5If you follow me on social media you’ll know that last month my little garden made the front cover of Gardens Illustrated – super flattered about that. The issue was a small garden special, focusing on itsy-bitsy, urban or awkward spaces that have nevertheless been made beautiful. My garden is certainly on the bijou side, so today I thought I’d share my top tips for making the most of even the smallest outdoor spaces.

As odd as this sounds I don’t view the garden like most people view a garden rather I view it as an extension of my living space. So with this outside room I tie it in with colours and textures and materials so that both the inside space and the outside space flows and extend beautifully into each other.

Abigail Ahern 2Photography: Rachel Warne, Gardens Illustrated

Number one rule is to keep it interesting. If you’ve only got a small space, why would you devote it all to a lawn? That’s like having a small living room, laying down a rug and then never adding any other furniture! I know that some people like the outdoor space to run around in (particularly with young families), but for me treating the space like a series of rooms creates something so much more magical and enjoyable. I have a pretty small patio but have still managed to pack in two seating areas, an outdoor fire pit and outdoor kitchen. Then you meander down the garden path past the grasses we’ve planted, to my teeny tiny cabin with it’s own deck, nestled under a tree. The diagram below shows how it’s all squeezed in.

Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 09.37.49

Seems like a lot, but it works and means that I use and enjoy my garden heaps more. So without further ado here’s my top tips for small spaces. Best thing about all these? No green fingers necessary!


In interiors, I only ever use about two or three colours in a room. Same applies to outdoors.My garden works well because with the exception of a few hydrangeas in white and pink I’ve stuck strictly to greenery. Here I have green foliage with pink and white hydrangeas (adore them!) – nothing else. I don’t use harsh colours in the garden, I use a muted, knocked-back, dark palette that looks really sophisticated and works with our climate.

Abigail AhernPhotography: Rachel Warne, Gardens Illustrated


For me, texture is a major component in interiors and it is just as important in an outside space. How a tree sways; how my bronze pots catch in the sun; the featheriness of the mimosa; my old, zinc-topped, Indian table against smooth plastic chairs. You should absolutely use texture in planting too. When I say my garden is nearly all greenery those are not the same shade of greens I might add, nor the same texture – so I have feathery mimosa and ferns, I have lots of trees that add movement to the space from olive trees to fig trees, lilac trees to apple trees. I have jasmine and bamboo and quince trees – shiny, matte, feathery, glossy. It all feels harmonious and balances.



Use indoor pieces outdoors. I’ve bought a ceramic table from Habitat (obsessed with it and love it) which I use outdoors permanently, along with some plastic chairs and our fabulous new Woodsley sofa. Whenever I know we’re going to be outdoors I drag out sheepskins and cushions for the afternoon so it feels just like another room of the house. Tying the outside paving with the concrete inside makes the floors look as though they merge into each other, and makes whatever space you’re looking into – whether it’s the garden or the living room – look bigger.


Screen Shot 2016-08-23 at 10.42.044. DON’T FORGET THE POWER OF LIGHTING

Lighting is always transformative. No matter how big or how small your outdoor area the minute you add lights will completely transform the space. Looking out to my terrace I’ve got two chandeliers, two floor lamps, 2 sets of string lights, an outdoor fireplace and lots of candles and I haven’t even gotten onto the rest of the garden yet. Lighting is a game changer, indoors or out. I can never find outside lights that I like so I put inside lighting, such as a 1960s’ pendant light and a plastic John Lewis lamp, outside instead and rewire it. Even candles will change your space completely, promise.


The minute you put something that’s big into a space that isn’t very big it immediately looks much grander. I like to put things into people’s vision. I haven’t put things along the perimeter but I have put them in the middle of the space. This is what I do in small spaces. The eye is so intrigued that it doesn’t clock the size of it but how cool it is. I like tricking the eye so you don’t know where to look. If you see everything in one go, it’s boring. And my final tip? Using supersized planters automatically makes your space feel grander and less itty-bitty. There you have it!


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