Design Ideas for Small Gardens

Updated February 21, 2017

You can turn a small outdoor space into an attractive flower garden, a productive herb and vegetable garden, or a lush greenery garden. A few simple design tricks will make that small garden appear larger, but still be an intimate space for you to enjoy. Small gardens require a little more design finesse than large, spacious gardens. You need to limit the number of plants you use and the kinds of plants you grow. Your plants need to be in a concentrated space, and you need to account for access to your plants and walkways within the garden space.

Make a rough sketch of the space you intend to use for your garden. Include notations as to what borders the space, such as a garage wall or fencing. Mark where the most logical point would be for the garden entrance.

Measure the space, noting the length for all sides. Your space may not necessarily be square or rectangular. It could be triangular or other odd shape. Measure each side and mark your sketch accordingly.

Make several copies of this sketch. You’ll want to draw out several ideas before making a final decision.

Include curves and circles in your design. Curves and circular patterns will visually expand your space. For example, devote a small section of your garden to herbs. These can be grown in round, heavy pots placed in circular patterns. Create a pathway that curves through the space, rather than one that just follows a line straight through it. This will allow you to have some planted areas spill over into the central space.

Make use of vertical space. Use plants that grow upward, rather than spread outward, for your plantings against walls and fences. You can also create a wall using trellises or tepee stakes. If possible, build a pergola over your garden space. Pergolas have trellises or beams across the top. Use these for climbing vines or hanging planters.

If your garden is to be used as a flower or ornamental garden, make careful use of colour. Limit your flowerings to three colours, but allow for a variety of shades. Keep like colours together to avoid a haphazard looking design.

Keep the plant arrangement architecturally interesting. Do this by keeping the taller plants to the back and graduate them so that low growing plants line the walkway. Create further architectural interest by grouping plants and leaving small spaces between the groupings. Fill these spaces with the same material you use for the walkway. If you use brick, for example, make little inroads into the planting area with brick. This also allows you access to the plants in the back.

As you sketch your various layouts, include your plant selections. Indicate on the sketches where each particular plant will be located. Keep in mind how much physical space any given plant needs to grow. Because you have limited space, you need to choose a limited number of plants. Unlike in a large garden where you can over-plant to allow for those that die, in a small garden every plant must have a designated space.

Consider, also, the nutritional needs of the plants you choose. There’s little room for selective fertilising or feedings. Select plants that have similar soil and fertilising requirements.

Expect to tweak your garden design as you make final decisions on your plantings. Stay with the primary design ideas, though, and your small garden will give you great pleasure.

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About the Author

Shelly McRae is a freelance writer residing in Phoenix, Ariz. Having earned an associate degree from Glendale Community College with a major in graphic design and technical writing, she turned to online writing. McRae has written articles for multiple websites, drawing on her experience in the home improvement industry and hydroponic gardening.