Small garden layout ideas: 11 clever ways to arrange your outdoor space

These small garden layout ideas will save space and instantly make your compact plot feel bigger and brighter

small garden layout ideas: zones
(Image credit: Annaick Guitteny/Lucy Willcox Garden Design/Future)

Want to make your tiny backyard more welcoming? These small garden layout ideas will be sure to come in handy. Even the most compact spaces can be arranged in a way that makes them both functional and more enjoyable to be in.

We know that not everyone has the luxury of acres of ground to play with. And, let's face it, small spaces can feel uninspiring at first. Being presented with a blank slice of patio or tiny balcony can leave us wondering where to start.

The good news is that any garden, no matter how big (or small) its size, is full of opportunity. In fact, it's easier than you might think to create your own mini paradise, extend your living area, and improve your quality of life. Plus, small garden ideas are often cheaper and easier to maintain.

But before you get decorating, you'll need to focus on getting the bare bones of your plot right – and by that, we mean the layout. We've put together plenty of looks – there is something for every type of small garden in this mix.

11 small garden layout ideas to try at home

From balconies to decked spaces, these small garden layout ideas will inspire you with new ways to arrange your less-than-large plot.

1. Small, walled courtyard

urban plot designed by Harrington Porter

A low-maintenance London garden designed by Harrington Porter (opens in new tab)

(Image credit: Harrington Porter)

Courtyards are commonplace in urban dwellings and can feel shady, overlooked, and uninspiring. However, with a few design tricks, you can turn a small, walled plot into a stylish setting.

Chris Harrington, Creative Director of garden design practice Harrington Porter (opens in new tab), shares his expert advice when it comes to working with natural light. He explains that the sun should be a key consideration – especially in small plots with built-up surroundings. Some courtyards may only get a glimpse of sunlight during the day, or an hour or two in the evening. 

So, if you like sitting in the sun, then make sure your seating is positioned to make the most of it. In this space, a built-in bench does exactly that – catching a dose of evening light before the sun sets behind the house. On the other hand, if you prefer sitting in the shade, then position your seating to match.

This contemporary design also benefits from having an artificial lawn which adds a welcome splash of greenery to the scene. There's no maintenance required and no need to store a mower – both big plus points for small, modern gardens. As well as this, Chris says that small gardens with high surrounding walls are often shady, which can be problematic when it comes to growing verdant turf. 

2. Narrow, tapered plot

corner seating area of garden designed by Harrington Porter

Using straight lines can open up a space – as shown in this garden designed by Harrington Porter (opens in new tab)

(Image credit: Harrington Porter)

Some plots are narrow with a tapered shape – almost like a triangle. This one shown above is exactly that, but as Chris Harrington explains, 'careful planting and structures were used to balance out the shape and square it up with the house.'

This included the addition of garden fence ideas, which cut into the plot in straight lines, adding a feeling of space and making it more practical as well as stylish. And on that note, for contemporary gardens, Chris advises against using curves. Straight lines can always be softened with planting to create a more welcoming vibe.

3. Multi-zonal space

zoned small garden by Lucy Willcox Garden Design

Designed by Lucy Willcox Garden Design (opens in new tab), this modern garden uses decking, paving and planting to create different zones

(Image credit: Annaick Guitteny/Lucy Willcox Garden Design/Future)

Whatever the shape of your garden, zoning is a great way to add visual interest and functionality. This garden demonstrates the approach perfectly by creating three distinct zones using soft hedging, decking ideas, light paving slabs, and decorative stones. Setting the decking boards horizontally to the paving also helps to widen the space.

'Space permitting, dividing up the garden into different rooms can, paradoxically, make your garden feel bigger, giving a greater sense of depth and installing a real sense of intrigue,' says Nick Woodhouse, director of garden and interior design practice Woodhouse and Law (opens in new tab).

Sam Selby, founder of Selby Landscapes (opens in new tab), explains more ways it can be done. 'Use planting, screens, walling, or changes in materials to create different areas,' he advises. 'Hide a seating area with plant-covered screens or use different sized paving to give the impression of space.'

Garden designer Hannah Rickards of Hannah Rickards Garden Design (opens in new tab) also suggests using different paving materials and patterns to create a sense of transition from each area. 'For example, try a brick path to a stone terrace, or a lawn to deck area,' she says.

4. Paved patio

living wall by small patio

A living wall adds a vibrant feature

(Image credit: James Merrell/Future)

If you've only got a tiny patio to play with, don't despair. There are plenty of vertical garden ideas you can try, including the addition of a living wall: a clever way to make a small space feel full of greenery.

Look out for hanging planters made up of pockets, ready to be filled with herbs, flowers, or even veg, for easy installation. They will instantly soften harsh lines and landscaping materials and up your growing potential.

Lining a wall with some of the best trees to grow in pots is also a great approach for either bordering or breaking up the layout of your space and making a statement. They can offer a subtle screen too – ideal for overlooked gardens.

5. Compact urban garden

Bistro set in seating area with raised planters

A large planter adds a beautiful backdrop to this scene

(Image credit: Lizzie Orme/Future)

A place to sit tends to be a priority with most outdoor spaces, whatever their size. And with carefully considered small garden layout ideas, you can create the perfect setting for entertaining, enjoying breakfast alfresco, or relaxing with a good book. 

Use large planters along the boundary and not only can you enjoy the backdrop of blooms, but they'll also double up as a subtle privacy screen. A look like this works if you're looking for small front garden ideas, too.

6. Modern balcony

Dobbies outdoor seating with view of lake

Open up the view and make your garden feel spacious, like in this setup from Dobbies (opens in new tab)

(Image credit: Dobbies)

Perhaps the extent of your outdoor space stretches to a teeny balcony. There are still lots of ways to turn it into an alfresco haven – you just need to consider your small garden layout ideas with care.

Perhaps you're lucky enough to have views of water nearby, or fields on the other side of your plot. By using minimal fencing rather than solid panels, you can make the most of the outside world – just like in this scheme above. Remember to then position your seating towards the view to make the most of it – it will instantly feel like your garden is more spacious. If you're in an urban setting, adding some garden privacy ideas may be more suitable for your space.

A balcony can also be home to your own mini jungle if you wish. A couple of statement plants in pots can play key roles in your layout, while smaller pots can be hung from railings or used as centerpieces for your table.

Need more inspiration? There are lots more balcony garden ideas in our guide.

7. Sunken seating space

screen with envy decorative screen in plot

The Ellipse Corten Metal Screen from Screen with Envy (opens in new tab) defines this space

(Image credit: Screen with Envy)

'City living can often be at the expense of privacy so it's important to first ascertain which areas of the garden provide a more secluded area in which to place seating,' says Nick Woodhouse of Woodhouse and Law. 

Or, why not structure your small garden layout ideas into sections, by creating a private, sunken seating space bordered by decorative screens?

Working with levels like this is perfect for making the most of slightly sloping plots. Plus, garden screening can provide a stylish feature in itself. Patterned designs will keep light coming in, giving an airy, open-plan feel between your garden's 'rooms'. Pick a color which matches your theme to tie the scheme together beautifully.

8. Small and rectangular

outdoor living with palm tree

A small palm breaks up this garden layout

(Image credit: Alisdair Mcintosh/Future)

Looking to give a small, rectangular space a bit more structure, without blocking light and views with fences or walls? Try using one or two of the best trees for small gardens instead. This small palm, for instance, adds to the tropical garden vibe of this space, while cleverly splitting the layout into two areas. 

Acers (Japanese maples) are also perfect solutions for a boost of color with their feathery leaves. For a rustic, Mediterranean vibe, small olive trees make a great addition. A clipped bay tree is a good choice for a more formal look, plus you can use the leaves in your cooking.

If you've only got room for one tree, the RHS (opens in new tab) offers great advice – to choose one which adds interest across seasons, be it blossom in spring, attractive bark in winter, or fruit in autumn. A small apple tree, for example, will bring delight for months on end.

In terms of making a garden seem larger, 'small garden trees can help,' says garden designer Hannah Rickards. Try using 'two trees to frame the end of a path leading to the next area of the garden,' she suggests.

9. Stylish side garden

fire pit in side garden

Create a focal point with your fire pit

(Image credit: Colin Poole/Future)

Stuck with a side garden? Curved features - such as this pathway and fire pit – can help widen the sense of space.

In fact, fire pits are the ideal centerpiece for small plots as they provide a focal point that can be enjoyed all year round. In winter, you can gather next to it with friends and family to keep cozy, toasting marshmallows and enjoying its magical glow beneath the stars. In summer, they're perfect for upping the ambiance of an evening party.

Using a pale material for the ground cover is also a good move to brighten the overall scheme.

10. Long and thin

melanie jackson georgian style garden

This narrow garden has an 18th century charm – designed by Melanie Jackson (opens in new tab)

(Image credit: Melanie Jackson Garden Design)

This plot demonstrates how a narrow slice of a garden can be given tons of character with a circular central point and ornamental stone column. 

It creates an air of the 18th century beautifully, to fit with the garden’s historic setting – the Georgian city of Bath, UK. The stone wall is softened by tumbling foliage and borders, which will erupt in color and texture as the garden becomes more established.

There are more ways to make the most of a narrow plot in our long garden ideas feature. 

11. Raised deck garden

outdoor living room on deck

A raised indoor-outdoor living area, decorated with lights, cushions, and a chiminea

(Image credit: Jamie Mason/Future)

The garden above is a great example of an outdoor extension to the home, complete with a chiminea, a comfy sofa, and even storage. Raising it up slightly onto a deck separates it from the small lawn. It's the perfect alfresco living space.

And, if you want a space for outdoor dining ideas, 'make an area that will encourage regular use,' says Sam Selby of Selby Landscapes. 'Find a nook for your dining table, which can be enhanced with small fire pits, the sound of water, and lighting.

'Clever garden lighting will encourage you to enjoy the space throughout the day and late into the evening,' he adds. Spot the festoon lights used in this scheme – always a winning choice.

How do you split up a small garden layout?

We've already mentioned screens, and we've touched on using different paving for zones too. But, there are plenty of other ways to divide up your small garden design ideas.

Try small, clipped hedges – either trimmed into neat rectangles or perhaps cloud pruned for more organic shapes. You can also use large planters. Half walls, made of stone, are another option, and you can add plants to them too – take a look at our small rock garden ideas for inspiration. 

You can also work with levels. Try putting a seating area higher up or sink it down, to draw the eye and section it away into a separate 'room'.

zoned small plot by woodhouse and law

This small garden, designed by Woodhouse and Law (opens in new tab), is split into separate areas with the help of stunning planters

(Image credit: Jason Harris/Woodhouse and Law)