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Small Space Gardening Tips - Smart, Effective, Tips for Tiny Gardens

Updated on November 20, 2016
janderson99 profile image

John uses scientific skills (PhD) and 30 years experience as a home gardener to develop reviews & advice about gardening, organic methods

You need to be creative and smart to embellish your tiny garden so that it is not a small garden all stunted and held back by being - small.

Designing gardens for small areas has a different set of rules that are more challenging and rewarding than those for a big garden. It requires creativity, ideas and a 3-D vision that maximizes the way the vertical space is used rather than the flat area itself.

It is similar to taking a fabulous photograph. You need to pay special attention to the composition to provide the sense of depth, context and the rights balance of all the elements you can develop in the garden.

Sculptures, water features, large pots, gazebos and garden furniture can all provide of focus, theme, purpose, destination and a pathway for the garden. The principle of 'thirds' and foreground elements to provide depth apply to gardens in a similar way to that required for composing a good photograph.

Developing a single theme with a prominent focal point is crucial because space is so limited. But this allows the small garden designer to unleash their creativity, artistic talents and individuality in creating a unique garden that matches the limitations and opportunities of the space.

Small gardens require careful attention to the features of the surrounding area, which dominates the potential design options more profoundly than for a large garden.

While it is true you can't get over that, there are many creative ways to overcome the restrictions and be creative in allowing the garden to blossom and revel in its surroundings. So accept the challenge, rekindle your hidden creativity and innovation and learn how to design a unique and fabulous garden for your small space.

This article provides a series of tips and guides provided by experts all over the world to help you get started.


Tips for Designing Small Gardens

Choose a Function not Just a Theme

Do you want to use the garden for outdoor eating or simply relaxing in the sun of shade? Or do you want it to be decorative? Decide on the function you want and let that drive your design approach. If you want to place a table and chairs in your garden, or simply add a garden seat, try to include a winding path them. Try to have the lines in the garden come together at the key feature to emphasise what the garden is about. Make plantings and add large pots to enhancing the experience when the garden is being used for its intended purpose.

Add Perspective to the Design

Add perspective to the design to help make tiny areas appear larger and to add a 3-D effect. Use lines to lead the eye to a key feature at the back of the garden. Add a sense of depth, or a water feature that has height and depth. Consider using decorative wall panels to subdivide the space. This may seem counterproductive but it adds complexity and increases the cosiness of the garden. For very small gardens adding an outdoors mirror can create the illusion of depth. Also for tiny gardens consider using fold-up chairs or folding tables and this allows the space to look larger when the furniture is not extended. Bench seats take up less space than conventional seating.

Extend the Garden Vertically

Consider vertical garden walls, decorative wall panels, pagoda covered in flowering vines and tall plants in pots. Use climbing plants and creepers. Consider espalier or one of the many a special purpose vertical garden frames that are available. Tall trees in the garden itself may not be feasible and may get too tall or simply too big for the space. Roots may also be a problem. But you can plant trees in large pots which will keep them under control. Growing things in pots is a good idea so that you can move them around into the garden focal point when the flowers or shrubs in the pots are flowering.

Use Color, Shade and Texture Effectively

Bright colors in the foreground help to catch your attention and to add depth. But don’t overdo it by having too many colors that clash in a small space. Match the colors to the garden theme and add layers that blend the colors together. The color may need to match those of the walls, the house or other parts of the property surrounding the garden.

Take Advantage of Views and Add a Frame to the Garden to Encapsulate the Views

Even a simple pergola or arbor frames a view of the garden beyond, or a distant view that gives this small garden a large perspective. You can add frames and encapsulate areas using small trees, shrubs, plants in pots and vertical features. Garden art, sculptures and water features can also be used for the same purpose.

Make Your Small Garden Cozy and Welcoming

If the surrounding areas and bland or ugly you will want to add lush shrubs and vertical layers to screen out the ugly view beyond to create a cozy, private retreat. This is one of the wonderful advantage of a small garden, the sense of being close to and within the garden.

Use the Power of Perspective

Like in a painting or a photograph, long, straight lines that converge, creates the illusion that the space is larger than it is. Making the lines converge even in a small space is the key to creating perspective. Use the paths, plants, lines of pots and other features to provide perspective for the focal point in the garden.

Break It Up

Subdividing may seem contradictory, but it does work. Even a small area that is broken up into small spaces, makes the total space appear larger. This can be done with partitions or plants such as roses and small shrubs. This creates small cosy corners that provide interest and variety.

Provide an Interesting and Contrasting Focus in the Small Garden

Sometimes the best way to create interest and intrigue in a small space is to add a dramatic feature even if it appears to clash of be a distraction from the main theme. This will catch the eye and the rest of the garden provides a background. This can be done with artwork, a water feature, a large pot or a piece of garden furniture. Moving a pot with flowering plants into the focal point works well because you can swap pots around. In a large garden various areas become more prominent as the season changes. In a small garden you have to make things happen in the one space, because that is all you have. You need to develop a focal point with a prominent feature in your small garden.

Use your Imagination and Create a Theme

Having a single dramatic theme is very important in a small garden. You want to create a sense of mystery interest and intrigue by developing a theme. This will help your small landscape feel bigger. Many small gardeners choose ancient themes such as Egyptian, Roman or Greek. With a small garden you don’t need many items to create the theme and so you can afford to be more adventurous. Blend the plants in with the thematic items.

Make a Pathway to a Destination

Make a twisting pathway to your focus such as a pergola or your destination such as a garden bench or water feature. This adds depth and makes the garden look more spacious even if it is tiny.

One-Pot Vegetable Gardens and Flower Garden

The simplest and smallest gardens is one developed in a large pot. You may not have space for both a vegetable garden and flowers. So use a large pot to develop the type of garden you do not have space for. Even a single pot can be packed with a whole range of vegetables and herbs. Establish herbs around the base, tomato plants in the middle and climbing peas of beans at the back growing on a frame. You can also combine shrubs and annual in the one pot.

© 2012 Dr. John Anderson


Submit a Comment

  • Gail Meyers profile image

    Gail Meyers 

    5 years ago from Kansas City - United States

    These are great tips and I also think the photographs are good. Thanks for sharing your ideas. Voted up, useful and FB shared.

  • Randy Godwin profile image

    Randy Godwin 

    5 years ago from Southern Georgia

    Cool article. Great ideas and photos. Loved the pitcher plants in the half barrel. They are becoming rare in these parts but we still have some on our farm in the swampy areas. Never thought much about them for ornamental use but I my try it out. I'll bet keeping the soil to the correct acidity level may be a challenge.



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