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

On the lookout for small garden design tips from the experts? We've got you covered – these ideas will help you make the most of your space

Small garden design tips from the experts: dobbies furniture on patio
(Image credit: Dobbies)

Every owner of a less-than-large plot could do with some small garden design tips from the experts. It's not always easy to turn a teeny-tiny courtyard, patio or even balcony into both a functional and fabulous space. 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. After all, when it comes to ways for maximizing a space, the more advice the merrier!

So, we asked lots of garden experts, including TV presenter and writer Carol Klein, Joie Markes from The Home Depot, and Venelin Dimitrov of Burpee, to share their suggestions for making the most of a small outdoor plot. From the best ways to decide on planting, to making the most of vertical spaces, you won't want to miss these tips.

Small garden design tips from the experts: 9 useful tricks

These small garden design tips from the experts will help you optimize your plot and transform it into the outdoor space of dreams.

1. Show off your plants

blue pots of hyacinths on roof terrace

Big blue pots make a striking statement and double up as a screen when lifted up high

(Image credit: iBulb)

When it comes to pepping up balcony ideas or other small spaces, think about how you can display your plants creatively. As Lazy Flora says, the options are endless. 

'Stylish pots or upcycling items around the home as planters is a great place to start,' they continue. 'Think about how best to lay these out to create a fun and interesting space.' 

'Stacking crates or a rustic stepladder work well as display units. And, if you want to leave maximum floor space, a living wall made from a vertical wooden pallet and basket hooks will create a real talking point.’

This bold duo of blue-potted hyacinths is made into an attractive focal point when raised closer to eye-level with the help of a small foot stool. What's more, it doubles up as a screen, to give the seating space an extra boost of privacy.

2. Embrace hanging baskets

hanging planters from lechuza

The Nido Cottage planters from Lechuza look fabulous when planted up with colorful blooms and foliage

(Image credit: Lechuza)

'No matter how small your garden or balcony is, there’s always room for a hanging basket (or two!),' says a spokesperson for GardenBuildingsDirect.co.uk

'Use a mixture of plants for eye-catching pops of color,' they continue. And don't forget about window boxes, either. They 'will allow you to grow ornamental or even edible plants, without the need for lots of space. Use sleepers to build a simple trough under your windows and fill with compost, then plant a variety of flowers and herbs.’ 

Planters can be changed up throughout the seasons for an instant lift – these displays are perfect for fall, but there are plenty of bright bedding plants for summer charm. Our window box ideas and hanging basket ideas features have plenty more tips.

3. Install low walls

outdoor seating ideas: grey seating with wall

These mid-height walls provide a chic place to perch

(Image credit: Simon Whitmore/Future)

If you're looking for new landscaping options for your small garden layout ideas, consider this advice.

'When you only have a small area to work with, you'll want to double up on functionality where possible,' says GardenBuildingsDirect.co.uk. 'Install low walls to border raised flower beds, and it'll also serve as a seating area when you need extra places for people to perch. You can add some cushions for comfort too.'

This grey-toned design is a great match for modern courtyard garden ideas. And, as demonstrated, can also be used to position lanterns and potted plants for an extra dose of pizzazz.

4. Don’t forget about the floor

click together tiles from Ikea on small garden space

The MÄLLSTEN tiles from Ikea are an easy way to elevate a small space

(Image credit: Ikea)

For balconies and other small plots, 'flooring is something which can often be forgotten,' as says Lazy Flora. 'But, laying tiles can change the space immediately.'

These weatherproof, porcelain designs will add tons of character to even the smallest of spaces. And, they're so easy to install as they simply click together. Along with the vibrant bistro set and plenty of hanging planters, this scene makes an ideal spot to while away a sunny afternoon.

'Another option is to throw a colorful outdoor rug on the floor to create interest and comfort,' they add. Our buying guide for the best outdoor rugs has plenty of eye-catching options.

5. Make a statement

fatsia japonica in pots from Dobbies on patio

Large leafy plants make a bold impact in this small space set up by Dobbies

(Image credit: Dobbies)

For small plots, people often believe that you've got to have everything in miniature, says TV presenter, writer, and all-round gardening expert Carol Klein. 

'It's much, much better to have a bit of drama in there. I think you've really got to go for it,' she says. These potted Fatsia japonica make a striking architectural statement, for example, and look lovely alongside smaller grasses and succulents.

Venelin Dimitrov from Burpee agrees, saying that 'just because you are building a garden in a small space doesn't mean you have to use small plants!' Sometimes, a handful of well-planned, larger plants can be enough to make a statement and cut down on maintenance time.

'You still have the same principles as if you had a really big place,' Carol continues. In other words, choose plants that are suited to your soil or that suit the position of the container. 'If it's full sun, choose things that should go there, if it's shade, choose shade-loving plants – maybe ferns and hostas.' Our guide on how to grow ferns might come in handy if you want to introduce them to your space.

6. Choose your plants wisely

small city garden with plants by Living Gardens

A small yet perfectly formed space designed by Living Gardens

(Image credit: Living Gardens)

Speaking of plants, there are a few other things to consider when making your selection.

Even when choosing statement varieties, 'it is important to closely read the plant's tags to make sure you have a good understanding of the eventual, mature size,' says Joie Markes from The Home Depot. Venelin Dimitrov from Burpee agrees, saying, 'it is important that you know exactly how much space you have and how you envision using it before creating a plan.' Joie adds: 'Avoid selecting plants that will grow quickly, or outgrow the space or pot.'

Similarly to Carol, Joie 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: 'Understanding the light levels in your garden will help you select the right plants that will thrive.'

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.  'As long as you have sunlight, access to water and soil, plants will grow.'

7. Make the most of containers

plants in colorful pots on patio

Mix and match your containers to liven up a small space, as seen in this 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. They're great if you're after small Japanese garden ideas.

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. Our small vegetable garden ideas feature has more inspiration.

8. Go for versatile furniture that makes an impact

bistro set against pink wall with Annie Sloan shades

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 Little Greene

(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. Our best bistro sets buying guide has some lovely 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 color 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.

9. Create cohesion with your colors

Grasses in raised planter painted in Knightsbridge 215 Intelligent Masonry Paint and low wall painted in Carmine 189 Intelligent Masonry Paint both from

This wall is painted in Knightsbridge 215 Intelligent Masonry Paint, whilst the low wall is painted in Carmine 189 Intelligent Masonry Paint, both from Little Greene

(Image credit: Little Greene)

Need more small garden design tips from the experts? Well, they also suggest picking your garden color schemes carefully. '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 color scheme.'

It's not just about the planting – think about the walls, fences, and accessories too. Lazy Flora suggests to add color by painting crates, using bold planters, using waterproof cushions or even adding an outdoor rug in a vibrant print.

'Outdoor color schemes are just as important as indoor ones, particularly when it comes to small spaces,' adds a spokesperson for GardenBuildingsDirect.co.uk. 'Similar to how white or neutral walls and flooring keep the eyes away from boundary lines inside, vibrant flowers, shrubs and features can make small gardens appear lighter and bigger.' 

'In general, hot colors make spaces feel more intimate, while cool purples and blues add depth and serenity,' they continue.

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

outdoor seating in small garden

Make the most of height by training trees up your garden walls and experimenting with different plant heights, like in this set-up by Dobbies

(Image credit: Dobbies)

'If you can't plant outward, plant upwards!' says GardenBuildingsDirect.co.uk. 'Gardening vertically means you can take advantage of more than just the horizontal surfaces around you. Vertical gardens add interest and texture, and they make tending to your plants much easier too, also helping to minimize pest and disease issues.'

If you don't have a lot of ground area, there are a few ways to utilize 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 a lack of space hold you back – these small garden design tips from the experts prove that small can most definitely be beautiful.

Holly Crossley
Holly Crossley

The garden was always a big part of Holly's life growing up, as was the surrounding New Forest where she lived. Her appreciation for the great outdoors has only grown since then. She's been an allotment keeper, a professional gardener, and a botanical illustrator – plants are her passion. But, she loves all things digital too. She joined the team at Gardeningetc after working as a freelance content creator for a web agency, whilst studying for her M.Sc. in Marketing. Now she feels lucky enough to combine both digital and botanical worlds, every day!