Think you can’t do much with small gardens? Think again! There are countless amazing ideas that can turn any small space into an excellent garden paradise, with fitting compact features to enrich and enhance. After reading this, you’ll be glad you’ve got a neat little area to enjoy!
Space is at a premium for most of us, so here are my top ten tips for garden design for those smaller outdoor spaces.
1. Use height
Walls, garages, the side of a fence—it’s all good space. Inside the house, we use walls for pictures, mirrors and cupboards and you can do the same with your garden!
Use creepers like Trachelospermum (star jasmine) and tremendous trailers, such as the vibrantly coloured Phlox subulata ‘McDaniel’s Cushion’, to adorn high spaces.
Get blooms up on high with containers like hanging baskets of trailing Pelargonium (geraniums), window boxes and exquisite wall mangers.
Living wall gardens are a great way to fill a bare space and they look contemporary and exciting too.
An easy option for making one of these is to attach a wooden pallet to a wall and fill with plant pots until the pallet is hidden behind a vertical carpet of lush foliage. Great plants to include on a living wall are Salvia microphylla ‘Kew Red’, Campanula persicifolia and edible plants like lettuce ‘Lollo Rosa’ and succulent strawberries.
These all draw the eye upwards, making the smaller space feel bigger and adding the ‘wow’ factor to your garden or balcony.
Create your very own secret garden with hidden areas and cosy hideaways. Divide your garden into sections, using bamboo screens, trellis or walls of foliage and decorate each area with different plants and garden furniture. These are perfect for hiding small seating areas and comfy garden getaways.
Ornamental grasses can be ideal for softening the appearance of barriers and will appear to give your divided gardens more depth at the lower levels. Go for delightful grasses like Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’ and Stipa tenuissima (Mexican feather grass).
This will make it feel bigger, because you can’t see everything in one go. Even in a small space, something like an arch will create separate garden areas.
3. Pave diagonally
Paving laid squarely can make your garden look smaller than it is and with a simple trick of the eye, you can increase the visual size if your garden.
Lay slabs on the point so they are in a diamond shape to give the optical illusion of a bigger garden,.
Or, to make use of mixed and broken slabs, lay out a topsy-turvy garden for great use of slabs of any size or colour—like diagonal paving, this can give the illusion of a bigger space.
Go for light-coloured paving, like ‘Sun Grande’ from the Pavestone ‘Discovery’ porcelain range, or ‘Sable’ textured paving in the sandy shade of ‘Apollo’.
These types of paving will open up your garden, while giving it a contemporary style.
4. Add trees
One of my top tips for certain small garden designs is to squeeze in some larger trees. They’ll give you good height and privacy. Try canopy trees, like Prunus cerasifera (cherry plum) that will give a leafy roof without taking up much space on the ground. You can make even more space by clearing the lower stems away too.
Decorative and ornamental trees can also look great, with a good example being Olea europaea (olive) trees, which can transform any area into a beautiful Mediterranean paradise.
5. Keep it bright
Brightly coloured plants and features can make a compact space appear lighter and bigger.
Golden or light-yellow colours, like Rudbeckia hirta ‘Irish Eyes’ or Alyssum montanum, are perfect for brightening up dark patches.
These bright displays of foliage and shrubs will grace your garden with glorious light.
As a general rule, hot colours, like reds and dark yellows make a space feel more intimate.
Cool colours like light-purples, whites and blues recede the field of vision, making a small space feel larger.
6. Attract wildlife
Bird boxes, feeding stations, roosting pouches and insect hotels will help bring your garden to life with exciting bird and insect activity. Garden nature can thrive even in the smallest gardens, so make space for wildlife in your garden design.
Attract more wildlife by planting their favourite flowers, which will please bees and butterflies and give you lots of colour. It will soon be a hive of activity and great fun for kids!
7. Be clever with furniture
Furniture in a small garden can be used to great effect, but too much or the wrong type can clutter and could take up valuable space that you can ill-afford to lose. Instead of large benches or bulky seating, go for compact options like a bistro table set and chairs.
This type of garden furniture provides a brilliantly stylish European aesthetic to any small garden, with the added bonus that they don’t take up much room. It’s perfect for a breakfast of croissants, coffee and orange juice, while you bask in the morning sun.
8. Use containers
Pots are great for small trees or flowering bedding plants, and you can change them and move them around easily.
This is especially impactful in a small space, as you can revamp your garden design at the drop of a hat.
Pots and containers keep everything flexible and make your small garden easier to maintain.
You can also grow fruit and vegetables in containers to make to most of your small garden.
Tomatoes, beans, lettuce, peppers, chillies, radishes and even carrots can all be grown in pots or containers and will add healthy and delicious produce to your diet.
9. Sound and movement
Add points of interest to your tiny garden design that bring both motion and sound.
You can find room for a water feature in even the smallest garden and they often run using their own reservoir pump. Water features make great focal points and create a tranquil environment – perfect after a long day!
10. Create privacy
A common problem with small gardens is other people looking in on them from surrounding buildings.
Install arches and pergolas to create a secluded seating area, and cover them with climbers.
Be wary of large, fast-growing species like Wisteria and Parthenicissus quinquefolia (Virginia creeper), which need a lot of pruning and quickly take over.
Try Clematis, Lonicera (honeysuckle) or climbing roses. Jasminum (jasmine) also has a great scent and will provide the cover you need with its beautiful foliage.
No matter how small your garden is, you can use these clever design tricks to make it feel bigger and more tranquil. Now you just need to get out there and enjoy it!
David Domoney is a Chartered Horticulturalist, Broadcaster, and Author. David has worked with a number of the UK’s leading garden retailers as a plant buyer and strategic consultant. With more than 30 years experience, in horticulture, David is as passionate about plants now as he was when he bought his first plant at a village fete.
These are all very useful, so thank you! I particularly would recommend the incorporation of bright elements from the plant and flower life to furniture, perhaps. I think it’s just a good way to bring life to any garden, especially small ones.
Even someone like me who’s been after some wild love to read a good idea or in this case many of themI like to use a lot of contrast in my designs and repetition of color mostly thanks bunches! MARY
Thank you, for inspiring me, can’t wait to get going in my garden, wish you could come and do it for me….
Thank you so much for your advice I found real inspiration for my small garden and will be out there later to start to transform it.
Really great ideas, many thanks, I am now itching to get out there and use some of your great ideas on my little cottage garden.
I so enjoy your newsletter David and there is always something relevant for my tiny garden, thought-provoking and full of helpful information. Many thanks.
We tried planting cucumbers vertically by using the fence as the support. I love the way it’s turning out. We get to save a lot of space and still get the cucumbers growing uninhibited as we originally planned.