Garden makeover: a small plot transformed for a family of three

Hayley knew her relatively small garden needed to have several different uses, but her top priority was to ensure it was low maintenance

A view of a small rectangular garden makeover with a pergola seating area, shed and lawn with egg chair in the background
(Image credit: Lizzie Orme / Future)

When Relationship Manager Hayley, her husband John, and 10-year-old son Alfie moved into their home six years ago, they spent the first few years renovating the house, leaving the backyard. Consequently, it became a dumping ground for a lot of the building supplies and leftover bits and bobs. 

Once the dust had settled, she realized that the unloved garden was in desperate need of some care and attention. While Hayley had lots of ideas of what she’d like, she was fully aware that she was very new to gardening and that it really needed to be easy to maintain. 

She also needed garden design ideas that had multiple functions, including entertainment and storage.

The original garden and how it looked before

The before shot of a 20 x 15ft garden with lawn and paved patio area near the house

The garden started out as uninspiring and bland

(Image credit: Hayley Norris)

The 20 by 15ft backyard sits behind a 1950's three-bedroom house in Bedfordshire in the UK. The garden was overgrown, unkempt, and lacked style when Hayley and her family moved into the house. 

But with the house needing a huge renovation, figuring out how to plan the garden design was last on the list of jobs and they also lacked the funds to tackle the space.

'The garden wasn't always my favorite part of the house as it wasn't huge, but during our renovations, it had gotten worse,' says Hayley. 'The surrounding garden fence was falling apart and totally mismatched. The borders were full of overgrown shrubs, and as for the patio, it was cracked and discolored. The whole area was sloped and unbalanced, it really wasn't a place I liked hanging my washing, let alone entertaining!'

The plan for the makeover

A hanging egg chair on an artificial lawn with raised beds and low maintenance planting

The egg chair from Jysk was top of Hayley’s wish list and can be easily moved around the garden to follow the sun throughout the day

(Image credit: Lizzie Orme / Future)

Hayley decided she wanted to create a fixed seating area with the best garden furniture, a few raised beds, and a small shed to keep tools and act as a place for her son Alfie to hang out with his buddies. 

She also wanted to be able to step out of the house onto a new patio, rather than having a big drop down from the back door. With some help from Alfie, who sees himself as a bit of a budding garden designer, she sat down and planned the space. 

Although they had a budget for the materials, they would have to do most of the work themselves. 'I knew this would save us some money, but also appreciated it would take us longer,' says Hayley.

Laying a new patio

A wooden outdoor table and bench seating area under the shade of a parasol

A refectory bench and rustic table fit well into the seating area. The outdoor rug adds a pop of color

(Image credit: Lizzie Orme / Future)

Having got a few ideas from Instagram, gardening books, and magazines, she decided she wanted a modern, urban look with lots of greenery. She found some stylish, tiled patio materials from Bradstone, which had a concrete, seamless feel once laid, and thought they would be great for the patio. 

They laid the new DIY patio directly onto the old patio, which was leveled with sand and cement, with the help of a family friend. The new sleek finish instantly made the garden feel much bigger.

Addressing the boundary

A dark gray fence and raised bed with brick effect cover

By adding posts, Hayley was able to introduce climbers to add height and create different areas within the garden

(Image credit: Lizzie Orme / Future)

With the agreement of the neighbors, Hayley was able to replace all the fencing so it would match around the garden. In keeping with her modern garden ideas she chose some new slatted fencing from Forest Garden, and decided to go for a bold black for her garden fence color

'I knew it would take a while, but it took a few weeks to finish the paint – knowing how to paint a fence in between each slat was quite tricky but the finished panels looked amazing, and I knew we'd made the right decision,' she says.

Multi-functional storage solutions

A grey garden building with separate side storage for tools

Painted in a soft gray, the shed pops out against the backdrop of the black fencing

(Image credit: Lizzie Orme / Future)

With the fencing in place, the couple picked the best shed which looked aesthetically pleasing but also had space for tools. Because of its style, it had the look of a playhouse, which was ideal for Alfie to play in with his friends. 

The side shed storage idea was perfect for all the tools and bits that needed to be kept out of the way. The original color of the shed was a rather bright orange wood, so the couple painted it with a soft gray shade. 

'I wanted to soften the garden and make the shed stand out from the fence. The shade also complemented the floor tiles and I think it gives the space some depth,' says Hayley.

With everything coming together, rather than leave the walls of the house in brick, the couple decided to clad it with robust, weatherproof composite cladding. This really brought the whole space together.

Creating an entertaining area

A small outdoor kitchen area with a gas grill and pizza oven

An outdoor cooking area was created away from the feasting space. There’s room for a BBQ and a stand to hide the gas bottle and fit a portable pizza oven

(Image credit: Lizzie Orme / Future)

The couple decided on an L-shaped seating area near the patio which was built with breeze blocks and then finished with a deeper gray tile to create the seat. While the seat would be fixed and hard, Hayley knew she could layer it up with cushions and throws to make it comfy. 

She also chose a rustic wooden garden table which fitted perfectly in the space, and a bench to add extra seating.  

The family loves a barbecue, so they designated a small area to house the grill. A tall table was built to hide the gas bottle, and doubles up as a serving area for entertaining friends and family. It is also big enough for the pizza oven to sit on top. 

A low-maintenance planting scheme

a pot of pink pelargoniums in a metal bucket attached to a fence

Metal hanging tubs fit perfectly on the fencing to help add color. Filled with bedding plants, these can be changed each season and easily maintained

(Image credit: Lizzie Orme / Future)

When it came to planting, Hayley knew she'd struggle to maintain anything too heavy-duty. So, they included some raised garden bed ideas in one corner and another set of raised beds built into the back of the seating area to zone the space and separate it from the shed. 

Rather than render all the breeze blocks for the beds and seating, they chose to cover them with brick-style slips, which give the feeling of individual tiles.

To soften the seating area, they added a wooden post on either side to give height and support climbing plants. On this occasion, Hayley decided to grow clematis entwined with honeysuckle.

Hayley says how she found choosing plants hard. But, with some advice from friends and from reading books, she opted to include a small apple blossom tree that would add height to the garden, and some ornamental grasses filled in with lupins, dahlias, and salvias – all hardy perennials which she loves.

These are all plants that should, if trimmed at the right times, bloom each year and would be easy for Hayley to maintain. To soften the whole look, Hayley dotted some container gardening ideas around the backyard filled with simple bedding plants, which she can change each season without too much effort. She found some lovely metal hanging planters from Ikea which add a pop of color to the fence. 

Laying a life-like lawn

A lush green area of artificial grass in a backyard

Rather than leave the brickwork on the house, Hayley had it cladded with robust composite cladding, which is weather-resistant

(Image credit: Lizzie Orme / Future)

One of the things the couple couldn't decide on was the grass area. The previous grass never grew very well, so after much deliberation, they opted for an artificial alternative to grass

'I really did my homework and found a fake lawn that was amazingly realistic from Carpetright, which was a real surprise,' says Hayley. 

The couple had it professionally fitted, which would ensure it stayed in place and wouldn't get weeds growing through. With the grass in place, the finish line was in sight. 

Adding the finishing touches

Shaded outdoor seating area with cut sunflowers in a vase and a shed in the background

The seating area was built with breeze blocks and then covered with brick-style wall slips which add texture to the space. The tops were fitted with a darker version of the floor tiles which breaks up the color, and then covered with cushions and throws for comfort

(Image credit: Lizzie Orme / Future)

Hayley found some festoon lights and had them hung in a zig-zag across the patio to the shed, which ensured the eating area would be illuminated at night. She dotted solar lights in the raised beds and then introduced a large cantilever parasol, as the garden doesn't have much shade on hot sunny days. 

A selection of cushions, outdoor rugs, and her egg chair ensured the garden was ready for the summer ahead. 

'I'm thrilled with the finish as it was the last thing we've done in our home and it's taken almost six years,' she says. 'I'm thrilled that we've created a space that works for all the family, and I can't wait to throw a fabulous garden party and enjoy the fruits of our labor.'

Freelance writer