Small Garden Design Ideas

Don’t let size dictate style—pack a punch with your small garden. Learn ways to make your small space garden seem big.

A private patio filled with greenery.

Berstler Flower Studio

Roses, butterfly bush, Japanese maple and a vine-swathed fence give this patio privacy and create a bright oasis for the backyard. Landscape designer Pam Berstler used four redwood posts and decomposed granite flooring to define a sitting area within the small garden.

Photo by: Pam Berstler

Pam Berstler

Transform skimpy square footage into a small yard showcase with inspired small garden ideas. You can squeeze life into even a tiny backyard by adopting space-wise strategies that make the most of every inch. Cramped quarters can become a luxurious escape. Tackle your own space shortage by discovering great garden ideas for small spaces. 

Start your small garden design by dividing the space. It may seem counter-intuitive, but dividing a small space does make it seem larger. Aim to create specific use areas—a seating area, a play area, or a dining area. Consider using lightweight furniture you can easily move so a patio can double as a game court for adults or children.

As you divide the space, design a meandering path to connect different areas. Avoid using short, straight paths, which will make the space seem as small as it is. By placing curves in a path, you create a journey. Design the path to direct not only feet, but also the eye. Reward every bend in a path with a special view of a plant, objet d’art or some other feature of your garden space.

Unify the different areas in your small garden design by incorporating similar architectural elements, such as stones or a hardscape material. Limit the types of hardscape materials you use, though, because too many different materials can make the space seem disjointed. If you’re counting on container gardens to enliven different areas, for instance, consider using pots with a similar design motif, color or construction.

In a small garden design, every view counts. Anytime you include seating, craft the view. By planning different vistas, you’ll give the garden the illusion of more space. Frame attractive views with an arbor or precisely planted—and pruned—trees. Don’t hesitate to borrow views from a neighbor’s yard.

Also check out interior views. If windows look into the space, tweak your small garden design to deliver a pretty scene both indoors and out. At the same time, screen unpleasant views. Draft a vine-covered trellis, hedge, reed screen or fence for this task. If you’re working with a very narrow space, direct the gaze upwards with a trellis or arbor to take advantage of the wide open vista of sky.

Choose furnishings with open patterns rather than solid ones. This includes seats with mesh backs or wrought-iron designs and tables with glass tops. Open pattern pieces look smaller and won’t dwarf their surroundings. Select pieces in lighter hues, and the furniture will recede quietly into the background, letting other items steal the spotlight.

If you add raised beds to your Lilliputian space, build them at least 15 inches high so they can double as seating. Raised beds can act as dividers in a small garden design; position them to enhance your yard’s planned areas. Also include hanging baskets, wall planters and trellised vines to draw the eye upward. Every change in elevation makes a small space seem larger.

One of the easiest small garden ideas is to splurge on style by paying attention to detail. In small spaces, every object is on display. Intentionally choose and position each decorative touch, from birdhouses, to garden art, to container gardens, knowing each object will command attention.

Include pleasant sounds in your small garden design. By its very nature, your tight quarters probably include nearby noises, whether from next-door neighbors or a busy street. Camouflage the sounds of the outside world by adding a trickling fountain, a birdbath that welcomes singing birds and a wind chime.

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