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Small space gardens made easy

September 23, 2022

In any space, at any age, gardening is fun and rewarding. It’s almost 10 years since Vivien and her late husband Daniel moved from Bellevue, the family home in Northland’s Langs Beach with a large garden which she’d lovingly developed over decades.

Vivien’s destination was Jane Mander Retirement Village in Whangarei, a warm and welcoming environment where she was quick to make her new apartment her own.


“I feel as if I’ve said this many times before, but it’s still the best thing I’ve ever done,” Vivien says, revealing that she’s recently marked a major milestone – her 80th birthday.


As the daughter of accomplished designers, Vivien used her flair to create an elegant and inviting interior based around her favourite decorating colours of black, white and green. Then she skillfully extended that classic palette to the large balcony outside.


To make the most of the space, Vivien used succulents, euphorbias, sansevierias, along with bold palms – including kentia (Howea Fosteriana) varieties.


Lifestyle Blog Small Garden Spaces Vivien Papich

Ryman resident Vivien in her stunning balcony garden.


Embracing the convenience of artificial foliage

Vivien believes at her age, cutting a few corners is perfectly acceptable and in addition to her favourite plants, she has embraced artificial foliage.


By interspersing quality replicas with the real thing, she keeps work to a minimum on her balcony.

“Modern artificial plants are often amazingly realistic and these days there are specifically designed outdoor ones, which can handle UV rays. They even have torn leaves that look completely natural - and my plastic Buxus hedging could fool anybody!”


Less is more

Vivien has a policy of less is more, having noticed that a handful of big, bold plants in large pots tend to be much more effective than lots of small ones.


Aussie landscape guru and co-founder of award-winning company Landart, Matt Leacy, agrees with Vivien’s ‘less is more’ approach.


“First of all, I’ll suggest that small space gardeners sit down and make careful plans, taking the seasons and the aspect into account,” he says.


“It’s also essential to consider the surrounding landscape objectively when developing a small garden – for example, if everything around is dry and arid, a subtropical theme probably isn’t appropriate!”


Lifestyle Blog Small Garden Spaces Matt Leacy

Aussie landscape guru and co-founder, Matt Leacy, of award-winning Landart landscapes.


Communal areas and sharing

Vivian says Jane Mander village is home to many other plant lovers and the communal gardens at the village are popular meeting spaces.


“They’re kept immaculately, and the head gardeners here do a wonderful job,” she says.


“Obviously, I like to maintain my own garden as well, but there are others here who get all of their pleasure from our shared spots - and that’s just lovely.”


At the village, maintenance and other chores are all taken care of, meaning Vivien has more time to spend doing what she loves the most.


Other village residents like to grow their own produce – including tomatoes and lettuce or herbs, such as parsley, mint, chives and basil. Vivien says that giving and sharing in the garden space is an integral part of the culture at the village.


Getting creative with space

Matt Leacy says that modern outdoor spaces need to be multitasking zones and when it comes to maximising the area available, he urges gardeners to think creatively.


“Outdoor rugs can make a balcony feel more like a room, while mirrors can enhance a sense of space. When designing a thin courtyard or balcony, don’t reveal the entire space at once. Angle the decking, play with paving patterns, and position potted plants to draw the eye to different parts of your space upon entry.”


Like Vivian, Matt says that substantial statement plants often work out better when working with small outdoor spaces.


“Playing with scale and size is important. Positioning large things in small spaces can create the illusion that a space is bigger and provides a sense of drama.


“Levelling is also a great way to divide an area into different zones for a more expansive feel, from different height planters to wall climbers to hanging pots.”

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