14 Garden Design Ideas for Small Gardens

small garden design ideas

While not everyone has the luxury of having a sprawling garden to design, small gardens come with the bonus of requiring less maintenance. Small gardens can feel a little uninspiring, so today we’re going to share 14 small garden design ideas you can use in your own garden, or at the very least, spark your imagination for what you can do in your own small space.


14 Design Ideas for Small Gardens

Even the smallest of gardens can be arranged in a more functional, comfortable, and aesthetically pleasing way. Small doesn’t have to mean limiting if you’re creative enough! Let’s look at 14 ways you can make the most of your compact garden, no matter where in the country you live:


1. Create multiple spaces using zoning.

Doing something that separates areas within the garden might seem counter-intuitive, but it can make a space look even bigger. By enlisting a design technique known as “zoning,” you can create visual interest and turn your garden into a multi-purpose area.

There are several ways to create zones within even the smallest garden: you can use potted plants, small, clipped hedges, walls, or screens to differentiate between areas. You can also use different materials from one corner to the next; not only will this create more visual space but it’ll also create the effect of several different spaces within one.

If you’re considering having decking installed in your garden, it’s best to have it installed horizontally to create a sense of additional space.

small garden design ideas


2. Light the path to your garden and let your lighting create a cozy atmosphere.

Use small lights on the floor, within a hedge, or overhead of a path to create depth. This lighting should be subtle – you don’t want to emulate the look of a football pitch! Soft solar lights can be underwhelming, but you’re looking for the soft glow they create.

For the sitting or dining area, a string of outdoor fairy lights around your sitting area or overhead creates just the right atmosphere when the sun is setting on a warm summer day and looks romantic when you’re looking out of the window in the depths of winter.


3. Consider going ‘grass-free’.

A typical garden has grass on the ground and a brick wall, but this design trick can make any garden look fantastic: try hardscaping with plenty of plants on the walls or fence, or use a hedge.

While this may sound strange at first, it’s a great way to reduce the cluttered look of a garden, making each design choice look deliberate. It also helps you reduce the amount of maintenance work you need to do. When possible, create multiple levels in the garden as it helps create a greater sense of space, and if you want areas for planting, raised beds add visual interest while also being more practical.

For your living walls, you can attach wall planters, allow climbing plants to grow up your boundary (just remember that this will put additional strain on your fence panels, or plant tall shrubs or small trees by the fence line. Fruit trees and bay trees are popular choices here.



4. Use oversized planters in urban gardens.

If you’re partial to a little light gardening, you can use oversized planters around the edge of your garden. Here, you can use your imagination and choose whatever plants you’d like for your planters. Opt for lavender, rosemary, mint, and fennel for hardy herbs, plant foxgloves and cornflowers for color, or opt for something like bamboo for year-round beauty and privacy. Place or build-in benches in front of these planters to incorporate an area to relax and entertain.

oversized planters


5. Use mirrors to create a sense of more space.

A trend of using mirrors outdoors has emerged over the last few years, and for a good reason. The use of garden mirrors cleverly adds the sense of more space, with window- or door-like “portals” into another space. Garden mirrors are significantly cheaper and less prone to breakage than indoor mirrors, so this is also an inexpensive trick you can create with some trellis, a mirror, and a few climbing plants to add a natural “frame” effect. The result is well worth the effort!

mirror garden


6. Embrace the tropical.

Think of your favorite (or dream) holiday destination – do you remember your fondest weeks in the sun? You can emulate those memories at home. If your favorite place to visit is hot and tropical, consider replicating this look through the use of trees. A potted palm tree lends any garden space an air of exotic coolness, while an olive tree brings a sense of Mediterranean vitality. Small trees also serve as an excellent divider if you’re looking to create distinct areas within your garden. If you only have room for one statement tree, place it in a back corner and add decking around it, with a built-in bench for relaxing with a good book, cup of tea, or glass of wine.

Embrace the tropical


7. Create a Zen garden.

When it’s warm outside and all you want to do is sit and soak up the sun, what better place to do it than your very own Zen garden? These Japanese-style gardens aren’t typically huge anyway, so you’re right on trend if you’re working with a smaller space. Use miniature versions of potted trees like Japanese maples, bonsai plants, and even apple blossom trees to create an oriental feel in your garden. If you’re not a fan of grass maintenance, consider replacing part of your garden’s grass with a graveled area. Pairing these Asian trees with simple bamboo furniture is an excellent way of making a small space feel airy and spacious.

zen garden


8. Raise part of your garden with decking.

Raising your dining area or seating space onto a deck will separate it from the rest of the garden, making it the ideal alfresco living space. If you’re struggling to decide which part of your garden to raise with decking, find a nook where you might like to eat, drink, or relax with a book without feeling too overlooked by your neighbors. If you can, raise it a full foot or two, but don’t go higher than that if your garden is short front to back – you’ll end up making your garden feel smaller.



9. Build-in a U-shaped seat in the bottom half of your garden.

By creating a designated seating area by your home, you effectively create an area to sit and relax, and the second area of your garden, beyond the seating, can be used for gardening, for growing vegetables, for a pond, pergola with a barbecue, or summerhouse. Make sure the seating reaches at least the ⅓ point into the middle of the garden, otherwise it won’t create enough of a divider.



10. Think up!

It’s important to make use of every square inch of your garden if it’s on the smaller side. By making use of vertical space on the back of your house and the boundary, you bring the eye up, helping to prevent the temptation for the eye to run along the ground to the boundary.

If you’ve got access to a wall or strong fence, consider fixing planters or shelving to it for plants, lanterns, and tools. If you don’t have room for a whole shelving unit, you can always install hooks and opt for hanging baskets instead.

small garden design ideas


11. Try a water feature.

There’s nothing more relaxing than the sound of flowing water, and a water feature is a beautiful focal point in a small garden. There are endless possibilities here – from a long flowing channel with steps down for the water to flow over down to the end, a pond, a raised trough with spouts, a more traditional statue flowing down into a pond, or even just pebbles below.

water feature


12. Create layers of plants in your garden.

Sometimes, an abundance of accessories, furniture, and plants, can make an outdoor space feel cluttered, but it can also work the other way. Combine ground-level beds and raised beds to add layers and height, suggesting that the space boasts much more foliage than it really does.

layers of plants


13. Add some pots on your hardscaping for added shape.

If you’re more of a potted plant person than a gardening aficionado, the selection of planters and pots is your time to shine! To create a nice blend of similar hues, go for pots and flowers within the same palette. For example, if you’re thinking of planting lavender and pink tulips, you can echo that pastel tone with baby blue pots or powder yellow outdoor accessories.

For a splash of excitement and variation, look out for plant pots with different patterns, textures, and tones. You can group your larger plants in twos and threes or space them out around the garden at varying height levels. The colors you choose for your plants and their hangers can either complement or contrast with the other colors you use for outdoor furniture, rugs, cushions, and lighting.

small garden design ideas


14. Don’t be afraid of curves.

It can be tempting to stick to right angles in a small garden, but don’t be afraid to try curves. If your garden is square, try a sweeping path that takes you to a seating area in the middle, with a circular paved area under a pergola. Plant up around the curved path to the rear and lay the front of the seating area with a curved grass area, surrounded by more plants. Opt for low-maintenance plants and an artificial lawn if you want to keep things easy.

Whether you’ve chosen a home with a smaller garden because you don’t have time for maintenance or it’s simply what was within your budget, there’s always something you can do to make your outdoor space look great. You can create cohesion between your home’s interior and your garden or you can opt for something totally different.

By using some of the tips we shared above, you can turn your outdoor space into somewhere you’re proud to bring family and friends. With a new and improved outdoor area, you’ll soon have more options for entertaining on warmer days, where before you might not have had the space for guests. If you’re not sure how to implement these tips in your garden design, our design team can help.

Don’t be afraid of curves

Expert in Small Garden Design Ideas

If you live in Essex and are thinking of updating your garden, we’re here to help. Our highly skilled team has been transforming unexciting outdoor spaces into beautiful and functional gardens for years.

SE Landscapes specialises in garden design and build. So, if you’re ready for your garden to be transformed into something fantastic, click here to learn more.

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Will Crozier, Managing Director

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