30 small garden design ideas

Small patio garden

In a small garden, following a few key principles when planning and planting will help make your garden look bigger and feel less cluttered.

Whether you have a tiny garden or a small patio, there are plenty of ways you can improve your space. Taking time to choose colour schemes, picking plants that will flower for months and using design tricks such as repetition or adding focal points, will all have a big impact.

For limited budgets, think about using gravel instead of paving or a lawn. This also provides more space for plants in a tiny space. Install simple lighting yourself or, if you want a small vegetable garden, sow salad successionally in containers or grow fast-cropping plants like radishes and miniature carrots.

One of the simplest ways to give small gardens a boost is to use your vertical space – for tiny gardens use hanging baskets and planters, cover boundaries with climbers, and add height with trees or tall slim plants like alliums and Verbena bonariensis.

There are many ways to make a small garden more interesting: here’s a few ideas to get you started.


 

Use small garden design tricks

Decking in a small garden.
Decking in a small garden.

When planning your patio garden get the balance of planting and landscaping right to make your small garden look beautiful. Garden designs for small gardens should aim for a ratio of around 50 per cent planting and furniture to 50 per cent paving or decking. This will help create a patio that is easy on the eye without being overcrowded.


 

Use colour

Use cooler colours to make a garden look bigger
Use cooler colours to make a garden look bigger

Choosing the right colours can make your garden look bigger. Colours from the cool side of the colour wheel, such as blue and purple, will seem further away while hot colours like red and orange look like they are closer. Choosing a cooler plant palette will therefore create a feeling that your garden is bigger than it is.


 

Create height in narrow borders

Agapanthus in a narrow border
Agapanthus in a narrow border

Narrow borders can feel restrictive and tricky to plant. Use tall bulbs such as alliums, agapanthus or lilies that will add height without taking up much ground space. Obelisks planted with climbers like sweet peas will also add height without growing too wide.


 

Combine seating and storage space

Using seating for storage
Using seating for storage

Save space in a small back garden by building seating that can double up as storage space, or build seating into your design. Use a corner bench or put seating up against a boundary to save space on a table in the centre of your patio.


 

Use long season planting

Rosa 'Lady of Shalott'
Rosa ‘Lady of Shalott’

One of the best small back garden ideas is to include plants with a long flowering season. In a tiny space there isn’t room to have different plants for every season. Good options include repeat flowering roses, such as Rosa ‘Flower Carpet Amber’, which flowers for eight months. Rosa ‘Lady of Shalott’, a shrub rose, flowers from June to October. Other long flowering perennials include Erigeron karvinskianus, Erysimum ‘Bowles’s Mauve’ and hardy geraniums, many of which flower all summer long.


 

Plant up a hanging planter

Herbs and salads in a hanging planter
Herbs and salads in a hanging planter

Using hanging planters is an inexpensive way to add greenery to a boundary or shed wall. Plant them with bedding, ferns (in shade), trailing alpines or herbs. Alternatively use them to plant veg with shallow roots, such as salad leaves or spinach.


 

Divide your space

A raised bed in a small garden
A raised bed in a small garden

A small garden will look bigger if you can’t see everything at once. Divide up your garden using flowerbeds, screens or hedges to break up the space. The fact that it has different areas or sections will also make your garden more interesting to look at.


 

Use light coloured landscaping

Light coloured paving in a small garden
Light coloured paving in a small garden

Using light-coloured materials can help to bounce the light around and will make the garden seem more spacious than dark paving or paint colours. This will also brighten your garden, if your outdoor space has shade cast from other houses. Try light paving or gravel, or paint your boundaries in a light colour.


 

Limit your planting palette

Salvia uglinosa, Hydrangea paniculata and purple moor grass
Salvia uglinosa, Hydrangea paniculata and purple moor grass

Limit your planting palette in a small garden. This will help make your design look cohesive and less bitty than using lots of individual plants. Repeating a limited selection of plants is one way to make your garden look like it’s been professionally designed.


 

Make borders bigger

A seating area surrounded by woodland planting
A seating area surrounded by woodland planting

Tiny beds and borders can make your garden seem smaller. Reduce the space you have for a lawn or patio and make borders or beds bigger to allow a greater depth of planting. Having generous planting areas rather than lines of plants will make your whole garden feel bigger.


 

Add structural planting

Box balls and birch trees add structure
Topiary and birch trees add structure

Don’t forget to include structural planting – trees and evergreen shrubs will provide a permanent backbone for the garden and add interest in winter. This is just as important in a small garden, adding year round appeal and shape to your borders.


 

Use staging to fit in more plants

Using staging to fit more containers in a small space
Using staging to fit more containers in a small space

Create more planting space by putting containers on a planting stand with different levels. This is an easy way to fit in more pots as it saves on ground space. In a tiny garden, try narrow ladder style staging, which takes up even less room than the staging pictured and has more tiers.


 

Make a green roof

Green roof to enhance a bin store
Green roof to enhance a bin store

You don’t need a big garden to include a green roof. This is a practical way to use dead space, such a shed roof or bin store roof to fit in extra plants. Not only will this add greenery to your garden but it will disguise or soften functional features.


 

Plant up a shady corner

Container for shade with acer and dicentra
Container for shade with acer and dicentra

Make the most of every planting opportunity by transforming shady spots. Perk up a gloomy bed or corner with plants like ferns, hostas, foxgloves and epimediums. If you don’t have borders, use containers to brighten up your patio. For deep shade try hostas, lilyturf or Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae.


 

Grow scented plants

Lavender hedge along a path
Lavender hedge along a path

Grow scented plants along a path or next to a bench to add another dimension to your garden. The fragrance will be all the more noticeable in a small space especially if you combine several scented climbing plants, like the climber, Trachelospermum jasinoides, lavender for containers or nicotiana for evening scent.


 

Grow a multi-season tree

Spring-flowering Amelanchier lamarckii
Spring-flowering Amelanchier lamarckii

If you can fit in a tree, choose a small variety that offers more than one season of interest. The spring-flowering Amelanchier lamarkii also has black berries in summer and autumn leaf colour. Prunus autumnalis flowers from late autumn to winter and has beautiful autumn leaf colour. Hawthorn and crab apples bear spring blossom, fruit in summer to autumn and have glorious autumn leaf colour.


 

Install a green wall

Green wall including herbs. designed by Peter Cowell and Monty Richardson Green
Green wall designed by Peter Cowell and Monty Richardson Green

There are plenty of easy-to-install DIY green walls that will enable you to fit more greenery into your garden. These can be fixed to garden walls or fences to transform a boundary. Fill them with herbs, bedding plants or salad leaves for a colourful vertical display. 


 

Make a container display

Geum and phlox container display
Geum and phlox container display

A collection of small pots can create a cluttered look. On a small patio, try planting up one big container instead. It will have instant impact and create a focal point. Choose plants that will last for more than one season or one central plant that will last year round and then switch the underplanting with the seasons.


 

Plant a hanging basket

Hanging basket planted with orange flowers for full sun
Hanging basket planted with orange flowers for full sun

A hanging basket is perfect for very small gardens, taking up no ground space but providing months of colour. Try plants like begonias, argyranthemum, calibrachoa, lobelia, bacopa, pelargoniums and nemesia for a long season of colour. For budget options, buy packs of bedding plants from the garden centre in spring and grow them on before planting up your basket. 


 

Grow veg vertically

Climbing French bean 'Blauhilde'
Climbing French bean ‘Blauhilde’

If you lack ground space, choose climbing veg varieties that can be grown up trellis like runner beans, French beans such as ‘Blauhilde’, ‘Algarve’ or ‘Cobra’, or squash ‘Trombrocino’. These will provide plenty of crops but take up little room.


 

Sow salad successionally

Sow salad successionally to save money
Sow salad successionally to save money

Save money on shop bought salads by growing your own. In a small vegetable garden, you can enjoy a continuous salad supply by sowing seed in two containers (sowing the second container two weeks after the first). If you have room only for one pot, sow a second batch of salad in a seed tray and then move baby salad plants into your container when the first crop starts to go over.


 

Sow a square metre veg bed

Square metre veg bed
Square metre veg bed

Sowing a square metre veg bed is a great way to get a big yield from a small area. The idea is to sow closer than you would normally and replace each crop with another as soon as it’s harvested. Good plants to grow in this way include beetroot, rocket, spring onions and chard.


 

Choose compact veg varieties

Grow spring onions in small spaces
Grow spring onions in small spaces

Avoid growing vegetables like pumpkins and maincrop potatoes that take up a lot of space and focus instead on varieties that can are fast growing, can be grown in pots or take up little room. Spring onions can be harvested in eight weeks, radishes take four weeks to maturity, while fast-growing salad leaves and miniature carrots are perfect for containers.


 

Work with your garden’s shape

Circular paving in a square garden
Circular paving in a square garden

In a small square or rectangular garden there are a few ways to make it look bigger or more interesting. Add in circular paving to break up the linear look of the layout, divide the garden with a border or screen or add curved borders to draw the eye away from the boundaries and contrast with the straight lines. Another idea is to cover your fence or wall with climbers to disguise the edges of your garden and soften the boundaries.


 

Use rectangular paving stones

Long paving stones placed horizontally across the patio
Long paving stones placed horizontally across the patio

Make your garden look wider by using rectangular paving, horizontally. This makes an interesting alternative to square paving and will create an illusion that your garden is bigger than it is.


 

Save on shed space

Using jam jars for extra storage
Using jam jars for extra storage

Make use of the underside of shelves in your shed for storage. Reuse jam jars to keep items such as string and plant labels. Attach the jar lid to the shelf using nails or screws and then screw the jar on.


 

Use repetition

Lavender in terracotta pots
Lavender in terracotta pots

Whether you have a windowsill or a small patio, use repetition to create impact. Repeating an element, whether it’s three identical containers or a line of box balls along a path, draws your eye and creates rhythm in the garden.


 

Spruce up the front gate

Front garden with white gate and cottage-style planting
Front garden with white gate and cottage-style planting

Give your gate a makeover to add impact to your front garden. Repainting or sanding down and staining a wooden gate is an easy, budget friendly job that can make a big difference to an entrance.


 

Ditch the lawn

Small gravel garden with grasses and other drought-friendly plants
Small gravel garden with grasses and other drought-friendly plants

Having a lawn can draw attention to the size of a small garden. Using gravel instead creates more opportunities for creative planting and helps to make your space seem larger.


 

Add lighting

Lanterns and spot lights highlight trees and grasses
Lanterns and spot lights highlight trees and grasses

Adding lighting to a small garden is simple and doesn’t have to be expensive. There are solar-powered spotlights available, which you can stick into the ground without having to install mains-powered lighting. Fairy lights or strings of lanterns are another easy, cheap option. When choosing outdoor lights, go for those with more of a yellow light than a bright white light, as this is less harmful to wildlife.

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