James Wong’s 3 expert planting tips will make your small garden feel instantly more spacious

The ethnobotanist has a size-enhancing secret that will elevate your exteriors – and fill your garden with color

A front garden with grass, a bench and wisteria climbing the house exterior
(Image credit: Polly Eltes)

BBC presenter and four-time RHS medal winner James Wong has climbed to the peak of the garden industry – whilst picking up a host of tips and tricks along the way. However, his most latest tip may be his most versatile to date. 

In an exclusive interview with H&G, James explained his small garden ideas – and shared techniques that will work in urban and country gardens alike. And his solution is refreshingly simple. 

1. Small garden? Choose large plants  

An example of the best trees for a small garden, with white L-shaped outdoor sofa.

(Image credit: Future)

‘One of the most important things with small spaces is to not feel like you can only fill them with small plants,’ James begins. Instead, he suggests choosing a select number of large statement plants that will demand attention in your garden.  

'People often think that small spaces mean small plants, but it makes them feel more cluttered. Large plants are much better,’ he adds. However, James Wong’s tips on how to make a small garden feel bigger stretch beyond his large plant technique. 

2. Hang strategically placed mirrors  

Decorating with mirrors

(Image credit: Future/Paul Raeside)

The size-enhancing benefits of decorating with mirrors are already a favorite amongst interior designers – but now experts are reflecting their power beyond our four walls. 

‘If you have, for example, a small courtyard garden, you can use a mirror to create – what looks like – a window,’ James says. 

Plus, the Chelsea Flower Show winner not only suggests using mirrors to design a window but to create the illusion of a separate room too. 

‘If you have an archway or another structure, and you put your mirror at an angle and put your plant in front of it – it tricks your eye into thinking there is another room next to the garden,’ he says. 

However, before you invest in a looking glass, James reminds you to treat outdoor mirrors with caution to prevent bird injuries. ‘I wouldn’t use them in a big open space near a bird feeder,’ he adds. 

3. Blur boundaries with tropical plants  

Trellis ideas with trellis topper in small garden

(Image credit: Future / Mark Bolton Photography)

Following his mirror tip, James shared another secret that will improve the size of your garden and add a vibrant injection of color. 

‘In using mirrors, you can see yourself, so you should try to break up the outline of that by using large tropical plants,’ James says. ‘If you break up the outline of a boundary, then it disappears.’

He explains this by suggesting that you should use trellis ideas to add a climber to your wall before placing a big plant in front of the greenery. ‘The wall suddenly melts away. It gives it a green, almost fizzy backdrop with a big plant in front of it – and it blurs it,’ James suggests.

Small garden ideas

(Image credit: Future / James Merrell)

Plus, after discussing the best trees for a small garden, James has teamed up with to explore the benefits of biophilic design, but in the garden and inside your home. More information is available via their website.  

Megan Slack
Head of Celebrity Style News

Megan is the Head of Celebrity Style News at Homes & Gardens. She first joined Future Plc as a News Writer across their interiors titles, including Livingetc and Real Homes, before becoming H&G's News Editor in April 2022. She now leads the Celebrity/ News team. Before joining Future, Megan worked as a News Explainer at The Telegraph, following her MA in International Journalism at the University of Leeds. During her BA in English Literature and Creative Writing, she gained writing experience in the US while studying in New York. Megan also focused on travel writing during her time living in Paris, where she produced content for a French travel site. She currently lives in London with her antique typewriter and an expansive collection of houseplants.