Small garden design tips from the experts: maximise your plot's potential with the right plants, furniture, and more

Are you after small garden design tips from the experts? Look no further – these ideas will help you make the most of your space

expert advice for designing a small garden: outdoor seating
(Image credit: Dobbies)

Every owner of a less-than-large plot could do with some small garden design tips from the experts. After all, it's not always easy to turn a teeny-tiny courtyard, or even balcony, into a space that's both functional and fabulous. But with a little know-how and creativity, it can be done.

Our small garden ideas are full of inspiration, but it's always good to have industry professionals share their pearls of wisdom, too. 

So, we asked Joie Markes from The Home Depot and Venelin Dimitrov of Burpee to share their advice on making the most of a small outdoor plot. From the best way to decide on planting, to making the most of vertical spaces, you won't want to miss these tips.

1. Choose your plants wisely

expert advice for designing a small garden: plants

(Image credit: Living Gardens)

It's true that plants need time, planning, and the right tools, but lots of space isn't always necessary. 'No matter the size, if there is a will to grow plants, there is a way,' says Joie Markes, from The Home Depot.  'As long as you have sunlight, access to water, and soil, plants will grow.'

'Begin by putting the right plant in the right place and you will be on your way to a garden tailored to the space,' Joie says. 'One of the most important selections is picking the right plants. It is important to closely read the plant's tags to make sure you have a good understanding of the eventual, mature size.' 

'Avoid selecting plants that will grow quickly, or outgrow the space or pot,' Joie adds.

Venelin Dimitrov from Burpee says, 'It is important that you know exactly how much space you have and how you envision using it before creating a plan.' However, he adds that 'just because you are building a garden in a small space doesn't mean you have to use small plants!' Sometimes, a few well-planned, larger plants can be enough to make a statement and cut down on maintenance time.

Joie Markes also suggests to consider how much sunlight your plot gets throughout the day. If it doesn't get much, perhaps due to tall walls either side, or overshadowing buildings, then look for shade loving plants. Venelin agrees, saying 'Understanding the light levels in your garden will help you select the right plants that will thrive.'

Check out our best shrubs for small gardens for more planting ideas.

2. Make the most of containers

expert advice for designing a small garden: plants in pots

Mix and match your containers to liven up a small space. Set-up by Dobbies

(Image credit: Dobbies)

'If your space is extremely limited, containers are a great option,' says Joie Markes of The Home Depot. But she has a top tip to consider first. 

'The size of your container helps dictate how big and fast your plant grows,' she says. Bonsai trees are always a good option, as you can keep the plants miniature by using pots that are a touch too small. 

But, it's always best to do a bit of research before popping any old plant in a smaller container. 'Some plants tolerate being root-bound better than others,' Joie explains.

Venelin Dimitrov from Burpee also recommends using pots to grow edible crops in small gardens. 'Herbs such as rosemary and cilantro, greens such as lettuce and spinach, and tomatoes are a great start if you're looking to grow container plants,' he says. 

Take a look at our small vegetable garden ideas for more inspiration.

3. Go for versatile furniture that makes an impact

expert advice for designing a small garden: bistro set against pink wall

This stone wall is painted in Ashes of Roses 6 in Limewash, the table is painted in Phthalo Green 199 Intelligent Exterior Eggshell, and the chair is painted with Dorchester Pink 213 in Intelligent Exterior Eggshell. All available from the new Little Greene collection launching March 1st 2021

(Image credit: Little Greene)

When it comes to kitting out your small garden with outdoor furniture, Venelin Dimitrov from Burpee has some suggestions. He advises on the importance of a focal point and balance in small plots, and opting for furniture that folds and is easily moveable makes this easier to achieve. Why not take a look at our best bistro sets for ideas?

However, don't worry about making everything match, says Joie Markes from The Home Depot. 'A single lounge chair, side table or patio accessory in a standout colour or unusual design can mix well with another design statement.'

'If your area is still too small for patio furniture, encourage visits from feathery friends with birdhouses and bird baths that express your unique style,' Joie adds. 'As a bonus, you'll enjoy cheerful chirping as background music when you relax in your garden or yard.' 

You can find our pick of the best bird feeders in our guide.

4. Create cohesion with your colours

expert advice for designing a small garden: painted wall with plants

This wall is painted in Knightsbridge 215 Intelligent Masonry Paint, whilst the low wall is painted in Carmine 189 Intelligent Masonry Paint. Both available from the new Little Greene collection launching March 1st 2021

(Image credit: Little Greene)

'When you’re planting in a small space, it can be easy for it to feel messy because the eye doesn't have a place to focus,' says Joie Markes from The Home Depot. 'So, to avoid a hodgepodge look, edit your design using a cohesive colour scheme.'

A considered colour palette can extend to your materials and garden accessories too, for a pulled-together vibe.

We've got plenty more ideas in how to utilise your space in our small garden layout ideas.

How can I use the vertical space in my small garden?

expert advice for designing a small garden: outdoor seating

Make the most of height by training trees up your garden walls and experimenting with different plant heights. Set-up by Dobbies

(Image credit: Dobbies)

If you don't have a lot of ground area, there are a few ways to utilise vertical space in your small garden. Joie Markes of The Home Depot suggests the following ideas:

  1. Grow vines up trellises.
  2. Train one of the best trees for small gardens flat against a wall as an espalier.
  3. Fix gutters to a fence as planters to get more plants in a small footprint.
  4. Layer plants by growing tall, medium and short plants together. It creates more visual interest than focusing all your efforts on plants of similar heights.

So don't let your space hold you back – these tips prove that small can most definitely be beautiful.