landscaping ideas for small gardens

8 things to consider landscaping a small garden

  • 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.
  • Privacy is important 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.
  • 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 grow and enjoy fresh garden vegetables. Nothing beats a freshly picked tomato or freshly dug new potato.

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


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


Getting the patio size right.

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

simple, interesting and practical ideas for a small garden.

You can have to much packed into a small garden

Less is best in a small garden, as in a small room, to much clutter will make it look smaller.  Physically smaller because you are taking up too much of the valuable, moving about, space.  Visually because too many plants, pots, furniture and features actually make a small garden look smaller.

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 make a list of your favorite plants, those that bring back good childhood memories and then add other plants if space allows.
Once you have listed your favourite colours, plants, features and thought about space for entertaining or just relaxing, begin to think about the shape and materials that work best for you. 

Garden features
Consider a garden or water feature that you have seen before and feel would fit into your plan. If you have children bear in mind that water features and young kids are not a good mix


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

 garden designers, 

watch em! You have to live with it long after the designer has been paid and gone.

Garden features
Consider a water feature, but bear in mind that water features and young kids don't mix.

Patios for small gardens.

Planning the size of a patio in 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. Lighter coloured paving work best in small garden. Dark heavy colours can make the garden look even smaller. Using a mix of small and large paving stones or cobbles has the effect of making the space seem larger.
Getting the size of the patio right.
  • One of the biggest mistakes made when planning and designing small gardens is underestimating the space needed to entertain.
  • 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.
  • 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
You don't want your guests toppling off the edge of your patio.
You don't want your guests toppling off the edge of your patio.

Privacy vs light considerations in a small garden.

If you want to stop your garden being overlooked and want privacy, but also want to grow plants read on.....


  • Tall trees and fences will provide privacy, but will also reduce or cut out the light in a small garden. Planting large trees, tall hedges or erecting high fencing may overwhelm a small area casting too much shade making it difficult to grow plants. 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 produce the energy they need to grow.
  • Your best bet will be climbers on trellis as these will provide privacy, and at the same time allow light in, and soften boundaries and provide year round interest. Trellis with colourful climbers and vegetables growing up looks good, save space, provide privacy and lets the light filter through.
  • But if your 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 to thrive and 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, but 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.

design your garden to work with the shape and include a focal point

Work with the shape for a small garden.
  • A courtyard works perfectly in a 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 thin 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. 
Start off your small garden design by including a focal point
A focal point is simply something that attracts the eye. Creating a focal point adds interest and structure, but can be difficult if you don't want to sacrifice space to one large plant, tree or garden feature. A well chosen focal point doesn't have to be large, but something you like and catches the eye.
What can be used to create a Focal Point ?
Pretty much anything that stands out. This can include large boulders, an unusual plant, an architectural plant, a group of plants, an ornamental birdbath, a statue, a small safe  water feature  or even bamboo planted in a container. Remember the idea behind a focal point is to attract the eye. 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.

Positioning the Focal Point is important
Placing the feature just off center works better than placing it centrally. If you have a small circular space, it will work better positioned towards the rear of the circle. The smaller or shorter your garden, the smaller or shorter your focal point can be.
Getting the balance right in a small garden.
As a general rule, small gardens need to have balance. The width of borders should be about 1/3 of the length of the flower borders, but when using irregular shapes with curving lines, the borders will look more interesting and the width itself becomes less important.


Long and narrow small garden
Long and narrow
Cobbled effect long narrow small garden
Cobbled effect
Small garden Courtyard
Modern effect courtyard small garden
Modern courtyard

Choosing plants for a small garden.

Choosing plants is difficult, but cutting down the list of plants to the ones you have always wanted makes it easier. Three or four  of each variety works best because too many different plant varieties can be overwhelming and often look amateurish. So start with 2-3 colors and 2-3 different types of plants, position them in the space you plan to plant them and see how it looks. You can always add more. Existing plants, not counting large trees, can be dug out and saved for replanting. It's easier to remove them than to try to design around them.

Choose plants for tolerance to shade,  full sun, dry or wet soil.
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. This guide may help Plants for all situations.

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

Ultimately the soil type and sun or shade will decide your design style and the plants that will survive. 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, colored 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 many plants can be planted 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 its first year, plant closely or buy larger plants. Better and cheaper to be patient and allow your garden to fill in slowly.

Rough Spacing planting guidelines
6- 12" spread - 2 plants per sq. ft.

12 - 24" spread - 1 plant per sq. ft.                             these are  guidelines, experiment and have fun with spacing your plants

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

Creating a vegetable patch in a small garden.

Even with very little space you can grow and enjoy fresh garden vegetables. Nothing beats a freshly picked tomato or freshly dug new potato. 
If you have a small garden with limited space for planting vegetables, but 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 your 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.