Town Gardens and Town Gardening

Town gardening is both a challenge and an opportunity.

The challenge consists in surmounting such difficulties as a smoke-laden atmosphere, lack of sunshine, the proximity of high buildings, a poverty-stricken soil, restricted space, and the unwelcome attentions of birds and animals.

The opportunity consists in transforming some dismal and derelict garden or yard into an outdoor living-room combining beauty with privacy, and possessing the elusive and distinctive atmosphere that is the hall-mark of every good garden. This cannot be achieved simply by setting plants round a plot of grass or a square of paving.

Plants are only one element in the town garden, which should also be equipped with other features that will give it character and make for comfort and relaxation.


The town garden should not be regarded as an independent unit, but rather as an outdoor room, and it should therefore be designed in relation to the house that it adjoins. Keep the plan simple and practical, and do not introduce features for the sake of mere decoration. Generally speaking, the centre of the garden should remain uncluttered. If the area is enclosed by high walls, however, it is advisable to make the beds towards the centre, and to raise them about lj ft. above the general level, so that they receive all available sunshine. The garden should always have a focal point of interest, perhaps in the centre area, or at the end of a vista.

The first step in designing the garden is to measure the site and draw up a plan to scale. This provides an opportunity of visualizing different schemes and planning a definite procedure before clearing, digging and planting. Do not forget to consider the garden walls of the house, noting the position of any doors and windows, for these will have a bearing on the layout. Make a note, too, of any natural features on the site, such as trees, a group of bushes, or a difference in levels, all of which will offer scope for interesting treatment in planning.


A town garden frequently consists of only a small area bounded by walls and heavily shaded. The most practical treatment is to transform it into a formal, paved courtyard, using either brick or stone. It is then permanent, easy and inexpensive to maintain, and always appears neat and tidy, with a clean surface that dries quickly after rain.

Although grass is desirable, it is seldom successful in a confined and shady space.

Where the site is open, a small lawn is a feasible proposition, but plan it in con-junction with a paved terrace close to the house for sitting out. Make it from good turves rather than from grass seed, which is difficult to rear successfully in towns because sparrows will raid the seed and make dust baths in the soil. If seed is preferred, choose a mixture of Poa nemoralis, S23 rye-grass and creeping red fescue, which will withstand some shade and hard wear. The turf resulting from such a mixture should be mown regularly from a fairly early age.

For terraces and paths the best and most attractive material is York stone in rectangular self-faced slabs laid at random or in broken pieces as crazy paving. It is sometimes possible to buy from the local authority York stone lifted from street pavements. Also satisfactory, and less expensive, are rectangles of an artificial stone such as Pennine paving. Alternatively, bricks and tiles may be laid in attractive patterns—separately, together, or in combination with paving. The bricks should be hard and well burnt and laid in a bed of sand and mortar.


The success or failure of plants in a town garden depends upon the fertility of the soil, which involves its texture as well as its richness.

Depending on the condition, measures for improvement will range from partial resoiling by importing fresh turfy loam to mix with the top-soil, to digging over the planting area in the autumn, making sure that the subsoil is broken up. Leave the surface rough, and apply a dressing of lime at the rate of 2 to 3 oz. per sq. yd., followed some six weeks later by a dressing of manure. An application of soil conditioner will be beneficial if the ground is heavy and sticky; if it is wet, lay a few tile drains to facilitate drainage.

The best way of restoring fertility to sterile soil is to incorporate some humus material while digging. Ideally, this should be rotted stable or poultry manure, but more easily available materials in a town are leaf soil, spent hops, Pompost, crushed bark fibre or peat, supplemented by dressings of dried blood and bone meal.


Man-made features play an important part in giving character to a town garden, but a garden should be lived with for a while before any special features are installed ; garden ornaments should always be used with discretion and their design and placing should be carefully considered. Arches, pergolas and shelters are usually impractical in a restricted space, but there may be room for a pillar or a well-sculpted figure at some strategic point; for a sundial or a bird-bath; for vases and urns, either as ornaments in themselves or to hold plants; and for a seat on the lawn or terrace, under a tree, or terminating a vista at the end of a path.

A bird-bath is a particularly pleasing ornament for a town garden, while vases look attractive placed on the coping of a terrace wall or formal pool, on the terrace itself, or on either side of a low flight of steps.

In a formally designed garden a small round, square or other geometric-shaped pool provides a focal point of great charm. A more natural layout, where the emphasis is on plants, provides greater scope in the shape and placing of a pool.


Lighting of some sort is essential if the town garden is to be used as an outdoor living-room on summer evenings. As in the case of garden furniture, utility should never be sacrificed for appearance, but the two can very often be combined.

Have one or two lights shining down on the terrace, and carefully arrange a few more low down in the borders. Another could perhaps be placed in the branches or at the foot of a tree. If the right plants are chosen for illuminating, the result will be most effective. White and yellow flowers show up better than brightly coloured ones, and all grey-, silver-, and shiny-leaved shrubs light up to advantage, particularly if contrasted with neighbouring dark evergreens.

All the lights should be controlled from a switch by the garden door of the house, and the cables need not be buried deeply provided their position is known to those working in the beds and borders.

A competent electrician should be employed to install the lighting.

16. February 2012 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Featured Articles, Garden Management, Gardening Calendar | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Town Gardens and Town Gardening


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