Garden Design: Small Spaces

Tiny garden rule number one: Keep it simple.

You have to be clever with small gardens to create something simple and uncomplicated in the limited space available. A small yard is, in effect, a courtyard garden, and very different effects can be achieved within tight boundaries. A good rule of thumb is not to design anything too busy, and avoid too many decorative elements. Instead, stick to one main idea, and then follow it through by laying down simple lines and shapes. Focus on contrasting the textures of different materials, and always remember, less is more.

Here are a few landscape design ideas that work well in small garden spaces:

Simple Squares

The surface materials you use to create the squares could be lawn or paving, or a combination. Your choice would depend on where you need a hard surface for seating or a dining area. Low planting can break up the garden into distinct areas. And around the perimeter of your garden space, sizable shrubs and trees help deflect attention away from boundary fences.

Small Garden Landscaping Tips

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Minimal Gardening Used in Very Small Space

A very small backyard space does not necessarily need a lot of plants. Hints of green will create enough atmosphere without over gardening.

©2009, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Small Gardens Grown in Variety of Containers

A variety of garden containers are available for use on a patio, deck or balcony. Terra-cotta, concrete or weatherproof wooden pots can be used to grow herbs, vegetables and blooming annuals.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

View of Balcony Garden From Inside House

A beautiful view of the terrace garden from the living room is an added benefit of having a balcony garden.

©2009, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Ambient Lighting Softens Shadows in Evening Garden

Permanent uplighters highlight strong shapes of foliage and add ambiance. Outdoor lighting can be both creative and functional. Lighting creates a glow that lights a pathway or puts focus on a garden feature after dark.

©2009, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Patio Cast Concrete Paving Focuses the Eye

Cast concrete paving draws the eye to the center of this small garden space. It features minimal seating, a small fountain and striking foliage plants.

©2009, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Private Garden Tucked Between Walled Space

A private garden is tucked away between a walled city yard. A water feature plus interesting foliage plants in containers and border gardens combine to create a lush garden space.

©2009, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Summer Flower-Filled Pots Line Edges of Steps

Pots of colorful annuals line the wide steps leading up to the house from the garden patio below.

©2009, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Window Box Overflows with Blooming Perennials

Colorful summer perennials fill the window boxes of this cottage-style home.

©2009, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Urban Outdoor Bar

This urban backyard garden designed for entertaining and relaxation, features a contemporary outdoor bar.

©2009, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Urban Chic

Clipped boxwood topiaries, groups of white impatiens, and hostas and palms create a contemporary look in this small city garden. The wooden boardwalk evokes a more natural feel in this urban space.

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Stepping Slabs Appear to Float Across Pond

An area of still water at ground level in a garden creates a mirrored setting for surrounding features. A dark internal lining at the bottom of a pool of water will intensify reflections further, whereas a light-colored glazed tile finish will reduce them.

©2009, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Outdoor Living

Designer Dan Faires and his wife, Dasha, relocated from Arkansas to New York in search of greater opportunities for their design-focused minds. Though the switch from open acres to city was a tough adjustment, that didn't stop the couple from turning their 375-square-foot apartment into a rustic space with a homey feel. One solution for visual harmony: the couple painted terracotta pots black to fit in with their sleek outdoor room. See more of their innovative small space project here.

Shaded Garden Space Ideal for Ferns

The space below overhead wooden beams in this narrow garden is the perfect place for feathery ferns and trailing plants that tumble over the garden wall.

©2009, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Variety of Plants Soften Masonry Corner

A hard masonry corner of a garden space is softened with hanging plants and pots of annuals giving the area the appearance of a plant show.

©2009, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Stepped Planters Maximize Space in Narrow Garden

Raised beds set in copper containers offer a crisp, neat look in this narrow city garden.

©2009, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Stone Softened by Foliage

Oversized stone steps leading through a narrow space are softened by foliage borders.

©2009, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Mirrored Wall Reflects Light

A mirror on the rear wall of this small space is a trick to reflect the plantings and make them appear much more lush. Two yellow stemmed bamboo plants appear as four by reflection.

©2009, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Outdoor Cupboard Designed as Extension to Wall

This storage shed was built as an extension to a wall. It was designed to be part of the garden landscape, blending in with the setting and giving a place to store lawn equipment, planting supplies, outdoor furniture and even toys.

©2009, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Stone Slabs Contrast with Granite Pavers

Squared stone slabs paired with granite pavers offer an example of a natural paving choice suited for a smaller garden landscaping design.

©2009, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Intensive Gardening Allows a Lot of Produce to Grow in a Small Space

A formal garden at the urban cottage of P. Allen Smith in Little Rock, Arkansas, showcases several intensive gardening practices, including raised beds, containers and interplanting. Planting spring vegetable seeds around tulips is an especially clever idea that combines edible and ornamental gardening in one compact space.

Photo By: Photo by Jane Coclasure courtesy of P. Allen Smith.

Tiny Yard Landscaping

Black-eyed Susans and a vine covered garden bench give this tiny front yard casual charm. Designer Julie Orr used mulch and ornamental grasses to keep the yard low-maintenance.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Julie Orr Design

Paved Garden Areas are Low Maintenance

Gardens with many paved surfaces are lower maintenance than those with expanses of lawn. Container gardening takes less time and upkeep for limited time and space.

©2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Garden of Rectangles

Rectangles and squares confined within low walls will convey an angular look. You can soften the harsh lines with the use of soft colors such as pinks and mauves. Natural stone and pebble floors can add to the garden's elegance.

Central Circle

Surround a specimen tree with a circular lawn and low-growing hedge for a stylish, formal design. It's a garden to view as well as to use. Add small pockets of planting in square beds in the corners.

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