8 beautiful and unusual medium sized garden ideas – The Middle-Sized Garden


February 16th, 2020 Posted In: Garden trends & design

These are my favourite medium sized garden ideas from two private gardens I’ve just visited.

The sheltered terrace in Dale and Jon’s ‘Caelum’ (top) and Nandi’s pretty vegetable garden (above).

Middle-sized gardens are often referred to as a ‘small gardens’ because ‘proper gardens’ are usually 5-10 acres or more.

But, for us amateurs, a ‘small garden’ is a tiny courtyard space. A large garden is an acre or more. Everything in between is a medium sized – or middle-sized – garden.

So I’ve picked up some great tips from two gardens I’ve visited recently which are around an acre in size. Both have different areas or ‘garden rooms’, each with its own character.

So you could also adapt these medium sized garden ideas for smaller town gardens, too.

This is a two-part post. You’ll find the second garden next week.

Caelum garden tour

Caelum was designed by the renowned garden designer Grant Saltmarsh in 1994. Dale Simpson and Jon Hazelton have owned it for the past five years.

Path through the dry garden

The path leads round the edge of the garden, through the ‘dry garden’ Mediterranean planting, past a raised pond and round to the deck, sunk garden and seating area.

They love the structure of the Grant Saltmarsh design, which divides the garden into rooms, starting with a path through a dry ‘Mediterrean-style’ planting round to a covered deck overlooking a small sunken garden.

A repeated plant theme

Both the pathway, deck and the sunken garden are planted up with a theme of succulents, yuccas, agaves and sedums.

Mediterranean style planting

Sedum and other Mediterranean style planting in Dale and Jon’s garden.

They live near Melbourne, Australia so it’s a temperate climate with some frosts and occasional snow. But their summers are hotter than we would expect in South East England.

Many Mediterranean style plants will put up with quite cold winters, however. I had an enormous and quite indestructible yucca in my front garden in London for fifteen years.

Dry garden plants

The covered deck overlooks a sunken garden, both of which are mainly planted up with Mediterranean style plants

There are two big beds with aeoniums, sedum, stonecrop and other succulents, but there are also little succulents, such as sempervivens, wedged in to secret spots.

Succulents around the base of a post

I love these succulents grown around a post under the car port. Dale planted just one or two plants and let them grow.

Seeing the same shape and style of plant repeated around the garden gives a sense of unity and harmony.

Contrasting shaped leaves with aeoniums and yucca

An excellent planting combination – the fleshy rosettes of the aeoniums contrast beautifully with the pointed yucca leaves and in the background there is a feathery variegated bamboo. A really good example of contrasting shapes.

‘Dry garden planting’ for a cool climate

And many of these succulents, yuccas, agaves would be fine in a cooler climate. Some yuccas will tolerate very cold temperatures, so check when you’re buying. Agaves vary too, and some would need extra protection in a prolonged cold spell.

Most aeoniums prefer the equivalent of a USDA hardiness zone of 9-11. Where I live in South East England roughly equates to a Zone 9, but I would have to plant my aeoniums in a sheltered spot, perhaps against the wall of a house.

Many succulents are frost-hardy and will put up with cold weather, but they often don’t like getting too wet. If, like me, you’re finding your summers are getting drier, then it could be time to look into this style of planting.

But you might have to take steps to protect the plants from the winter wet.

mixed dry garden planting

Close up of Dale and Jon’s Mediterranean style planting. Many of these plants will be fine in cool climates (check when you’re buying), but they don’t like wet.

Taking one group of plants and turning it into a theme works really well. It gives a garden rhythm and unity.

Close up of dry garden planting

I really love this combination of plants and it also looks so good against the pebbles and shingle.

You could adapt this idea to other groups of plants, such as alpines or the rose family.

Theme your sculpture or garden ornaments

Garden sculpture or garden ornaments can look a bit random. But Dale and Johnny have bird sculptures and garden ornaments dotted around the garden. The effect is charming and very natural.

Two birds sculpture

A sculpture of two birds under a group of shrubs.

This is one of those medium sized garden ideas that would work even better in a very small garden. Three completely different sculptures could be too much in a really small space, but three variations on a theme would look much better.

garden ornament hens

I think these might be quail – or perhaps they’re just very stylised garden hens – and I like how they’ve been positioned so naturally.

I like the way they’ve positioned the bird ornaments so naturally too. There’s a bird on the edge of a pond and three hens walking down a path.

Garden bird ornament

This garden bird ornament perches on the edge of a raised pond in Dale and Jon’s garden.

Hen garden ornament

Dale and Jon keep hens so there are also a number of charming hen ornaments around the garden.

You don’t need much space to have a wood

Dale and Jon have planted around 15 young maples in quite a small space. The trees are very close together. They will grow up to be a maple grove and gloriously colourful in autumn.

Maple grove in small garden

This ‘maple glade’ consists of around 15-20 different maples planted in quite a small area. Ultimately the grass will be replaced by bark mulch, making it an easy care area.

Trees planted close together don’t grow as tall, and a few may die. But it’s what happens in nature.

Ultimately Dale will replace the grass under the trees with bark mulch, as they don’t want to mow in that area.

This idea can transfer to smaller gardens, too. Garden designer Posy Gentles has three birch trees planted close together in the centre of her narrow urban garden. This sort of planting can be great for privacy as you’re not planting on a neighbour’s boundary.

Curved medium sized garden ideas

Garden design has been very rectilinear for a decade or more. But I spotted curves coming back in last year’s show gardens. Dale and Johnny’s garden has beautiful curving borders, tempting the eye on.

Lawn and curving borders

Dale and Jon’s garden opens up into a lawn with curving borders.

But curves are one of those design elements that often benefit from a bit more space. Dale and Jon’s garden can do curves beautifully. The borders are generous and sweeping.

A small narrow town garden might find that similar curves create pinch points and are difficult to edge and maintain. However if you have a wide or irregular shaped garden, it’s well worth thinking about using curves in your border shapes.

See this garden on video

This video shows both this week’s garden and next week’s:

Open for Open Gardens Victoria

Dale and Jon’s garden is open for Open Gardens Victoria along with broadcaster and horticulturalist Stephen Ryan’s garden. They’re open on the same day and are both fascinating – although very different gardens.

Shop my favourite garden products, tools and books

I’m often asked for recommendations so I’ve put together useful lists of the gardening tools, products and books I use on the Middlesized Garden Amazon store. Note that links to Amazon are affiliate so I may get a small fee if you buy, but I’ll only recommend things I genuinely use myself.

For example, here’s a list of the basic gardening tools which will do pretty much every job in the garden, (including the brands I’ve used for over ten years.)

Pin to remember ideas from this beautiful garden

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