Gardening: Transform your city garden into a cool urban space

Got a grey city garden? Top designer Michael Coley offers three ways to make your urban space much easier on the eye

Self-seeders will fill holes and create their own planting plan without you having to lift a finger
Hannah Stephenson

WITH summer just around the corner, it's time for alfresco dining, patio lounging and outdoor entertaining.

But for city-dwellers, creating a leafy paradise in the middle of an urban jungle can seem like an impossible pipe dream.

To the rescue comes London-based garden designer Michael Coley, who's a pro when it comes to transforming city spaces.

Ahead of the RHS Chatsworth Flower Show, where he will be exhibiting a garden on behalf of Macmillan Cancer Support, here are his top tips on how to add character to any urban garden.

1. Look for the sun

In a small garden, the spot where the sun is shining at 6pm on a Friday in July is the most important part – so whatever your design is, it's basically got to revolve around that golden spot. If you want to enjoy the early-evening sun, put some seating there so you can enjoy your sundowners.

2. Don't be afraid to be bold

Don't think that just because you have a small space all you can do is put a 50cm flower bed around the outside of the area you're designing. Break up the space with planting jutting out onto pathways – that way your journey through even the smallest of gardens becomes interesting.

Careful planning will help you use the space to your best advantage. I always describe designing a small urban garden like a game of Tetris. You have a list of essentials and it's all about fitting them into the garden in the best possible way. I try to keep my material selection down to three – that way the space is much more harmonious and less cluttered. Structure is key. Planting trees gives any garden good vertical character and really helps to create the framework for a garden.

3. Incorporate self-seeding plants like foxgloves

Self-seeders will fill holes and create their own planting plan without you having to lift a finger. There is a lot to be said for just letting certain plants do their own thing. Nature will find a balance and if you keep the edges under control, you've got a low maintenance garden that has created itself.

Michael Coley's Chatsworth garden is inspired by the importance of legacy donations to Macmillan, which receives almost a third of all funding through gifts left in wills.

For more information, visit

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