20 Ways to Make a Small Garden Seem Bigger

Expand your horizons—if not your square footage—with some small garden sleight of hand.

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March 16, 2016

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Divide and Conquer

It seems counter-productive, but dividing a small space into smaller areas based on function actually helps give a little yard some breathing room. This small yard features a welcoming pathway, an al fresco dining area, a vegetable garden and flowers for filling vases.

Embrace Elevation Changes

Delineate different sections of your outdoor space with different heights. You can keep the shift simple, like with a raised bed or raised wooden deck, or you can choose an elaborately terraced effort that gives kids an elevated play area that’s distinctly separate from other outdoor living areas.

Unify Spaces Using Hardscape

As you divide your garden into functional areas, maintain a similar material underfoot to weave a unifying thread through the spaces. Here, gravel and stone pavers provide an unobtrusive visual signal that these areas are connected by more than just geographical proximity.

Keep Scale in Mind

In a small garden, avoid using hardscape materials that are too large for the space. If these pavers were any bigger, they’d overpower the small yard. This same principle applies to structures, furnishings and even individual plants. Select trees, for instance, with tidy dimensions that complement the garden without overwhelming it.

Select Open-Patterned Furniture

Choose furnishings with open backs or slats and glasstop tables to keep views open and unencumbered. This gives a postage-stamp garden a feeling of spaciousness. A slim-profile bistro set always suits a small garden. Design raised beds to double as seating by creating wide edges and a height of at least 15 inches

Fold-Away Furniture

Opt for lightweight or collapsible outdoor furnishings for small gardens so that spaces can pull double duty. This grassy spot, for instance, serves as outdoor dining room and—when furniture is whisked away—play area. Lightweight pieces won’t be as durable as wooden benches—remember to tuck these furnishings away during family vacations, high wind advisories or the winter season.

Line Walkways With Gravel

Using small gravel to line walkways allows for minimal upkeep and maintenance.

Invite Meandering

The quickest way to make a small garden seem claustrophobic is to connect areas with straight paths. Instead, build curving paths to make the short distance seem longer—and to add a sense of mystery. Paths that curve out of sight behind plantings, like this entry path into a small backyard garden, beg exploration. Be sure to include a visual reward at the end of curving paths.

Borrow a View

Small gardens typically lack gracious vistas; their views are more along the lines of short and sweet. Give your tiny garden a feeling of space by borrowing a view from another part of your yard, a neighbor’s yard, a nearby park—whatever is handy. Use a lattice-topped fence to give glimpses of what lies beyond the garden gate, but still maintain a sense of privacy.

Lasso the Sky

A sure-fire way to make a small garden seem as big as the great outdoors is to bring the sky into the garden. A water garden creates a mirrored surface that reflects the sky and light into this small space. If your garden has trees, trim them so branches don’t block the sky. Maintaining the upward view really enhances tight quarters with a spacious ambiance.

Look Up

Use hanging baskets to elevate colorful plantings and draw the eye upward. In a small garden, using unusual planters, like these conical willow baskets, adds character and charm. Definitely select similar containers for plant displays in a tiny garden.

Dress the Walls

Get creative with plantings and leave earth-bound beds behind. Invest in wall planters or a wooden wall trellis that supports simple planting boxes. You can jerry-rig your own planting system, or search for ideas from companies that sell balcony or deck planters.

Decorate Enclosures With Plants

If your small garden includes enclosing fences or walls, soften those hard surfaces with plantings. Use containers overflowing with plants to camouflage privacy fences or building walls. These sturdy surfaces also provide a perfect spot for mounting mirrors, which give a small space the illusion of depth.

Limit Lawn

Keep lawn area to a minimum in small-space gardens. This allows other areas to work harder, and it also saves you from investing intense effort into lawn maintenance. In small gardens, make sure planting beds feature easy-to-mow shapes and edges. Choose a low-maintenance turf that’s adapted to your region.

Plant Every Inch

In a small garden, you can’t afford to waste space. Create stepping stone paths that leave room for toe-tickling plantings. Select plants like Corsican mint or creeping thyme, and you’ll add the dimension of scent to your small garden with every step.

Choose Plants That Fit

Filling your small garden with colorful plants gives it a sense of limitless possibilities. Select shrubs and trees adapted to small spaces, like this Japanese maple (Acer palmatum), and you won’t have to replace plants frequently. Look for plants with descriptive words like fastigiate (meaning column-like), slow-growing or dwarf, and you’ll be on the right track. Avoid woody plants reputed to be colony-forming or fast-growing.

Go for Hard-Working Plants

Select plants that offer multi-season interest, like viburnum. Many viburnum shrubs boast spring flowers, summer fruits that attract birds and eye-catching fall color. Other groups of plants to consider include hydrangea, crabapple, evergreens and ornamental grasses.

Details Make a Difference

Invest in unusual containers or other artful touches to give your small garden a big sense of style. Choosing a signature color or planter, such as vintage wagons, and using it repeatedly throughout a small garden unifies the space and gives it a polished look.

Cater to the Senses

A small space seems larger the minute you add the sound of trickling water. Choose a small tabletop fountain, a wall fountain that doesn’t have a large footprint or a homemade water feature you build yourself. Trickling water fosters instant relaxation, beckons songbirds and helps disguise surrounding noises, which can easily distract in a small garden.

Always Consider Drainage

In a small garden, before you make any elevation changes, add raised beds or remove lawn, consider the impact on drainage. If you’re adding hard surfaces and terraces, it’s a good idea to consult with a professional landscaper to make sure you’re not creating drainage issues. Small gardens are notorious for needing well-planned drainage systems. If you work with a professional, you might be able to capture drainage and redirect it into garden areas.