Small garden tips and ideas

If you have to

buy stuff

to store stuff

you might

have too much


"too much clutter will make a small garden look even smaller"

Tall trees and fences provide privacy, but cut out light in a small garden.

"Small light coloured slabs can make a small garden look and feel bigger"



Getting the patio size right.

One of the biggest mistakes made when planning and designing small gardens is underestimating the size of the patio

tips and ideas for small gardens in more detail.

  • Formal or informal gardens? What's best for you.
  • Patios, It's important to plan the size and shape to suit your family and entertaining needs. To small and you fall of the edge. Too late to change the shape or size once the slabs are cemented down.
  • Privacy is going to be an important consideration especially, if your garden is overlooked. 
  • Light can produce a feelgood factor in a small garden and most plants won't thrive in too much shade anyway. 
  • The shape of a small garden, long, short, narrow or wide all need a different planting plan and hard-landscaping design.
  • A focal point draws the eye to something  and can also be used to draw the eye away from an unsightly feature. What features can be used to create a Focal Point?
  • Choice of paving slabs is important, small light coloured slabs have the effect of making a small garden look and feel bigger and brighter. LARGE dark slabs have the opposite effect.
  • How many plants can be planted in a small garden? Are you planning to use containers or plant in borders.
  • Growing vegetables. Even with very little space you can still grow and enjoy fresh garden vegetables. Nothing beats a freshly picked tomato or freshly dug new potato.

Do you want a formal or informal style of garden?

A formal or informal garden? You decide which style is for you.


Formal gardens tend to be laid out to be tidy and geometric appealing to people who are concerned with controlling the garden and what Facebook "friends" will think of the photos. With many straight lines made up of shapes such as squares, triangles, or rectangles with clipped hedges and rigid planting plans. Formal garden design plans use features such as stone or topiary spheres or cubes as 3-dimensional interest. Features will be made of shiny metal, concrete or plastics. In larger gardens as you get further out from the house, the garden can become more informal. However, this mix of formal and informal design does not work quite so well in small gardens. 


With informal gardens the design is looser and generally uses only natural materials. The lines are softer and more fluid made up of organic curves and the planting is much more relaxed. Informal gardens appeal to people who are less concerned with control and what Facebook "friends" see and more in tune with letting nature help out. Informal garden styles like the cottage garden that allows plants to mingle and grow together often appeal.  Informal gardens are more relaxed and less pretentious. This, however, does not make them easier to plan or maintain! 



Planning the Patio for a small garden.

Are you going to entertain friends or is your own relaxation the main aim. This will decide the size of the paved area. One of the biggest mistakes made when planning and designing small gardens is underestimating the space needed to entertain.
How to get the size of the patio right in a small garden? Do these two things;
  1. Mark out an area the size of the table you will be using and then place four or five chairs around the area you have marked out.
  2. Next move the chairs back about 18". People spread out and move back when the wine is poured.  

That's the paved area you will need if you don't want your guests toppling off the edge of your patio. It's not the wine its the design!  

Lighter coloured paving work best in small garden. Dark heavy colours can make the garden look even smaller. Using a mix of small sizes and varied shaped paving stones or cobbles has the effect of making the space seem larger. 

It's tempting to try to save space, by making the patio just large enough for a table and chairs. However, a good size patio even in a small garden also means you will have room for flowerpots and containers full of scented flowers.

Privacy vs light considerations in a small garden.

Tall trees and fences will provide privacy, but will also reduce or cut out light in a small garden. Planting large trees, tall hedges or erecting high fencing will provide privacy. However, they may overwhelm a small garden casting too much shade making it difficult to grow plants (or sunbathe). Plants get energy from light and how much they get affects the growth of the plant. Without any light, plants would not be able to grow.

So what can be done to have both privacy and sunlight in a small garden?

  • Replace high fences with trellis as these will provide privacy, and at the same time allow light in. Colourful climbers growing over the trellis will also soften boundaries and provide year round interest.  Maybe plant some vegetables to climb and grow over the trellis. The effect will look good, save space, provide that all important  privacy in your own garden. The bonus, trellis also allows light to filter through.
  • However, if a small garden is surrounded by high buildings casting shade and there's nothing much you can do about it, or it's simply that privacy is paramount and you still want to grow stuff. Luckily for us gardeners with small shady gardens. Not all plants need the same amount of light too thrive. I have listed a selection of flowers, shrubs, perennials, hedgerow plants, and bulbs that will tolerate some shade here  Plants for shady gardens
  • Plants that will grow in shady areas are not very colourful. However, these plants often have interesting and attractive foliage. The leaves are usually larger than normal sun loving plants to gather as much light as possible from the shady conditions they grow in.

You can't change the shape of a garden so work with what you've got

Work with the existing shape of your small garden.
  • A courtyard works perfectly in a small square garden.
  • For a long narrow garden, curved borders with a low maintenance hedge, low wall or fence toward the end will add interest. A long narrow small garden is ideal if you grow fruit and vegetables.
  • Blurring the boundaries so you can't tell where it ends will make the garden look longer and more interesting. 

Small square or oblong gardens 

If you are starting from scratch plan to divide your square garden up into different areas of texture, shape and colour I/e a circular lawn, light colour paving and earth for planting. Divide the areas up with simple curved boundaries avoiding straight lines.  A really visually attractive and interesting garden path that also creates a boundary is to design one that sweeps around one side of the circular lawn.

If space allows build in a bit of mystery by using trellis or hedging at the furthest edge of the garden to blur the garden boundary. It will make the garden look bigger "what's behind that"? Maybe a hidden sitting areas or your compost heap.


Long narrow garden.

If your garden is long and narrow and many of us have one, especially, if we live in town. You can probably have almost everything you want in your garden. A patio, paths, flower borders, a lawn, a pond, a vegetable patch, a greenhouse, a shed and a wildlife area.

There are, however, a few basic guidelines to bear in mind.  

  • Build a border on just one side of the garden. Having borders down both sides of the garden would make it look even narrower. I would run a path down the same side as the border acting as a boundary. Maybe with a few curves to make the border more interesting and visible from the top of the garden. The path will also make working on the border easier especially in wet weather.   
  • The lawn should be set to the opposite side of the border, covering right up to the garden boundary rather than straight down the middle. This also makes the garden look wider. 
  • Toward the far end of a long narrow garden try to find space for a peaceful secret sitting area. You may find useful to get away from the hustle and bustle to just sit and contemplate. 

Following these guidelines when planning a long narrow garden. You should have room to fit in the other stuff you want, a pond, a vegetable patch, a greenhouse, a shed and a wildlife area.

Do you need a focal point for your small garden

 What is a focal point?

A focal point is simply something that attracts the eye. Creating a focal point can add interest and structure. A focal point can also draw your eye and visitors eyes away from something you don't like in your small garden, Particularly useful if you are not starting with a Blank Canvas. You might be left with a raised manhole in the middle of the lawn or patio.

You don't have to have a focal point, but if you think it might work for you, it's best to plan it in from the beginning. A focal point doesn't have to be large, but must be something you like and be eye-catching. Thinking about the raised manhole. Try a wooden container big enough to cover the manhole planted with herbs. It would make a lovely scented focal point and cover the manhole.

Summary of simple, interesting and practical tips for a small garden.

  • Use small sized blocks and slabs for paving, they trick the eye into thinking it’s a larger space. If you use really large paving slabs it has the opposite effect and makes a small garden look even smaller. 
  • You can have too much packed into a small garden. Too much clutter will make it look even smaller and take up too much moving about, space. 
  • Be careful with designers and landscape gardeners who want to pack your small garden with expensive features.
    Do you really need to pay a designer?    A good landscape gardener will run through your design and ideas and discuss the practicalities with you, without hijacking and changing them. You have to live with it long after the designer has been paid and gone.
  • Be careful with designers and landscape gardeners who want to pack your small garden with expensive features. Do you really need to pay a designer? A good landscape gardener will run through your design and ideas and discuss the practicalities with you, without hijacking and changing them. You have to live with it long after the designer has been paid and gone.
  • Make a list of your favourite plants and colours. Planting space will be limited so list your favourite plants, those that bring back good childhood memories and then add other plants if space allows. 
  • Don't underestimate space for entertaining or just relaxing, Think about the shape and materials that work best for you and as we discussed earlier, will make the garden look bigger.
  • Don't overfill a small garden, whether square or long and thin with too many garden features.

Choosing plants for a small garden.

To keep this short and readable I have included links to my other articles for the more technical stuff.

Choosing plants for a small garden need not be difficult.  List about five of the plant varieties you have always wanted or maybe grew in your previous garden. Plus any plants already in the garden that you may have liked and dug out to save for replanting. (Too many different plant varieties can be overwhelming in a small garden, you can always add more later). Position them in the space you plan to plant them and see how it looks. Once you are happy with the positioning, for the best visual effect, plant each variety together in groups of three or four.   

Choose plants for tolerance to shade,  full sun, dry or wet soil.
To keep this short and readable I have included links to my other articles for the more technical stuff.
If the garden is shady, choose plants that will tolerate shade. These are normally the hedgerow types. Plants that are suffering from too little sun will attract all kinds of problems. It is also important to choose plants that will grow in the type of soil that you have. Soggy soil is probably the most difficult soil to grow plants in. My guide may help Plants for all situations.

If you have large trees, you will need to choose plants that will be happy growing over and competing with tree roots.

Ultimately the soil type and degree of sun and  shade will decide what plants you can grow. So whether it is cottage, woodland, Summer bedding, butterfly, wildlife, a 
sensory garden or a bog area, try to include some variety in foliage colour. 
Knowing the type of soil in your garden is important and will save you money, but remember, half the fun of gardening is experimenting and trying out plants. So if you can't be bothered or don't have the time for the technical aspect, just go for it anyway. Some plants will die, some will thrive. Just make a note of their names for next time.

The colours you have in your garden say a lot about you. (What flowers say about you) 

Less is best in a small garden. Try to stick to three or four of your favourite plant colours, especially in the first year of planting. You can always add more colour next season. In addition to colour, mix in a  variety of textures and variegated, coloured or lacy foliage to give the garden depth.  If you include spring bulbs in your planting plan they will extend the season in a small garden.

How much space do plants need in a small garden?

Obviously, the smaller the space, the less plants you can have in it. A small garden, like a small room in your home, will look cluttered if there is too much diversity of planting and colour.

The number of plants will depend on the size of the flower borders and the space each plant needs. If you want your garden to look mature and full in the first year, plant closely or buy larger plants. Better and cheaper to be patient and allow your garden to fill in slowly.

Planting space guidelines
6- 12" spread - 2 plants per sq. ft.

12 - 24" spread - 1 plant per sq. ft.                            

Larger than 24" spread - 1 plant per 2 sq. feet 

 These are  guidelines, experiment and have fun with spacing your plants.

Creating a vegetable patch in a small garden.

Even with a small garden you can grow and enjoy vegetables

Nothing beats a freshly picked tomato or freshly dug new potato. 
If you have a small garden and want to grow your own vegetables, be creative and you will find more space than you ever thought you could find.

Cottage gardeners have always grown their own fruit and veg wherever they could find the space to place a plant. Runner beans climbing over stonewalls and cucumbers in the flower borders. We now call it companion planting, the olden days gardeners called it "making use of every available bit of garden space". Companion planting reduces space for weeds to grow and reduces the effects of garden pests. Have a look at my 
companion planting page for some ideas.

Almost any container can be used to grow fruit and vegetables including window boxes and 
raised garden beds made from almost anything that will hold garden soil such as hay bales. Hay bales make great planters see my hay bale gardening page for tips.
Remember, there isn't a right or wrong way. As long as the plants receive sun, air and water and suit the soil, they should grow healthy and strong no matter where you plant them or what you plant them in. These basic gardeners tips for beginners will point you in the right direction. 

Make the most of the tips on these pages and begin to utilise the limited space you have in a small garden. You might end up with kitchen herbs growing next to Hollyhocks, but there's one thing for sure you will be getting the most from your small garden. Growing your own vegetables tips here  growing your own

Growing Vegetables in containers is a great way to get the most out of limited space in a small garden.