Small garden ideas: 44 ways to maximize the potential of your compact space
Give these small garden ideas a go for a stylish update – your outdoor space will instantly feel bigger and brighter
Not everyone has acres of backyard space. But, with good small garden ideas, you can transform a cramped courtyard, patio, balcony, or deck into your dream outdoor zone that's both practical and stylish. In fact, once you've got the know-how, it's surprisingly simple.
From a little trompe l'oeil to fab foliage, furniture, lighting, clever storage solutions, and more, there are plenty of garden design ideas that are easy to achieve and will maximize your plot's potential no matter its size. And, if you're working on a tight budget, there are lots of clever tricks that will help you save as you go.
44 small garden ideas to transform your backyard
Whether you're planning a complete overhaul or a few tweaks, we've put together some tips that are guaranteed to elevate your less-than-large plot. Get ready to see your city balcony, tiny country garden, shady patio area, or even that lackluster patch of lawn be transformed into an extraordinary small garden space.
1. Add shelves to boost your planting space
For a clever way to incorporate fuss-free garden storage and expand the space in your small patio, add shelves behind seating. It'll provide a handy place to put a drink (on top of a jazzy coaster, of course), a lantern, or even a mini herb garden, without having to take up extra space with a full-sized table.
Matching your accessories and color schemes is also a great way to make your garden feel on-trend – try a monochrome palette for a contemporary choice.
2. Make a statement in your small plot with colorful shapes
You can still make a big statement with a small space – just take a cue from this striking setup.
‘Strong geometric shapes contrast perfectly with the softness of carefully chosen planting whilst large pieces of furniture display a non-apologetic confidence in your choices,’ says Nick Woodhouse of Woodhouse and Law.
We love this example of a striking pink focal point positioned above the bright yellow outdoor seating.
3. Maximize floor space with bespoke seating around tree trunks
If you have a tree or two in your plot – even if it's one of the best trees for small gardens – you might feel like it's taking up precious space. Although the summer leaves or spring blossom are welcome perks, perhaps there's no room for an additional seating area without things feeling cramped.
Well, here's a tip you can use to maximize your trees' potential, to make them functional as well as beautiful. Build a bench seat around the trunk to create a place to sit, to decorate with extra plants, or even to place outdoor lighting. Opt for natural materials for a cohesive, laid-back vibe.
4. Make a shaded seating area using a screen of plants
If you're after a secluded seating area in your small garden – perhaps to enjoy a good book, a glass of wine in the evening, or simply the fresh air – then this tip is for you.
Section off an area of the plot using lots of tall planting and small trees, creating a lush canopy. Add a comfy lounger and perhaps some outdoor lighting ideas, and voila – a secret, shaded spot to relax in private.
Position it away from the house for the ultimate back garden retreat. It'll be your new favorite spot in no time.
5. Use blocks of color to subtly separate areas
What color makes you happy? Midnight navy, pastel pinks, melon-sorbet green, vivid fuchsia? Remember, your tiny space is exactly that – yours. So put your stamp on it by painting the walls, the fence, the windowsill, even the floor in your favorite colors, to separate different zones. It's a simple approach that demands less space than putting up a dividing wall or fence.
If you use a palette of complementary hues, you can also add an extra layer of depth to your garden color scheme. Color block your planting too, for maximum impact. For example, choose a light blue theme for a patio dining area, while a relaxation space amongst the flower beds could be in silver and white hues.
6. Turn surfaces into design features
Every surface provides an opportunity for design in compact plots. So why not arrange your garden around an eye-catching floor? It's a top small garden design tip from the experts, and is easy to achieve.
Try bold-patterned tiles, soft-textured rugs, or even artificial grass for low-maintenance greenery. It's a stunning way to create an indoor-outdoor feel, especially when space is restricted.
Pair with bright colors and potted succulents for a fresh tone to your own little sanctuary.
7. Try stackable stools
Need some very small garden ideas? Be extra savvy when it comes to storage by using stackable stools. Their clean lines and simple design will also offer a breath of fresh air in a restricted space. Go for powder-coated aluminum styles – they will be durable and lightweight.
When it comes to tables to suit your small plot, look for versatile options which can have their sides folded down when you need the space. It's a simple yet effective way to maximize the layout of your seating area.
8. Go for bold planting in a pared-back palette
Aim to create impact with a 'less is more' approach with your very small garden ideas. Limit the number of different types of plants, as too many can look crowded and fussy. Use bold structural plants to form the framework and help define the space, including a good range of evergreens for year-round interest.
Try tree ferns, bamboos, and fatsia, which are great for creating lush tropical garden vibes in a small space. All will thrive planted in supersized pots that also create impact.
9. Choose multi-tasking pieces
Even the best garden furniture has to earn its place on the patio if you're short on space, and overlooking multi-functional furniture is a common small garden design mistake to make. So, be sure to look for designs that double up, such as an outdoor storage box.
This model comes in two sizes and can be used to stow away cushions. You can then use it for displaying plants, or as a table or extra seat as needed.
10. Soften the edges with plenty of plants
Garden designer Melanie Jackson of Melanie Jackson Garden Design added climbers along the back of this small plot using raised beds, which will soften the high fence and sun bench as they grow.
If you'd like some climbers for your plot then consider clematis, for its clouds of delicate blossoms. Try 'Montana Mayleen' for pastel pink blooms with a vanilla-like scent, and bronzed foliage. You can find out how to grow clematis in our guide. For fairy-like falls of purple petals, a trained wisteria is another lovely choice.
If your wall is in a sheltered, sunny spot, then a passionflower may well thrive. Or, for show-stopping color, opt for Virginia creeper. Its bright green summer foliage will turn to a blazing red as the weather cools.
Melanie has also added light, warm-hued paving ideas and plenty of greenery and flowers to make this garden an inviting space, regardless of its smaller size.
11. Add a small, potted tree
Take your pick from the best trees to grow in pots for an easy way to create a focal point in your space.
Acers are a classic choice for their stunning autumn color, while bays and olives are perfect for evergreen structure. This olive above looks stunning in a large terracotta pot, offering a Mediterranean-style flourish to a compact courtyard.
12. Go bold with overhead shelters
Small garden ideas don't have to be shy and retiring and simply fade into the background. Big and bold overhead structures can work wonders for adding a touch of drama to your layout.
This contemporary take on a pergola is a striking way to frame the patio space while creating subtle shade for the dining setup beneath. We think it's the perfect match for our modern garden ideas.
13. Mix and match landscaping materials
It can be tempting to stick to just one landscaping material in an effort to make a small plot feel bigger, but it can often have the opposite effect. Introducing subtle changes in materials throughout your yard can add interest and create different zones, all of which will actually enhance the feeling of space in your garden.
Here, the timber boards on the patio complement the exterior of the extension to help blur the boundaries between indoors and out, while the traditional brick pavers used for the pathway introduce a different color and texture.
And if you're short of planting space, why not think vertically for your small garden ideas? Green roofs are a brilliant way to introduce more flowers and foliage to a compact plot, plus you'll benefit from a leafier outlook from the first floor of your home too.
14. Add a small, decked patio on a diagonal
Your decking ideas don't need to be large to be effective. Often a disused corner, which might not seem large enough for a patio, could work with a small patch of decking.
A clever space-saving option to is try a diagonal corner shape that won't cut into too much of your lawn. As long as you can fit in a small outdoor dining set, that's all you need.
15. Prioritize an entertaining space
In a small garden, you may not have the space for separate dining and living areas. Rather than try to cram too much into the space, choose one key area and make that the focal point instead.
If outdoor dining is really important to you, and you frequently host garden get-togethers for family and friends, then giving over the majority of your space to a large dining table and chairs can be a sensible move. You can always opt for folding chairs or an extending table if you don't want your furniture to dominate the outlook when it's not in use.
Here, the covered deck provides the perfect spot for a lazy evening alfresco.
16. Save space in a small garden with hooks
Making the most of small gardens is all about optimizing the available space. And, while storage units are great, they often take up valuable room on the floor.
So, what's a brilliant storage solution which takes up zero floor space whatsoever? Hooks! Especially when it comes to ones that are sturdy enough to hang furniture on (because foldable furniture is another small-space win).
Place them up high on a sturdy wall or fence and you can tuck those chairs out of the way when they're not in use for instant extra space. Double win if the wall is the same color as the chair, for some color blocking goodness.
And while we're admiring this blue-hued vision, check out the table too. It has a built-in trough for plants, saving space for extra containers – a perfect choice for your small garden ideas.
17. Lay an easy gravel floor in your compact plot
Gravel is a low-maintenance and purse-friendly material for a patio area, and a good option for small gardens. It's easy to fit the shape you want and you can lay it yourself without too much trouble. This way, you save money on hiring a tradesperson to lay it for you, too.
18. Layer up the patterns for a cozy seating space
If you're more maximalist than minimalist, then don't let size stop you. When it comes to pattern, go big and bold. Small garden layout ideas can come to life when adorned in layers of texture and vivid color.
Embrace the boho look with patterned outdoor cushions, rugs, and throws. Then, match your planting, too, by choosing brightly colored grasses and flowers.
Such an explosion of shades is bound to bring joy and will keep your small space full of interest.
19. Choose jazzy seating options
Creating a cool and cozy space for relaxing, perhaps while enjoying a glass of something refreshing, is a must for your small garden ideas. And finding something a little different will make your space pop.
We love this low lounge bench as it screams contemporary comfort and the tropical print instantly transports your imagination to a dreamy secluded holiday spot somewhere warm.
Be sure to pile any seating high with blankets and beautiful cushions for added comfort. Then opt for a variety of colors, patterns, and textures to add more personality to your corner.
Planting and precise positioning of containers (for plants and/or drinks) around your seating area is also a great way to make this spot stand out.
20. Enhance your planting with lighting
If you're looking for ways to enhance your planting, lights are a great place to start.
When the sun goes down, foliage can take on a new dimension with string solar fairy lights. Or, try stake lights positioned in your pots and beds. They will add drama to a small space in the evening.
21. Use patterned tiles to liven up decking
Using patterned tiles on a balcony is a really modern way to make a small space feel bigger. The busy detail adds character and is the perfect backdrop for simple garden furniture and lots of plants. And these designs are super quick to install as they simply click together.
There are more options for giving your space a new look with our modern paving ideas.
22. Decorate steps with colorful pots
Garden steps can be pretty unspectacular, right? They get you from A to B, and if there are lots, they're not that fun to climb. But if your small garden features some, then why not include them in your carefully-curated miniature haven?
If they're wide enough, add interesting containers or colorful pots bursting with blooms and foliage on each one. We can guarantee that those steps will then bring joy whenever you use them. Just be sure to push them all to the side of each step, and remember they're there when the sun goes down so that you don't accidentally trip.
Consider painting the adjacent wall a sunny color, too, such as this deep ochre for extra warmth. You might then be tempted to perch on them for a morning cuppa, to admire the brighter backdrop.
23. Up the ambiance with a compact, light-up water feature
With small garden ideas, especially for balconies or courtyards, ponds are often a no-go. But, that doesn't mean to say that you can't still add some small garden water feature ideas to your plot.
Designs that can be tucked against walls have all of the benefits of a larger version (relaxing trickle, a lovely focal point, even attracting nearby birds). But, did you know you can get illuminated water features, too?
Add one of those, and not only are you adding a zen-enhancing feature, but you're also offering a lighting solution to the mix. Perfect for upping the ambiance in the evening.
24. Invest in pretty prints for small dining spaces
A beautifully laid table is an easy way to boost a small outdoor dining setting. Pick a matching set like these in a traditional bee moss print for a whimsical, cottage garden feel.
Not your style? There are so many different designs available, you're sure to find one which fits with your own taste, whether it's a classic look or something a bit more vibrant and contemporary.
25. Decorate a table with a mini herb garden
Herbs are both fragrant and tasty, plus most don't require a lot of space. So, they're the perfect choice for those who are green-fingered with compact plots.
You can start small, simply using what you have container-wise, and the different colors and textures will add a whole lot of character to your small garden.
26. Go to town on soft furnishings
We should never neglect the need for soft furnishings outside – especially in a small garden – as it's the ultimate opportunity to inject color, pattern, and personality into your environment.
We love the mixture of prints and textures going on in this tiny outdoor setting. From the mismatched cushions and bamboo lanterns to the pouf (everyone needs a pouf in their garden!), it's a small space with so much character. It just goes to show that detail is key when it comes to the most successful very small garden ideas.
27. Be inventive with balcony plant displays
Getting creative with garden storage ideas such as shelving and hooks is a great way to maximize on floor space, especially in a tiny balcony setting.
Trailing ivy from hooks in the wall and stacking wooden crates, filled with potted plants, herbs and more is an easy and affordable way to add endless interest to even the smallest of spots.
28. Add a small summerhouse and make it multi-functional
A bright summerhouse or she shed is a gorgeous addition to a small patio. It will not only be the perfect canvas for seating, accessories, and lighting, but it's also an ideal shady retreat for long summer days.
Your options are limitless with a summerhouse or small garden room. Turn yours into a garden office so that you can work from home in peace and quiet, or keep it as a snug for balmy evenings when only a book and a glass of wine will do.
Our she shed ideas have plenty more ways to create your perfect garden hideaway.
29. Use light reflecting tricks to brighten your yard
Think about your patio paving ideas to make a garden feel bigger. Light-colored natural stone and porcelain pavers can help create the sensation of space in a small area by making it feel lighter and brighter.
Painting walls with pale exterior masonry paint works in the same way to enhance a cramped space. Try incorporating garden mirrors into your design too. These will bounce light around to create the illusion that a garden is more spacious. Surrounding them with plants adds to the magic by introducing movement in the reflections.
30. Go wild and plant your own mini jungle
The thought of being surrounded by a little jungle in your own garden is a great idea for a touch of escapism. You can still let grand plants into a small garden space and have them border your seating corner with their spectacular leaves.
Trachycarpus and ferns work well (even in shade) and are ideal for low-maintenance gardens.
What's great about this particular look is that the seating makes the best use of an awkward small area, turning it into a cozy nook, fit for relaxing and entertaining.
31. Paint new life into garden furniture
When you're working with a tiny garden, balcony, or even courtyard, color is your friend. Add a pop of vibrancy by investing in bright furniture, or paint your own, as done in this seating area.
Be sure to complement your color choice with similar tones in accessories to make a corner really come to life.
You can find all the tips you need in our guide to painting garden furniture.
32. Layer up on garden lighting
Garden lighting is key in outdoor spaces of all shapes and sizes.
In this scheme, the combination of different sized lanterns dotted on the floor and on a side table, plus the fairy lights nestled within the rosemary bushes, creates ambiance like no other.
Add festoon lights up above and you have a three-layered lighting scheme in play which makes this tiny garden space dynamic and a little magical.
33. Camouflage your bistro set
A quaint seating setup manages to make this tiny patio corner look polished.
The pastel color complements the surrounding planting, and the essence of camouflage creates the illusion of more space – perfect for when you've not got much to start with in the first place!
The cherry on top of this look is that this bistro set is foldable, so even storage is easy.
34. Create a perfectly petite living room setting
What better use of a small backyard than to turn it into a veritable outdoor living room? Create a cozy setup with outdoor sofas and even a coffee table, then complete the look with a rug and parasol (of course) as you never know what the weather has in store.
Shiny planters and some accents of light and bright colors really add energy to this space. We could stay here for days...
35. Be bold with a bench
A contrast of colors is a great way to exaggerate space, so including key pieces of colorful furniture, like this painted bench, against the dominant colors in your garden will create a striking look that's larger than life.
Paint your own furniture using peppy colors, as seen here.
36. Add a garden mirror to double your space
It's no secret that garden mirrors help create the illusion of space with the added reflection, so if you're looking for very small garden ideas, this one is a must. After all, why would you just have two container plants, when you could have four?
This mirror adds a charming touch to the space, all while tricking the eye into thinking there's a little more room. There are more tricks for how to make a small garden feel bigger in our dedicated guide.
37. Clear away clutter with garden shelving
From placemats at the ready for another garden party to decorative plants and more, garden shelving is creeping into so many small garden ideas because it's useful and easy to style.
Add a couple of shelves to your exterior walls to enhance and transform your space in a very modern way. In this outdoor room, we not only love the shelves against the gorgeous green wall but also the trailing plant from above which adds another level of interest to this small garden.
38. Add an outdoor kitchen that's a dream to cook in
Outdoor kitchen ideas aren't just reserved for large gardens. The above setup has everything you could need but remains compact and not overwhelming. This is down to a well-thought-out design, including the light-colored decking that helps open the space up a little.
Try to keep a small BBQ close to your dining or seating area, and choose nifty storage for firewood, utensils, drinks, and the like (shelving is a great option if you are really tight on space).
39. Focus on teeny tiny details
Flowers and planting can transform all types of spaces, big and small, so when you're having to squeeze everything in, make sure you pay attention to detail.
Choose light and brightly-colored flowers to add an element of fun to your small garden ideas, plus it will improve the chances of seeing a little wildlife around your plot.
And, variety is everything to help create an interesting display, so favor a mismatched approach and team small flowers with herbs, taller planting, and even trailing plants to help achieve the wow factor.
40. Make the most of a side garden with a cozy fire pit
Whether you're working with a compact courtyard or small side garden, using a main feature as the focal point will make more of your space.
Whether that's a coffee table with an incorporated gas fire or more traditional outdoor heating ideas like this rustic fire pit, gather the chairs around to create a unified feel and for (quite literally) more warmth.
41. Opt for a brightly-colored bistro set
Every small garden should have a bistro set. They take up very little space and are a must if you like to move around the garden following the sun or love to invite friends over.
Nothing says high summer like shades of hot orange and it’s a great way to add an uplifting color pop too. Choose a design that can be folded up when not in use, and you can free up floor space for other garden activities. Zoom yoga class, anyone?
42. Tuck an L-shaped sofa into an empty corner
Choose modular outdoor seating in an L-shaped design to transform a corner of your small patio. Style it up with outdoor cushions and other accessories to make it feel like a second living room.
We love this multi-purpose outdoor table which has a plastic planter beneath the lid that can also be used as a drinks bucket. A genius touch for your small garden ideas.
43. Go large with containers
Big garden planters suit compact spaces, and are a great way to add some contemporary styling to your small garden ideas. Look for lightweight options that are easy to move around for maximum flexibility.
Plant them with low-maintenance greenery such as grasses for a laid-back look you can layer up.
44. Pay attention to the vertical space
The space above your garden can be put to good use too. Contemporary-looking pergola ideas like this black-painted one can be used to add all-important lighting to create the right mood.
And don't forget about vertical garden ideas. Whether that's investing in climbers to scramble up the structure or putting together some beautiful hanging baskets to hang from the beams overhead, there are plenty of ways to maximize the planting potential of your plot while saving on floor space.
How can I make my small garden look nice for less?
It's easy to make your small garden look nice for cheap. Try these budget-friendly suggestions:
- Paint old pots to give them an update
- Have a look online for second-hand garden furniture
- See if your neighbors have any plants going spare
- Get more greenery for free by discovering how to take cuttings from plants
- Create a smart new space with inexpensive gravel
- String up festoon lights
- Give your fence a lick of paint
- Learn how to clean your patio to instantly smarten it up
- Add a few outdoor cushions and maybe a rug
- Add shelves to outdoor walls to make extra space for plants
- Hang up bunting for a country-chic vibe
There are lots more cheap garden ideas in our dedicated guide.
How do you make a small garden fun?
You can make your small garden fun with the addition of accessories and outdoor furniture. And how about giving it a boost with some on-trend novelty lights, tucked amongst your plants?
Adding the best outdoor projector is also a great idea. It will transform your plot into a private cinema – just layer on the blankets and grab bowls full of snacks for a night to remember. You could also invest in a swinging chair. Not only do they look stylish, but they are also super fun to sit in!
How do you lay out pots in a small garden?
Put your biggest, tallest pot at the back – this will be your main focal point for your container gardening ideas. Perhaps it's a potted tree or a showy display of agapanthus. Then, begin to surround it with gradually smaller pots, maybe a planter of bulbs or a small shrub rose. Put the shortest pots at the front – this could be small containers full of violas or succulents, for example.
This will allow you to see everything while keeping a sense of balance. You can always use bricks to add height to the ones further back if needed.
Generally, groups look more pleasing in clusters of three, or in odd numbers. Remember what your plants need, too – that way they can all thrive together. It's not much use positioning sun-loving plants alongside shady ones.
How do you create depth in a small garden?
A well-known trick is to hang a mirror on the far wall or fence. It will instantly appear like your garden is longer than it is, plus it will help bounce the light around.
You can also work with long lines down the length of the garden – with decking, for example – which will also help to elongate your plot.
Try using large planters and any ornamental trees towards the back of your plot, with smaller ones at the front, too. And, when it comes to color, light tones will brighten a space. However, painting far boundaries in darker, natural hues such as sage green or even black can help them to recede.
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.
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