Are you concerned about the size of your garden? Maybe you’ve always been worried that it’s on the small side, or perhaps you’ve recently caught an accidental glimpse over the fence and realised that your neighbour’s garden is comparatively MASSIVE.
Well, don’t fret – when it comes to gardens, it’s not the size that counts, it’s what you do with it. We’re here with a whole bunch of small garden ideas that will make you feel much better about the garden you’ve got, and a few ways of making it appear bigger than it really is (spoiler: it’s all in the pruning).
By the end of this article, you’ll know how to transform a tiny yard into a source of pride and joy, and it won’t be long until you’re flaunting it to all of your friends.
Layout tips for small gardens
You’d be forgiven for thinking that a fence-to-fence lawn is the best way of making your garden look bigger. In reality, it makes the brain focus on how your garden can only fit one thing in it (the grass). Start improving your small garden with these best-practice layout tips.
- Breaking up your garden into two or three different areas will help you use it more effectively AND make it look bigger. Add a plant border, build a patio or deck, or lay a path towards your back gate.
- Diagonal and curved lines are a sneaky way to make defined boundaries softer, while still keeping them neat. See the pergola in this photo? It takes up much less space than a square one would, but still offers a similar visual impact. The circular lawn also makes it looks like there’s a good amount of grass, even though the corners have literally been cut to fit the path in.
- Keep the space versatile, though. Try a simple planted area, a grassy/soft area, and a hard area. This small garden in Leicester is pretty and practical, with seats on a patio and flower bed borders, maximising lawn space.
- Raised areas and level-changes are great for very small spaces. If your back door leads straight out onto a patio, try adding steps to your lawn, or building a raised deck at the far end.
- Add shelves, trellises and pergolas for plants at every height. They’re an inexpensive way to show off some blooms without taking up lots of valuable floor space.
- Storage is key for keeping a small space tidy. Make room for a lean-to, shed or half-shed if you’ve got bulky items, or incorporate a chest, ottoman or bench-chest into your furniture plans.
- Build raised beds that can act as a ledge or seat when you have extra guests over (remember to add cushions!) These are a scooch on the narrow side, but you get the idea. With a bit of salvaged wood, a hammer and some nails, this is a straightforward DIY job that makes a big impact.
- Trees, tall plants, fencing and your home can all provide shade, saving you the cost and hassle of an awning or parasol if you plan your seating area right.
- Above all, keep the “lines” of your garden crisp and clean. That means edging your lawn, giving your flower beds borders and blocking out clear sections for seating.
Creating the illusion of space in a small garden
A paintbrush and some visual savvy are all you need to work wonders for your space when you’re on a tight budget. Let’s look at optical tricks that fool the mind into thinking there’s more space than there is.
- Don’t use too many colours and textures. Visual consistency stops your garden from feeling cluttered, even if you have a lot of stuff out there. Here’s a perfect example of how this works:
- Paint the walls or fences closer to the house in a pale colour to reflect as much light around your garden as possible. Paint the back fence in a much darker colour to create depth and disguise where exactly the garden ends (especially if you have a long, thin garden).
- Borrow scenery by using more open fencing in areas that overlook neighbouring foliage. In other words, if your garden is surrounded by other gardens, don’t completely obscure your neighbours’ plants to create the illusion that they’re actually in your garden. This picture shows you one way of doing it, with the trees semi-visible through the fence.
- Repeat shapes to create patterns. This traditional patio garden in Battersea uses rectangles as a motif, drawing the eye between the house and the end of the garden and making the space seem longer than it is. No, really, look closely at the fencing, the storage bench, the planter, the table, the floor tiles… Even the shapes in the house itself. If you’re trying to keep costs down, work with the furniture and flooring you already have.
- Mirrors are an illusionist’s best friend. Use them to reflect the most attractive areas of your garden back at you, or to visually “open up” a blank, claustrophobic wall. Again, try to find mirrors that echo the shapes you already have in your garden.
Plant ideas for small gardens
Whether you like a natural garden that needs very little maintenance, or would rather a bare landscape with no plants at all, at least make sure you’re following these tips.
- Just like your layout, the simpler your plant scheme, the better. If you’re desperate for a lush garden, go for large clusters of limited varieties (which will keep maintenance down too).
- Pots, pots and more pots. Especially if you don’t have space for flower beds. You can grow just about anything in pots, from small shrubs and trailing flowers, to full-on trees. This garden uses big, modern pots to keep the rockery-style flower beds from looking too cluttered. Take a look at more container gardening ideas, as well as the best plants for containers.
- Be bold. Fewer plants means you’ve got more room for bright blooms and tall, structural plants. They add another layer of depth and vibrancy in any small space. Try layering bamboo, then shrubs, then flowering plants.
- Growing greens is very much on the table. Vegetables like lettuce and pak choi don’t need a lot of room to grow, and tomatoes, chillies and strawberries are also pretty happy when grown in containers. Check out our posts on kitchen garden ideas and vegetable container gardens for more inspiration.
- Herbs don’t take up much space, either. Grow them in windowsill tubs, or small troughs close to the house. They also smell great!
- Small gardens are the best stage for scented blooms, like honeysuckle and roses. Plant them around patios or windows and appreciate their beautiful fragrances all summer long.
- Even if your space is teeny-tiny, like a balcony or terrace, you can still grow plants in the form of living walls. Succulents are perfectly happy to be grown sideways, as are grasses and small shrubs. Alternatively, you could just fake it like this IKEA balcony inspiration!
- Climbing plants like clematis, jasmine and wisteria are happy on a trellis or pergola, and create fantastic shade and structure, even in a small space.
- Trim the lower branches of trees and shrubs (a process known as “lifting the skirts”). The space beneath them subtly opens up your garden, and is also the perfect place to grow delicate spring flowers like crocuses and snowdrops.
Furniture ideas for a small garden
The design of your garden furniture will have a huge impact on your garden, which makes it especially important if you’ve only got a small space.
- Corner seating uses every inch of a cosy patio or courtyard. Plus, adding a high back breaks up tall, imposing walls.
- Slimline furniture, like bistro-style tables, literally take up less space then big, bulky pieces that can make your patio look overwhelmed. It’s also the most low-cost option, and you can find various styles at different homeware stores.
- Any furniture that folds away or stacks will be easier to put away and make more out of the little space you have.
- As we mentioned before, build tall planters or surround your flower beds with walls or decking that can double as seating or storage.
- We talked about storage before, too. Seriously, don’t buy a bench or ottoman that doesn’t open up to provide storage. Use them for cushions, potting materials or tools – anything that doesn’t need to be kept inside! You can even DIY a practical bench on a budget, like this cosy seat made from a pallet.
- When summer hits and you want to be lazing in the sunshine, try a hammock instead of bulky sun loungers. They’re cheaper, much more comfortable, and will take up so much less space when the time comes to store them. Check out these cool hammocks on Amazon.
Making the most of every inch of your garden
Not everyone is blessed with a perfect rectangular yard. Here are a few ways of using awkward spaces and side-returns to your benefit.
- Make them part of the main garden by continuing flooring and wall treatment.
- Use the extra privacy to create a cosy dining area. String lights and fold-up tables are perfect, inexpensive space-savers in a tight spot like this.
- Add a lightweight cover, solid flooring and wall hooks to create practical outdoor storage for plastic furniture, bikes or potting materials.
- Out of sight becomes out of mind, so take down any fences or gates to literally open the space up. While this side-return is fairly spacious (and clearly next to a stunning Tudor house), the principle of connecting it to the main garden with an archway is much nicer than a gate.
- Long-term, you might want to think about building a custom shed or even a conservatory extension if your awkward spots are routinely becoming overgrown and unloved.
Bigger structures in small spaces
If you’re an active gardener, you probably won’t be able to completely live without a shed or greenhouse. So, here are your best options:
- Of course sheds come in all shapes and sizes, so if garden storage is important to you, shop around for the most appropriate style. Try not to go bigger than you realistically need though – you’ll inevitably accumulate junk while sacrificing precious garden space.
- If you already have a shed that’s a bit bigger than you need, get it working double-duty. As well as storing tools and furniture, why not turn it into a bar, garden gym or summer house, or even a she shed or man cave if you need some down-time.
- Do you have enough room for a shed or greenhouse, but not both? Invest in a potting shed with windows on one side, which gives you the best of both worlds.
- Even balconies and courtyards can squeeze in one of these mini greenhouses. Just position it in the sunniest spot you can, and fix it to the wall and/or floor for stability. This one even doubles as a little potting table… But most hardware and homeware stores offer a much cheaper alternative (this one is £500 – Wilkinsons has a simpler version that’s £10 – just saying).
Small gardens and water features
Maintaining a pond or water feature isn’t on everyone’s to-do list, but they will help to break up the space, and add some interest to an otherwise minimal garden. When choosing a water feature for a small garden, keep these tips in mind:
- Most small, off the shelf water features have a self-contained water supply that you will only need to occasionally top-up as the water evaporates. Unless the pump is solar-powered, you will need an electricity supply to keep the water flowing.
- Before picking your water feature, close your eyes and listen to it. Is the water gushing so fast that it reminds you of a flushing toilet? Or is it more like a dribbling tap that won’t turn off? Check that it’s actually a relaxing sound for you.
- Think about where you will position a water feature in your garden. It’ll collect a lot more dead leaves and debris if it’s under a tree, for example. Don’t forget that you’ll have to clean it – check you know how to drain it and dismantle the sump for clearing out.
- Ponds need more care than you might think, especially if you keep fish in them. Make sure there are plenty of oxygenating plants in the water to prevent it from going green, and consider a net or cover if you have children or pets.
My favourite (realistic) small garden ideas
I thought I’d round this post off with a few examples of tiny gardens that I’m completely enamoured with, and that demonstrate how to work everything we’ve looked at so far into a useable, beautiful space.
- Sophia at 1894home is doing everything right when it comes to her small garden in Brighton and Hove. Separating out specific areas and raising flower beds really helps to make sense of the space, and is a great idea for low-maintenance gardens, too. Most of the work is DIY too, so even if your garden is smaller than theirs, I definitely recommend checking out their page for more ideas!
- This super-narrow garden in Earlsfield perfectly demonstrates how adding layers makes a space more interesting and organised. The BBQ area is outlined by the gravelled area, and the rear deck is a gorgeous little al fresco dining area. Climbers will gradually take over the pergola, transforming the whole garden into a tiny urban jungle. Again, much of this would be possible to DIY if you’re upgrading your small garden on a budget.
- I love how the bamboo fencing actually makes it look like next door’s foliage is part of this tiny deck – a solid wall or fence would totally close the whole space in. This garden admittedly uses a lot of bohemian-style accessories to build character, but the tall plants are doing some serious work too.
- I’m a huge fan of modern gardens, and this one is working particularly hard. The repetition of rectangular shapes (in the flooring, the doors and windows, the bricks, the flower bed and fencing) makes the space look cohesive. However the round chair on the edge of the frame, plus the dining chairs and windowsill pots break it up, just a little.
- Even though we can only see one half of this small garden, it’s a show-stopping image. It both breaks and follows half the rules we’ve talked about with small gardens; the overgrown flower beds create a beautiful carpet, while the trellises and dark fence obscure where the garden truly ends. The garden path draws the eye up to the bright gate, which in itself suggests there’s another part of the garden beyond. It’s basically magic.
- Finally, here’s a tiny garden that’s playing by all of the rules (and winning). You’ve got slimline, open-weave furniture, raised planters AND a bench that’s doubling up as storage. The climbing plants take up hardly any floor space, plus it looks like they’re blending in with leaves from a neighbouring garden at the top of the fence. You’ve got a well-defined vertical garden on the right, and overhead string lights that add depth.
Hopefully a couple of these amazing small garden ideas have reassured you that even the tiniest outdoor space is deserving of some love, and can contend with even the largest of country estates. If you need any more suggestions, why not check out our post about balcony garden ideas?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!