12 Guidelines for Crafting a Small Garden Design

Since viewers can see the entire garden at a glance, it is important to choose hardscape elements and plants carefully. The smaller size does not mean the garden lacks interest or variety.


Garden designers often focus on making a small area appear larger, instead of focusing on the charms of that space. The gardeners in the following examples show how to make the most out of a small space by maximizing the size.

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01

Start Small, Personal
Patio Tables and Gardens

This example shows a modest house brightened by a small garden that is built into the driveway wall. The size of the garden is in proportion to the home. The combination of rudbeckias, coneflowers and a morning-glory vine on the lamppost, along with some whimsical figures, creates a unique touch. It is easy to overlook this small front garden amongst the yew houses that line the street. These homeowners are greeted by a bright burst every time they enter their driveway. Perennials that bloom for a long time are essential in a small garden like this.

The first thing that you notice is this small square garden. It may seem simple, but it attracts attention and makes people smile. The garden isn’t grand, but it still has a certain command.

02

Focus on the Welcome
Beautiful victorian homes

The gardener here has also used the space beside the driveway as a welcome home garden. Coneflower, sedums, daylilies and flowering shrubs are all easy-to grow plants. Here, the space is expanding and appears to be continuing to expand as it winds its way to the roadside. This kind of free-flowing garden is not common in American front gardens, but it seems to fit in well in this case.

The front yard of smaller houses can benefit from planting along the driveways or streets.

03

Create a Destination
A flower island is placed on top of a hill.

Small gardens can benefit from many of the same design elements as larger ones. A good garden design creates a focal point that will attract the attention of both people and the eyes. A simple backyard can be made more interesting by adding a few small garden islands.

The gardener made some good plant choices. He chose pastels and gray leaves that blend and complement each other. The gardener also took advantage of the borrowed views from the adjacent woods, by designing the landscape in such a way that the islands appear to frame an entrance into a larger area. By placing the garden beds next to the adjacent wooded area, the woods seem to be a part of the garden. The viewers will still climb the slope even if there are no paths beyond the flowerbeds.

04

Combine the garden and house
White house with large windows overlooking flowers and shrubs.

You might not think that you have enough space to have a flower border. A keen eye is more valuable than a large lot. The architectural feature of the house is its large windows. The architecture of this home is a great feature for a small garden.

This garden has a distinct English vibe thanks to its plant selection. Roses, clematis and lavender nepeta all contribute to that feeling. The overgrown lilac and small tree to the left create a more intimate space by serving as a background for the small border. This relatively new garden is given the appearance of maturity and abundance by using large clusters of a few different plant types. The garden bed can be seen clearly through the large windows. This allows the small garden to appear larger by bringing it inside.

05

Modern Comforts – Integrate them into your home
Create a private space behind your house with plants and a patio.

Townhomes are appealing to both young professionals and aging baby-boomers who don’t want to spend their time bending over and lifting heavy objects. Living in a apartment or townhome doesn’t have to mean a patio made of concrete.

The owners of this patio have used low-maintenance flowers and shrubs to surround their small patio. Even a group of river birches is used as a privacy screening facing the road. Although the garden is new, there are still enough plants to make it a beautiful landscape. The shrewd selection of plants will let the garden age comfortably but slowly.

06

Customize the Garden for a Purpose
A brown fence is used to surround a flowering garden.

You need to be more careful when designing a small garden. A homeowner with a small backyard, but a lot of exposure to a busy city street, has combined garden plantings and sections of traditional fence to create a beautiful and effective screen that blocks sound and views from the street. The planting bed can be made part of the fence to create more garden space.

This gardener chose bright-blooming plants with a high growth habit to draw the eye, and create a solid screen that smaller, less colorful flowers could not. The garden will grow larger with the help of small trees that are planted behind or adjacent to the fence.

07

Limit Planting Areas To The Perimeter
Flowering garden with house in the distance, a bordered and defined area. A gazebo is also visible.

Small landscapes can have a limited amount of lawn space. The owner of this rectangular, flat lot wanted to maintain lawn space to play on and entertain guests. He placed the planting areas near the foundation and along the perimeter. This technique is used to maximize the lawn area. By encircling the yard in ornamental plants it creates an almost park-like feel.

This example shows how the technique can create a lot of visual interest by having the eye follow a line from the garage to the yard, before moving on to the plantings at the foundation. The diverse plantings along the border invite you to walk around it and get a closer look. This simple landscape design is more interesting in total than many small properties.

08

Simplicity is the most effective strategy
Plants in outdoor pots resting on a fence made of stone.

To avoid a landscape that looks too cluttered, it is best to keep the design of the garden simple in a small landscape. Simple potted geraniums, which are not usually a popular choice for garden awards, are placed along a stonewall that has an interesting texture. These small spots of color and greenery add a lot to the landscape.

The use of terracotta pots that are a few years old and the addition of succulents and evergreens adds a new dimension to your garden. A gravel path that once connected the garage and house is now a relaxing garden walk with an iron bench.

09

Select Hardscape Materials With Care
Gray house with flowers and grassy areas.

You may be able to experiment with different materials when you have a large property. This includes patios, retaining wall, walkways and other landscaping features. These eclectic styles often work well on very large landscapes. Landscape materials that complement or match the building materials used for smaller homes are ideal. The rustic wood building in this country style architecture uses natural materials for the landscape, like the stone retaining walls and garden walls. This owner has used terra-cotta pots throughout his property. The use of terracotta and natural stone as the only hardscape materials creates a unified design.

A retaining wall can be a good strategy for any property that has a steeply sloping terrain. It will create flat planting areas, and minimize the slopes you have to mow.
A pyramidal arrangement of large plants in the middle, with the largest ones at the top, can also work well for small landscapes. In a small space, the temptation is to pack as many plants in as possible. However, this can make it look cluttered and unfocused. When it comes to small garden, less is more.

10

Patio Living
A flowering garden with climbing climbers clematis encircling a patio and chairs.

There is no better way to connect your home with your backyard than by gardening on your patio. Planting on the patio or along its surface is a great way to enjoy plants in a small garden. You can use containers to garden and make good use of vertical space.

The gardener created a wall of climbing clematis in various sizes and flowering periods to ensure that there is always something blooming. The fuzzy gray of the lamb’s ears softens gray pavers. Other plants spilling over the edge also do this. But nothing requires much maintenance. It is not a big space, but the plants are lush.

11

You can grow vegetables
A fence for vegetables only.

If you plan well, you can have a beautiful vegetable garden in even a small space. Even if you have to squeeze it into the only sunny corner of your yard, a small vegetable garden still has plenty of style.

This example shows a gardener who has added raised beds, a gravel path that is easy to maintain, a place for you to sit when you are eager to taste the fruits and vegetables, as well as deer fencing done in an Art Nouveau style. Even something as simple as a fence can be used to define a space. You can use fences to grow climbing plants like cucumbers and pole beans.

A small garden may not be able to serve multiple purposes. It might be necessary to designate your garden “all-vegetables” or “all ornamental.” It is possible to make a vegetable garden attractive by using annual flowers in certain spots. You should also remember that edibles are beautiful in their own right, like the lushness and ripeness of tomatoes or bright yellow sunflowers. Good design can be beautiful in itself, as shown by the geometric beauty of this vegetable bed.

12

Small Gardens Can Produce Fruit
Fruit trees grow near a shed.

There are many dwarf fruit trees that are suitable for small gardens. Some of them can be grown in large pots. Strawberry plants can be easily grown in patio pots placed in sunny spots around your garden. Orchard trees can be used in small spaces, but they may need special techniques.

Espalier is a technique for growing fruit trees and other plants flat against a wall. It involves pruning and training the trees to grow in two dimensions. This art was first popularized in medieval Europe’s walled gardens. The trees will take up less room and create a warmer microclimate. Fruit trees that would not normally bear fruit in cooler zones are fooled into believing they’re in a warmer area. The open frame of an espalier allows more sunlight to enter, which encourages more blossoms and ripening. The trees will look beautiful basking in sunlight against your home.

This technique is most commonly used for apple and pear trees. Peaches, cherries and plums are also stone fruits that can be trained. However, the pruning schedule is different. In this example, the trees are planted within a border that is no wider than one foot.


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