small garden ideas and tips from the experts

We asked some of the best garden designers on Design for Me for their expert advice on designing a small garden.

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Juliet – Garden designer in Stroud, South-West

(click on her name to view her full profile and shortlist her for your garden design project)

If you have a small garden, lucky you! Everything is close to hand and you will notice each detail (and mistake!), but a small garden means you can use the very best quality without breaking the bank.  

 

1.  Be brave!

Don’t be tempted to use small paving or features just because you have limited space.  Be bold and use carefully contrasting colours, make eye-catching arrangements. Think big and your garden will feel generous and comfortable.

 

2. Divide it up

Even the smallest garden will benefit from the intrigue created by garden ’rooms’.  Make dividing elements high enough to screen, but leave gaps for glimpsed views. Alternatively play with levels to divide in a more subtle way.

steps and ferns pod garden low maintenance Cropped

 

3. Use sound

A fountain hidden out of sight, or the rustle of tall grasses, can create that essential intrigue and draw you through even the smallest garden.

 

 


Sam, garden designer in Haringey, London N22

(click on his names to view his full profile and shortlist him for your garden design project)

 

4. Keep furniture light

When thinking about furniture, I would select something with a light structure that is elegant and visually permeable, so as not to crowd the space.

 

5. Ratio of hard & soft

It’s also important to have a good ratio of hard to soft landscape elements within a small garden. The right balance can be struck by using a combination of specimen shrubs and climbing plants.

 

6. Mature tree as a focal point

Depending on the size of the garden, the placing of a single mature specimen tree or shrub – within an oversized pot or in the ground – will add a dramatic focal point to a small garden and also give it a sense of maturity.

 

7. Large format paving & decking

While it may seem counterintuitive, my approach for small spaces is to go big. Oversized paving slabs or wide decking boards set out in the correct orientation will give a sense of space.

 

8. Climbing plants

With the right selection of climbing plants, the perimeter of the space can be used for vertical greening, using minimal ground space to achieve a year-round spectacle of fragrant flowers and form. This will grow tightly to the neighbouring boundaries, maximising the amount of useable space.

 

 


Christine, garden designer in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire

(click on her name to view her full profile and shortlist her for your garden design project)

 

9. Think multi-functional & adaptable

Small basement garden, north London – This small basement garden measures just 15m2 and can be seen from above and at eye-level. The main requirement was to create a stylish, low-maintenance outdoor room that doubles as a play-space for two small boys as well as somewhere for grown-ups to enjoy.

garden climbing wall

small garden design

climbing wall small garden

Artificial lawn

  • We used artificial lawn to provide a low-maintenance, hard-wearing expanse of green.
  • Lightweight contemporary planters were installed to create no-dig planting beds packed with play-proof plants.
  • Treatment of boundary walls was all-important. Existing brickwork was renovated and painted and new cedar trellis boards installed. A key feature in the garden is a bespoke mini climbing wall. Once the children have outgrown its use, the framework will be used for climbing plants.
  • A bespoke seat finished in the same colour as the bifold doors doubles up as discrete storage for toys and small garden tools.

 

 


Josh, garden designer in Richmond, London TW1

(click on his name to view his full profile and shortlist him for your garden design project)

 

10. Keep it simple …

When designing your small garden remember to keep it simple. Choose a limited plant palette and repeat those plants throughout the garden. For small contemporary garden designs I would suggest using only one type of large paving slab and large pots. In a more cottage style small garden design, choose only one type of brick, pebble or paver. Less is always more in a small garden design so reign in your plant lust and go for simple elegance!

 

 


Sarah, garden designer in Hackney, London E5

(click on her name to view her full profile and shortlist her for your garden design project)

 

11. … and clutter free

Too many design elements can look cluttered and disordered.  A few well-chosen items, maybe an oversized planter with a small tree or a raised bed/bench, can be very striking in a small garden.

small garden ideas

 

12. Remember the vertical spaces

Remember to use the vertical spaces. The boundaries of a small garden become very important and can be a great way to increase the planting without taking up valuable floor space. Climbers trained across a simple stainless steel wire trellis can be very effective at softening walls or fencing.

 

 


Lewis, garden designer in Bradford, Yorkshire

(click on his name to view his full profile and shortlist him for your garden design project)

 

13. Choose wisely

Where space is limited, make sure everything you choose for your garden truly earns its place, and ideally does more than one thing. With hard landscaping, seating walls can provide space to sit as well as retaining planting or creating changes of level. Can storage be built in as well? With plants, make sure that they are multi-taskers and offer up something different throughout the year. For example, Viburnum tinus ‘Ladybird’, a compact Viburnum suitable where space is limited. It has year-round glossy evergreen foliage, fragrant flowers in winter – when little else is happening in the garden – followed by berries to attract the birds.

Viburnum tinus has attractive foliage, flowers, berries and fragrance

Vibrunum tinus2

Viburnum tinus

 

14. Think big!

Don’t fall into the trap of feeling that you should downsize everything in the garden when space is at a premium. With hard landscaping, using large paving units can increase the feeling of space and look less fussy than smaller units in a small area. Features such as a series of oversized planters can be a dramatic addition to a small space, but must be chosen with care as they’ll act as a focal point. And, don’t dismiss trees. Choosing wisely based on their eventual size is critical, but there are trees available for the smallest of spaces. The addition of a tree to any size garden gives a special presence unmatched by any other plant or feature. Now is a good time to research, choose and order a tree ready for planting in the dormant season.

 

 

 

Many Acers are suitable for small gardens and some varieties have truly stunning foliage and stem colour.

small garden tree

These large Corten steel planters by The Pot Company make a statement in a small space, and work in both contemporary and traditional settings

Corten Steel planters

 


Ali & Ben, garden designers in Oxfordshire

(click on their names to view their full profile and shortlist them for your garden design project)

 

15. Create intrigue

Ben and Ali provide an alternative approach to keeping it minimal: 

While there is something to be said for opening up a space, a more expansive feel to a garden can also be created by throwing in more exciting plants. Pathways weaving through greenery can promote a feeling of hidden wonders in wait. Wandering through, one wonders what is around the next corner, the joy being that one has to walk through the space to explore it. Plants with year round interest are important for this sort of scheme as it’s no good implementing weaving walkways through a space which will be just be empty in the winter months, so choose reliable evergreens, beautiful ferns or lush exotics all dotted with pops of colour to keep things fresh and full all year round.

grass pathway

 

grass pathway between borders

16. Clean lines and focal points

Of course, keeping the space open is another way to tackle a small garden space and works best if lines are kept clean and symmetrical. Key to making this work is the sharpness of the lines and maintaining a well tended lawn and beautifully kept borders. A good idea if going down this route is to make sure you have an appealing focal point to draw the eye to the end of the garden, thus lengthening the perception of the space. Mirrors, statues and sculptures work well but obviously you can be as creative and imaginative as you like.

 

17. Busy the eye

Alternatively, using different textures and materials in smaller sections can keep the eye busy and detract from focus on the overall size of an outdoor space: use gravel, different stonework or slabs and decking in perpendicular directions in interlocking sections to keep things lively and interesting. Different levels would be a great addition and pots are a bit of a must here, adding texture to the sharp edges and corners. However, it is worth bearing in mind that less is often more when thinking about features within the garden. One or two well chosen and strategically placed pieces will have far greater impact than an overabundance of ornaments.

 

 


Alan, garden designer in Cotswold, Gloucestershire

(click on his name to view his full profile and shortlist him for your garden design project)

18. Use every corner and a little imagination!

All too often small gardens are planted with straight beds or borders which show just how small a space you have, tall fences may provide privacy but they also enclose the garden, making it feel boxlike and crowded. Instead, open up your space by bringing borders in from alternate sides, making the eye weave across the garden. You can use every corner with a little imagination, but whatever you do make sure it’s full of impact! A shady corner can be transformed into a damp glade with ferns, moss, beautiful stones and a dripping water wall quite easily. The other way is go upwards, add structure and height with climbers, up-lit small trees or a simple hanging rope pergola. The only limit is your imagination, and Pinterest can help you with that!

 

 


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Emily  Design for Me

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