How to hack your way to the perfect urban garden

Think your outdoor space is too small to bother with? These expert tips, inspired by Macmillan Cancer Support in time for National Gardening Week, will prove you wrong

Urban garden
(Image credit: Getty)

As National Gardening Week approaches (30 April – 6 May) and the weather has improved (slightly), now is the perfect time to get outside and channel your inner Titchmarsh. But for city dwellers, creating a leafy paradise in the middle of an urban jungle can sometimes seem like an unachievable task.

Step up Michael Coley, a pro when it comes to transforming city spaces, who – ahead of the RHS Chatsworth Flower Show – will be exhibiting a bespoke garden he’s designed on behalf of Macmillan Cancer Support. The garden itself is inspired by the importance of legacy donations to Macmillan, which receives almost a third of all funding through gifts left in wills.  

Garden designer Michael Coley

Having studied at the London College of Garden Design, Michael loves to create beautiful spaces for people to enjoy

Here, the South East London-based garden designer gives his top tips on how to add character to any urban garden:

1. Planning is key


I always describe designing a small urban garden like a game of Tetris. You have a list of essentials and it's all about fitting them into the garden in the best possible way.

Planting in borders

(Image credit: Getty)

2. Look for the sun


In a small garden, the spot where the sun is shining at 6pm on a Friday in July is the most important part – so whatever your design is, it's basically got to revolve around that golden spot.

Small garden with container planting

(Image credit: Maayke de Ridder)

3. Don't be afraid to be bold

Don't think that just because you have a small space all you can do is put a 50cm flower bed around the outside of the area you’re designing. Break up the space with planting jutting out on to pathways – that way your journey through even the smallest of gardens becomes interesting.

Potted plants

(Image credit: Getty)

4. Less is more

I try to keep my material selection down to three – that way the space is much more harmonious and less cluttered.

5. Incorporate self-seeding plants like foxgloves

These will fill holes and create their own planting plan without you having to lift a finger. There is a lot to be said for just letting certain plants do their own thing. Nature will find a balance and, if you keep the edges under control, you've got a low maintenance garden that has created itself.


(Image credit: Getty)

6. Seek out structure

Planting trees gives any garden good vertical character and really helps to create the framework for a garden. 

Michael Coley will be at the RHS Chatsworth Flower Show from 6 – 10 June exhibiting his bespoke garden on behalf of Macmillan Cancer Support. For more information, visit