When arranging your small garden plan I highly recommend that you make a number of key decisions very early on in the process.

To begin this decision making process, carry out a basic analysis of what you want to use the space for, and let this guide the design process for you as you go along.  Simply make a list of all the things that your garden must do for you when it is finished, such as:

  • Provide colour for as much of the year as possible
  • Have sitting & dining space
  • Have a small lawn to set off the planting
  • Accommodate a shed, cloths-line & oil tank
  • Be as bright as possible

A photo showing a small garden with a statue, a seating area and a pool.

Butler Garden Altmont – Photo Shirley Lazenby

One of the most common mistakes at this stage is trying to get too much to fit into the space. In particular do resist the temptation to get a space in there for ball playing as it always restricts other usages. In most cases where I have designed small gardens to include ball games they have never been used for this purpose and we have ended up with spaces that were neither a garden or an active recreation area.

Make your decisions early in the process and stick to them as closely as possible. In particular make a decision very early on with regard to whether you want a relatively informal space or a small formal garden. You might like to have a look at my Cottage Garden page if you have decided to take the informal route, as some of the information there may be relevant to what you are doing.



If, on the other hand, you decide to take the formal route, then you should try to keep everything in proportion with the size of the garden and not include elements that are too large for the space.

There are techniques that you can use in order to make a small garden appear to be bigger than it is. Using a mirror on a vertical surface for instance will reflect some of the garden and give the impression that it goes on for further than it does.

Allowing water to flow to an area that is out of sight, where it makes a noise, can help to instill a sense of mystery and help you to achieve a degree of complexity.

Experimenting with leaf texture and size can make a space seem bigger that it is, as can borrowing an adjacent feature such as a view or and established garden feature in a neighbouring property. You do need to keep in mind that you will have no control over external elements such as views and features belonging to you neighbours and they may change or disappear leaving a gap in you design.

If you are including a terrace or patio space try to ensure that you have room to accommodate at least a 3meter/yard by 3meter/yard patio area. If you fall short of this requirement perhaps opening the dining area of your house using a large sliding door might be an option. You will get the benefit of the garden while still being indoors.Of course the other thing you can do with a small garden is simply to accept that it is small and to deal with it accordingly. Imagine that you were to design a small garden using the principles outlined herein using the smallest possible plants, pots and paving slabs and using the finest textured materials available such as wrought iron and other garden furniture.A picture of a small garden with a stream, lawn, planting and seating areas.

Year round colour is often a requirement for small garden. It is of course easier to grow plants that are useful for their colour in the spring, summer and autumn seasons. You can select some plants for winter colour from your local nursery or garden centre, however these tend to be sometimes less than impressive once planted and they may take up more space that you want to make available.

This is a good time to begin to think inventively about things like your garden furniture and your enclosures. For instance wrought iron furniture that is painted white will reflect winter sunlight and brighten up a winter garden, especially if it used for feeding birds and other wildlife.

Elsewhere on the site I have mentioned planting something like Cornus alba “Sibirica” in front of a black fence or railing, using the green leaved variety. The green leaves will allow glimpses of your fence throughout the growing season and will provide a backdrop for your spring, summer and autumn plantings. In late autumn the leaves will change colour to red and then drop. This leaves the red bark against a black railing providing some dramatic winter interest.

Be inventive and look around at what others have done, especially during late autumn, winter and early spring. If you come up with ideas that you’d like to share e-mail them to me and I’ll put them here on the site for everybody to enjoy.

Do be careful, especially in the small garden, of using variegated material. This is plant material that has been selected for its mainly green and yellow variegated foliage. While this can look good when used in particular ways it is very difficult to get it right. Too much of this variegated material will cause endless visual confusion and may be counterproductive as it will make your small space appear to be smaller than it is. Not a good idea.

Keep it simple. Too much interest will simply take you to the “Louder and Funnier” zone and you may end up with a visual entity that looks something like the circus. This is of course a good thing if that’s what you want to achieve, but it is generally best avoided.

In the small garden your enclosure should be a unified part of the design. Its colour and texture can be chosen to reflect the nature of your small space. Try to use materials that have a fine texture and some detail in order to incorporate extra interest into the space. Use these vertical surfaces as part of your garden design, whether they provide interest in and of themselves or whether you use them as a vehicle to grow plants. Imagine a bright yellow fence that is covered in red roses all summer long, which will bring a feeling of sunshine into your garden during the winter! Too much? Perhaps, but why not experiment?

You can progress your Small Garden Design by using the Design your Garden Section of this website, using the bits that are relevant to what you are doing.  You can start here