Personality and Style in a small space

Reckless Gardener talks to award-winning garden designer Kate Gould about her upcoming RHS Chelsea Flower Show garden and discovers some clever ideas to make even our most ambitious garden ideas make sense in a small garden.

Kate Gould’s 2022 RHS Chelsea Sanctuary Garden ‘Out of the Shadows‘ will certainly give gardeners plenty of ideas on how to use their garden to create a safe space for both relaxation and exercise.

Her ideas behind the design are influenced by how the pandemic and lockdowns changed our views on the importance of our gardens while at the same time being aware of the challenges climate change presents.

As Kate (pictured left) points out, post-pandemic her clients are looking for an outdoor room and thinking outside the box in terms of what they want their gardens to deliver when it comes to outdoor living. Indeed, one suspects that a lot of us, who garden in the conventional sense, as in plants, might not have previously necessarily worried about a space for exercise, a swim spa or an outdoor kitchen, however, Covid19 changed that and we began to realise how precious that outdoor space can be and what we could achieve in it.

Kate explains that people are now more mindful about creating safe spaces they can hunker down in: “With ‘Out of the Shadows‘ I want to show people that if they want a swim spa, for example, or a space to do yoga, they don’t need to choose between having that and a beautiful garden,’ she says. It really doesn’t have to be an either/or choice: “Have a swim spa but make it chic. It is as much about coming out of the shadow of the pandemic – and all the ways that has elevated the importance of our gardens – as it is about coming out of quite narrow, traditional views of what a garden needs to be. It can work on so many different levels and clever design choices can marry up lifestyle needs.”

In more southern parts of the UK it is certainly obvious that winters are getting warmer and it is rare for gardens in London, for example, to go down to zero, therefore, consideration for all-year use is now more realistic.

The garden is in the Sanctuary category at this year’s Show and Kate points out that: “Sanctuary in my head is somewhere for your mind and body, somewhere to get exercise but not necessarily to lounge around a pool, but the need to use a pool to exercise and keep your mind and body strong.”

The Chelsea design takes on a jungle look and is very much in keeping with Kate’s aims to try to do something different at each Chelsea: “I don’t set out to push boundaries,” she says. “Sometimes, however, I do, it just happens. Perhaps it’s because I am quite restless and like to try different things and this garden is certainly a challenge. One of the biggest will be getting the hot tub in the ground and there has been the challenge of sourcing the tropical plants.” Despite this, looking at the design, one feels that Kate’s tropical look will be stunning and will be supported by plenty of native evergreens such as hostas and ferns.

So, with our post-pandemic gardens being asked to work that much harder, here are Kate’s suggestions as to how a brilliant garden design can seamlessly incorporate the demands of the most demanding wish lists.

Deciding on a water feature

Kate points out that a water feature will generally be dictated by the style of your garden as well as your use of the space. If your style is sleek and minimal then a bubbling puddle isn’t going to work, something more along the lines of a reflection pool or vertical water wall would suit better. More natural gardens will benefit from a pond, both in terms of aesthetic appeal as well as from a wildlife-enhancing perspective.

In the same way that a hot roof terrace looks best with plants that thrive in really sunny conditions, water features tend to look most natural (even very stylised contemporary ones) with lush, leafy planting around them. Big bold leaves and water make for a very pleasing picture.

Outdoor cooking

Some people are drawn like a magnet to cooking outdoors, while others are fair-weather chefs. Working out which type of person you are will dictate whether you wish to run to the expense of an outdoor kitchen or would be just as happy with a stand-alone barbecue that you can wheel out in good weather.

Add a barbecue or fire-pit for entertaining. Sitting around a fire at the end of the day (be it natural gas, wood, or bioethanol) can be very calming, as well as warming on a chilly but dry evening. All exterior fires have their pros and cons so do your research before purchasing. If you cannot channel natural gas to the space, bioethanol may be the best solution for you.

Personalising your space

The personal elements you choose for your garden are what make it uniquely yours. It is the little things in life that make the big things sing. A sofa without cushions doesn’t look very inviting and a table without candles or pots can look half finished. The personal elements you choose for your garden are what make it uniquely yours. These finishing touches are entirely up to you, and, over time, they will most likely change with fashions and trends. In a small space, every element needs to work hard, often serving a dual purpose.

Where do you start and stop when it comes to accessorising your small garden? Ideally, less is always more, but objects that you have brought home from your travels, as well as candles and lanterns, always lend a really personal touch. Whether they are statement pieces or simply a small reminder of a happy event, much-loved items can be accommodated easily in a small garden and updating those accessories is also an easy way to ring the changes.

Finally, Kate suggests considering an automated awning – not for shade but privacy – that can be deployed without diminishing light levels inside the property. Many awnings contain both lighting and heating, which is a bit of a double whammy bonus in a small space.

Out of the Shadows‘ is a small, contemporary garden which packs a huge punch in terms of the lifestyle it delivers in a perfectly tranquil and harmonious way. There is certainly plenty to think about here and one feels sure that Kate’s Chelsea garden will certainly give us a lot of scope for making our gardens more versatile, sustainable and health giving.

Kate founded her design business in London 20 years ago and has grown the business organically from a one-woman design studio to a full-service design and build firm. She has been awarded ‘best in show’ on three occasions at RHS Chelsea Flower Show, and is the winner of five Chelsea gold medals. For more information please visit:

Picture credits: Banner image ©Kate Gould Gardens – other images, credit Helen Fickling Photography. All images strictly ©.