35 small garden ideas: maximise the potential of your compact space

Try these small garden ideas for size and enhance your outside space with a stylish revamp you'll love

small garden ideas with decking and built in bench seating
(Image credit: Cuprinol)

The best small garden ideas need to be clever, innovative and user friendly. Design the space well and it can revitalise even the dullest cramped courtyard or the urban default tiny square of lawn bordered by dull fencing. To make a successful space keep it simple and create an attractive area that’s both functional and suits your needs. 

Every successful garden design needs to take into account the situation and what’s around it. This is particularly important with small gardens, where neighbouring houses in close proximity can have an effect on the end result. Be realistic about what you can achieve. Whether you’re planning a complete overhaul or a few tweaks to makeover the space, we've put together some design tricks that will help you nail it. 

From a little trompe l'oeil to fab foliage, garden furniture, lighting, clever garden storage and more, these small garden looks are easy to achieve and will help turn your space into the ultimate spot for outdoor living. It doesn't matter if you're working on a tight budget, we have clever tips to let you save as you go. Get ready to see your city balcony, tiny country garden, shady patio area or even little patch of lawn be transformed into an extraordinary small garden space for 2020. 

Want even more inspiration? Head over to our garden design ideas for more ways to transform your outdoor space. 

1. Colour block your garden walls

colour blocking behind a garden dining area

(Image credit: John Lewis & Partners)

There’s nothing quite like a lick of paint to bring vibrancy to your surroundings, and as holidays have been off the cards for many of us this year, it’s the perfect time to bring a taste of the Med into your outdoor space. Painting tired walls is a quick way to introduce colour to your surroundings, and who said colour blocking was just an indoor trend? Complement your walls by painting plant pots in more contrasting brights and all you need is a glass/jug of sangria. 

2. Bring life to a balcony with lots of container plants

balcony decor with container plants

(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you have a balcony garden, there are still plenty of options! There are so many gorgeous plant pots available right now, and so many plants that thrive just as well in containers as they would in soil, so your balcony can pack more punch than you may expect. Soften the edges of your space and railings with lots of pots and plants in all shapes and sizes. Herbs are a good choice to add to tables to introduce some added greenery – find out the best herbs to grow in your garden in our guide. 

3. Choose jazzy seating options

Tropical Bamboo Lounge Bench with Cushion

(Image credit: Dobbies)

Creating a cool and cosy space for reading, or enjoying a glass of something refreshing, is a must in every small garden space. And finding something a little different will make your space pop. We love the low lounge bench by Dobbies 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 colours, 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.

4. Go for bold planting

dining area with bench seating surrounded by plants

Table and bench set from Limited Abode

(Image credit: Limited Abode )

Aim to create impact with a less is more approach. 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 feel in a small space. All will thrive planted in supersized pots that also create impact. Consider uplighting for night time drama. 

5. Decorate a table with a mini herb garden

small herb garden by John Lewis

(Image credit: John Lewis)

Herbs are both fragrant and tasty, plus most don't require a lot of space so it's the perfect choice for those who are green fingered but have limited garden space. You can start small, simply using what you have container-wise, and the different colours and textures will add a whole lot of character to your outdoor space.

6. Go to town on soft furnishings

soft furnishing for small spaces Maisons du Monde

(Image credit: Maisons du Monde)

Lightly touched upon above, we should never neglect the need for soft furnishings outside – especially in a small space – as it's the ultimate opportunity to inject colour, 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 to the pouffe (everyone needs a pouffe in their garden!) and the bamboo lanterns, it's a small space with so much character, and just goes to show that detail is key. Recreate the look with Maisons du Monde's  outdoor accessories.

7. Zone your space

The best small garden ideas

Woburn concrete indoor/outdoor bench from Rust Collections 

(Image credit: Rust Collections)

Work out how best to use your space. Trying to squeeze in too much will often leave the final design feeling busy. Creating a separate streamlined dining area (near the house for practical reasons) and lounging area (in the most secluded spot) helps to maximise space and works even in the smallest garden. Aim to incorporate an element of surprise with a ‘big reveal’, where a secluded space that can’t be seen from the house is there when you turn a corner. 

8. Let nature connect your indoors with the outdoors

soft furnishings in outdoor room

(Image credit: Neptune)

For a tiny but beautiful outdoor space, who says you can’t enjoy it from the connecting room? This small space next to the garden (this could work near a balcony entrance too) emulates boho chic and the plants that adorn the space make it feel seamlessly connected to what’s just beyond the door. Shop the look at Neptune

9. Use patterned tiles to liven up decking

Patio ideas

(Image credit: IKEA)

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 plants – lots of plants. This porcelain MÄLLSTEN floor decking by IKEA is weatherproof, so perfect for all types of outdoor spaces. 

10. Be inventive with plant displays

garden storage ideas

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Getting creative with shelving and hooks is a great way to maximise 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 spots.

11. Add a summerhouse and make it multi functional 

Summer house ideas

(Image credit: Lights4Fun)

A bright summerhouse or she shed is a gorgeous addition to a small patio. It will not only be the perfect canvas for gorgeous 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. 

12. Use light reflecting tricks

patio area with light coloured paving slabs

Materia Blanco Slab Tiles from Walls & Floors 

(Image credit: Walls and Floors)

Thinking about your paving ideas to make a garden feel bigger. Light coloured 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 one of the best 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.

13. Go wild and plant your own jungle

bright garden corner sofa

(Image credit: Farrow & Ball)

The thought of being surrounded by a little jungle in your own garden is a great idea for a touch of escapism – something we’re all looking for right now. 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 as a low-maintenance garden idea. What's great about this particular look is that the seating makes the best use of an awkward small area, turning it into a cosy nook, fit for relaxing and entertaining in.

14. Paint life into garden furniture

painted garden seating

(Image credit: Farrow & Ball)

When you’re working with a tiny garden, balcony or even courtyard, colour is your friend. Add a pop of a vibrant colour by investing in bright furniture, or paint your own, as done in this corner seating area. This gorgeous canary yellow paint is by Farrow & Ball, then be sure to complement your colour choice with similar tones in accessories to make your colourful corner really come to life. Head over to our guide to painting garden furniture for all the tips you'll need. 

15. Layer up on garden lighting

small garden courtyard

(Image credit: Lights 4 Fun)

Garden lighting ideas are key in outdoor spaces of all shapes and sizes, and in a small garden space lighting can enhance the area in a natural way. The combination of different sized lanterns dotted on the floor, on a side table and garden border, plus the fairy lights nestled within the rosemary bushes creates ambience 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, we’re sure you’ll agree, a little magical. Recreate the look with the Malvern outdoor lighting bundle from Lights4Fun.

16. Camouflage your bistro set

small pastel green bistro set by John Lewis

(Image credit: john Lewis & Partners)

What is such a quaint set up manages to make this tiny patio corner look polished. The pastel colour of the bistro dining table and chairs from John Lewis, sets off the surrounding planting, and the little of essence of camouflage here creates the illusion of more space – perfect for when you've not got so 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. Head over to our best bistro sets for more great buys for your space. 

17. Create a secluded area

wooden pergola over a dining area

Slatted pergola from Forest Garden

(Image credit: Forest Garden)

If your outdoor space is overlooked consider including some garden privacy ideas. Boundaries should be light and airy to make the space more welcoming. A row of pleached trees in a raised bed creates an airy screen between you and neighbouring properties, as does a ‘wall’ of tall bamboos. Use screens and plants that act as veils to divide spaces rather than solid walls that can’t be seen through. Fast growing climbers can be used to green up fences and walls. Small trees in large planters or adding a slatted pergola are alternative ways to create seclusion. Head to our pergola ideas gallery for more inspiration. 

18. Create a lived-in living room setting

outdoor living area

(Image credit: Maisons du monde)

What better use of a small patch of lawn than to turn it into a veritable outdoor living room? Create a cosy setting with outdoor sofas and even a coffee table, then complete the look with an outdoor rug – you can shop the same one as above at Maisons du Monde – and parasol (of course) as you never know what the British weather has in store! Shiny planters and some accents of light and bright colours really add energy to this set up. We could stay here for days...

19. Choose fabulous foldable furniture

luxury foldable garden dining set

(Image credit: John Lewis)

Foldable furniture might make you immediately think of childhood holidays spent in a caravan, but trust us, foldable tables and chairs have come a long way since then in terms of style and quality. And, thank goodness for that, because they are beyond useful! Add a gorgeous wooden furniture set to your small outdoor space for an alfresco dinner by night, and fold the chairs up by day for quick storage and to clear the passage for easy watering of plants and general meandering around your outdoor space. We love this pretty set up created by John Lewis.

20. Add height with tall plant stands

tall plant stands by Made

(Image credit: Made)

Styling your small space using height is a surefire way to max out its potential. These tall galvanized iron plant stands add drama and draw the eye up, making the area seem bigger. For added impact, choose luscious plants with exotic leaves and keep them against a bold and colourful backdrop as done with this Noor collection from Made.com.

21. Be bold with a bench

painted garden bench and planter by Farrow & Ball

(Image credit: Farrow & Ball)

A contrast of colours is a great way to exaggerate space, so including key pieces of colourful furniture, like this painted bench, against the dominant colours in your garden will create a striking look that's a larger than life. Paint your own furniture using peppy colours such as Charlotte's Locks and Calke Green from Farrow & Ball, as seen here. You'll find more great garden benches in our buying guide. 

22. Introduce a focal point

courtyard space with a water feature

(Image credit: Nick Rennie)

Add an eye-catching design feature to provide a distraction from small dimensions. This could be a sculpture, decorative planter, water feature idea or architectural planting uplit for effect at night to create an atmospheric backdrop that can be enjoyed from indoors too. It will make a small garden seem bigger by drawing the eye. The best garden designs are always the ones with personality and this is your opportunity to customise your space with your own mark.

23. Add a garden mirror to double your space

garden mirror by Rockett St George

(Image credit: Rockett St George)

It's no secret that the best garden mirrors help create the illusion of space with the added reflection, so it's a no brainer to try it out in a small garden too. After all, why would you just have two container plants, when you could have four? We're loving this crittall-style mirror with a distressed finish by Rockett St George as it adds a charming touch to this space, all while tricking the eye into thinking there's a little more room.

24. Keep it zen and zone your areas

garden zoning with trellis

(Image credit: La redoute)

Zoning is key in large spaces where you can easily get (figuratively) lost, but it's also so important in small garden spaces as it's a unique way of creating dedicated areas for eating and relaxing. You can achieve this, even on a small balcony, by using planters and even plants, while we love the use of the trellis in this simple garden set up by La Redoute. Why? The trellis not only helps create a distinct dining area, but it also creates the opportunity for a vertical living wall and adds a little more privacy, too. If you share a garden space or you feel like you need a little extra separation from your neighbours, this'll do the trick.  

25. Garden shelving is everything

clever garden shelves

(Image credit: Little Greene)

From placemats at the ready for another garden party, to decorative plants and more, garden shelving is creeping into so many small outdoor spaces because it's useful and easy to style. Add a couple of shelves to your garden 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 Puck painted wall by Little Greene but the trailing ivy from above adds another level of interest to this small garden set up.

26. Use natural materials, including the roof

painted outdoor living room set up

(Image credit: Little Greene)

Creating a covered outdoor space will help exaggerate the room you have, bringing all the beach cabin vibes to your garden – especially if you choose the right materials! Go for light wicker or reed to add an element of the tropics to your set up and you'll be able to spend many a balmy or even drizzly evening outdoors.

27. Add an outdoor kitchen that's a dream to cook in

outdoor kitchen dining set from john lewis with barbecue

(Image credit: John Lewis)

Outdoor kitchen ideas aren't just reserved for large gardens. Oh no, and proof is in the above set up. We love how it has everything you could need, but remains compact and not overwhelming. This is down to a well-thought-out design, including the light-coloured 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!). 

28. Focus on teeny tiny details

summer flowers

(Image credit: Getty)

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 coloured flowers to add an element of fun to your space, plus, it will improve the chances of seeing a little wildlife around your garden. And, variety is everything to help create an interesting display, so favour a mismatched approach and team small flowers with herbs, taller planting and even trailing plants to help achieve the wow factor.

29. Create a central focal point

Fire pit by John Lewis

(Image credit: John Lewis & Partners)

Using a main feature as the focal point in a small garden will make more of your space. Whether that's a coffee table, fire pit or other, gather the chairs around to create a unified feel and for (quite literally) more warmth. We love the cosy vibe created by the La Hacienda fire pit from John Lewis

30. Use all your levels

container plants by Cox & Cox

(Image credit: Cox & Cox)

If you have low walls or steps, use them to display more container plants, pots, lights, ornaments and the likes. Having objects at different levels will add height and exaggerate space in a brilliant way. If you don't have natural different levels available to you, then think about adding shelves or using tall planters as mentioned above to achieve the drama. These fluted zinc planters by Cox & Cox are a favourite of ours.

31. Choose multi-tasking pieces

garden storage

(Image credit: La Redoute)

Garden furniture has to earn its place on the patio if you’re short on space, so look for furniture that doubles up, such as an outdoor storage box. This Acacia outdoor storage box from La Redoute comes in two sizes and can be used to stow away cushions, then put into action displaying plants, or as a table or extra seat as needed.

32. Opt for foldaway options

bistro set

(Image credit: Habitat)

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 round. Nothing says high summer like shades of hot orange and it’s a great way to add an uplifting colour 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? 

33. Make the most of an empty corner

garden sofa

(Image credit: Ella James)

Choose modular outdoor seating in an L-shaped design to transform a corner of your patio. Style it up with outdoor cushions and other accessories to make it feel like a second living room. We love this multi-purpose Seville outdoor table with planter from Ella James, which has a plastic planter beneath the lid that can also be used as a drinks bucket. Genius. 

34. Go large with containers

garden planters

(Image credit: Sweetpea & Willow)

Big pots suit small spaces, and are a great way to add some contemporary styling to your garden. Look for lightweight options that are easy to move around for maximum flexibility. Sweetpea & Willow has a great selection of pots and baskets that look good planted up with low-maintenance greenery such as grasses for a laidback look you can layer up.

35. Look up

garden lighting

(Image credit: Lights4Fun)

The space above your garden can be put to good use too. As well as being a handy structure for plants to scramble over, a contemporary looking pergola like this black painted one can be used to add all-important lighting to create the right mood. These fairy lights from Lights4fun help to bring the garden to life in the evening.

More ideas for small gardens: