the house and access points, still leaving some planting areas around the house itself.


Behind the outhouse, which is a pleasant looking little old building built from the same Northamptonshire stone, there was an old wooden shed. It was agreed that this shed was far too big for the few tools the clients kept in it and it wasted valuable space. I thought that given the position of this area in the North East corner of the garden it was perfectly placed to be a lovely little trap for warm evening sun. Also upon inspection behind the shed I saw that the side of the outhouse and high rear wall would provide a pleasing back drop to the space. With the addition of the presence of a mature Pyracantha overhanging the old shed, I saw that this space could provide a charming dining area, which given the position, would feel surprisingly intimate and secluded.  


Final Design

This scheme is a lesson in how with good design a very small space can be made to be both beautiful and feel surprisingly spacious. With a certain amount of compromise on the stricter rules of design, the small garden has been developed into three appealing and highly usable spaces.

The seating area in the shade of the house is impressively roomy and has been designed to emphasise the cool shadiness. A bench and a covered arbor which will eventually be wrapped in beautiful climbers, provide the seating. Evergreen shrubs and woodland planting envelope the area with lush foliage and provide a real sense of separation from the rest of the garden. The lawn has plenty of space for a picnic or game of catch and has some good pockets of planting holding the space. The low hedge helps to delineate the lawn as well as providing a barrier for the children.


Small cottage garden design for family in Northampton - 3D Elevation 

The dining area behind the outhouse is wonderfully intimate and has a remarkable feeling of seclusion, considering how near it is to the house. The overhanging Pyracantha makes a perfect natural roof cover allowing dappled sunlight to filter through while the angle and position of the area means the evening sun perfectly lights and warms the space.   

With a combination of good structural planting around the perimeter and the addition of height and structure within, the garden has been designed to hold the eye within the space. Rather than standing at the door and looking directly at the rear fence only metres away, one has to venture into the garden to discover the boundary. This gives an impression of spaciousness as well as enticing the visitor to explore.   

Small cottage garden design for family in Northampton - view of shady seating area


Nearly everything that could be recycled from the site was. All the mature shrubs around the boundary were maintained as requested. The Northampton stone from original dry-stone wall was entirely re-used in the re-designed wall, some of the antique bricks from the paved area were re-used as edging for the gavelled areas and a large bulk of sub-soil material was re-used in the re-grading of the land. A combination of recycling and clever choice of design materials has meant the clients are very pleased to have their ideal garden safely within budget.