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Design ideas for small gardens

With clever design techniques, you can make the most of a smaller space and transform it to create your ideal garden. Smaller spaces often have their advantages too, requiring less maintenance than larger gardens as well as being less expensive to landscape.


Design

A strong design with plenty of interest and variety will help you make every inch count in a small garden. You could do this by using eye-catching colours, being creative with shapes and planting and even create a multidimensional space by thinking vertically as well as horizontally.

Add focal points

Use focal points to draw attention away from closed boundaries. A focal point can be anything from a spectacular plant to a statue or water feature. You can also use focal points to draw the eye away from something you’d rather not look at, like a less attractive outbuilding or a compost heap.

Walling

Make the most of corners

When trying to maximise your garden, it’s worth seeing what you can do with corners. Do you have an unused space at the side of your garage or behind a climbing frame, for example? Areas like these are easily overlooked but can be transformed with stand out pots, dramatic plants or even a water feature to add to the overall look of your garden.

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Garden Benches

Use edges

A good way to utilise the outermost edges of your garden is to use them to display ornaments and plants. You could also add a bench to create a seating area and some designs even have built-in storage.

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Design upwards

Drawing the eye upwards helps create a feeling of spaciousness. So, when horizontal space is at a premium, think vertically too. Look for plants that grow upwards rather than out, like columnar evergreens. Also, raising beds even by just a foot or two, will create a visual distraction from the lack of square footage and make gardening easier.

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Make clever use of lines and shapes

Long, straight lines create the illusion of space. Vertical lines make things look longer and leaner while horizontal lines add width. To take full advantage of this, you can create a false perspective by subtly slanting the far end of the lines towards each other and adding a focal point. This is also a useful principle to keep in mind if you’re designing a lawn.

  • Diagonal lines stretch the garden and make a lawn look less regular so they’re a good way to add interest to a plain, rectangular plot
  • A circular lawn is a good option for a very small garden as it gives the impression of expanding the boundaries in every direction. The same principle applies to a circular patio
  • Square lawns are a traditional choice. To make it look more interesting, add other features and planting shapes around the edge or tilt the square to make a diamond shape instead

Using colour

Colour can add character and interest or highlight a theme. If you have a small garden, it’s also worth knowing how you can use colour to create the illusion of space:

  • Feature walls aren’t just for indoors. A lightly coloured exterior wall can create an unexpected focal point. Blue is a great choice for a small garden as it’s a receding colour, so it appears to be further away
  • Bold, bright colours catch your attention first. Use them in the foreground of a view so that the rest of the landscape behind them seems to recede, helping to make the overall space feel larger
  • It’s simple to achieve a light and airy feel that really opens up the space. Lighter-coloured walls and flooring can make a small space feel larger so try painting exterior brickwork white and choosing pale paving slabs

Lighting

Lighting is an effective way to transform your outdoor space in the evening. It really brings a garden to life, highlights decorative details and creates atmosphere. If cables aren’t an option (perhaps there’s nowhere handy for a plug or you want to use lights at the far end of a long garden) then solar powered lights can be an excellent solution. Just position them where they’ll be able to recharge their internal batteries during the day.

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Garden furniture

If space is limited, consider a portable furniture set that can be folded away and stored when you’re not using it. A garden bench is a good alternative if you don’t have room for a table and chairs and some double up as storage space.

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Hard landscaping

Paving

Materials

Choose materials to complement the style of your garden, using anything from paving slabs to bricks or timber. Incorporating other vertical, hard landscaping features will increase the impact even more. Steps, for example, are another effective way of adding a sense of height.

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Wickes Diamond Lattice Fence

Walls and fencing

Solid walls and high fencing in a small garden can make the space feel more enclosed. You can avoid this by choosing fence panels with small spaces in-between them to let the light through. Diamond lattice panels are a good choice for the same reason and are useful for creating privacy without feeling closed in

Wickes Diamond Lattice Fence
Wickes Arch Top Trellis

Trellis is another good option, mounted on a wall, solid fence or combined with a planter to give climbers extra height and support. You can make it as decorative as you like by painting it or adding details like finials and scalloped tops.

Wickes Arch Top Trellis
Fencing and Walls

Reed or willow screens are great for a natural looking garden and also let some light through. They’re easy to look after as you don’t have to treat them, although a quick coat of clear preservative will make them last longer. For more advice and inspiration, see our fencing ideas.

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Patios and terraces

It’s easy to create the illusion of space using small paving slabs or bricks. Because you need more of them to fill an area, it will look bigger. Small bricks are also easier to handle and have the added advantage that they can be used to create curves as well as straight lines. If overall style is more important than creating an illusion of scale, use large slabs for a small area as there will be fewer joins, creating a more modern look.

For more information, see our patio ideas.

Paths

Paths

It may not need to be very long in a small garden but that doesn’t mean you can’t still design a great-looking path. Smaller bricks allow you to create curves – useful if you want a winding route. Make your path narrow as well as winding if you want people to look down. It’s a great way of highlighting interest at ground level and a good technique in a bloom-heavy area where certain plants might otherwise go unnoticed.

Pergolas and arches

Pergolas and arches

Not only do they make plain paths more interesting, pergolas and arches are also a great place for climbing plants and add height. This is an effective way of stretching your garden upwards which emphasises the feeling of space and increases your growing area – particularly valuable in smaller spaces.

For more information, see our full guide to Arches.
Garden Sheds & Outbuildings

Sheds and outbuildings

Make use of height to maximise your storage space without increasing the footprint of your shed. Traditional styles with apex roofs offer plenty of overhead space or you can use as little ground space as possible by positioning a small shed right up against a wall. If you’re having troubling accommodating a greenhouse, consider a compact growhouse or a space-saving wall garden instead.

For more information, including smaller outdoor storage options, see our shed & outdoor storage ideas.

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Soft landscaping

Plants

Plants

In a small garden, space is at a premium so choose carefully to make every plant count. It’s a good idea to aim for a mix of the following:

  • Evergreens and strong shapes to give the garden a year-round framework
  • Attractive foliage to provide background
  • Plenty of seasonal interest to add detail (scent, colour, fruit, berries and seed heads)

There are two main planting strategies for a small garden: keeping it minimalist and packing it in. In a minimalist garden, you only need a few bold, striking plants but they need to be a reasonable size to work. Their large leaves can change the sense of scale, making the space feel larger. Tropical plants can work well and their unusual shapes add interest. Minimalist gardens also have the advantage of being fairly easy to maintain.

The other option is to use lots of small, slow-growing plants so you can pack more in. Resist the temptation to mix the two approaches as large plants and shrubs may compete with smaller plants for water and nutrients.

Make the most of beds and borders

Raised beds are an ideal way to maximise space. They also allow you to grow plants on several levels above the ground. There are plenty of materials to choose from, including wood, brick and concrete, so you can create a look that complements your garden. For more information, see our guide to creating and maintaining a border.

Other places to display plants

Beyond beds and borders, there are plenty of other options:

  • Try displaying plants on a stepped rack or step ladder to create an assortment of heights and depths
  • Grow eye-catching blooms in pots and planters dotted around the garden. A variety of colours, heights, shapes and sizes will add interest and texture
  • Make the most of bare walls in your garden by hanging vertical planters. This is a great use of wall space and a good way to disguise less-than-perfect walls
Trees

Trees

There are many trees widely available for smaller gardens – from dwarf varieties to tall, columnar evergreens. Consider the following factors when choosing a tree for a small garden:

  • Height and spread is probably the most important factor. Even small ornamental trees can grow to 6-7m (20-23ft) or more. If this is too tall for your space, consider a weeping form as these rarely increase much in height or even a large shrub. If spread is an issue, a columnar tree can be a good choice
  • Timing – think about when you want your tree to look its best. Depending on the tree, that might be when it flowers, when its foliage is especially lush or when it bears fruit. If you only have room for one tree, look for one with more than one season of interest. For instance, a season of flowering followed by a season of fruit or beautiful autumn colour
  • Deciduous or evergreen? Evergreens keep their leaves throughout the year but deciduous trees will treat you to a stunning autumnal display. Again, if you’re limited to one tree, think about which you’d prefer

Get the garden you’ve always wanted with our collection of step-by-step guides. From growing fruit and vegetables to building a bee hotel, we’ll show you how to complete a wide range of garden and landscaping projects.

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