18 small garden ideas – clever designs for maximizing a compact gardening space

Small garden ideas can transform even the tiniest outdoor space with a considered layout, creative planting, the right materials and more

Small garden ideas with a stone patio and steps surrounded by green leafy vegetation and a wooden fence.
(Image credit: Future / Mark Bolton )

Small garden ideas have lots of advantages – the main one being they're wonderfully low-maintenance. 

Small gardens, city terraces, balconies and even unloved corners can all make enticing outdoor spaces with a little care and attention. Visual tricks, good lighting, interesting planting and comfortable seating will play to the strengths of the most awkward or compact of gardens. 

Whether you're looking for garden ideas to create an impressive balcony garden, want to introduce some garden furniture to your patio or love to be surrounded by greenery, you'll find lots of inspiration for your small outdoor space below.

Small garden ideas with style

1. Zone a small garden with decking

An example of small garden ideas with multiple decked terraces which weave through beds of tall plants

(Image credit: Annaick Guitteny/Future Publishing Ltd)

Decking does more than provide a space for sitting, drinking and dining — it can also help divide up a small garden into zones, helping the space feel curated, functional and possibly even a little bit bigger. 

In the small garden with decking above, the decking weaves a path through plant bedding, creating multiple terraces within a compact space. 

2. Add color with pretty paintwork

A painted garden shed with linen curtains, with a yellow bike in dappled shade

(Image credit: Tim Young/Future Publishing Ltd)

If you’re looking for an aesthetic shake up that doesn’t break the bank, grab yourself a pot of outdoor paint. Giving unloved woodwork a few coats is one of the most cost-effective ways to make a big impact on a small garden, turning that all-too-close back fence or shed into a feature backdrop. 

Lighter colors can make a pokey garden feel lighter and brighter, while going bold will make a serious statement. 

3. Make space for a rock garden

A rockery with waterfall and yellow flowers

(Image credit: Annaick Guitteny/Future Publishing Ltd)

Rockeries aren’t the most contemporary of water feature ideas, but their scaleability makes them among the easiest to squeeze into smaller spaces. 

A small garden rockery – particularly if partially hidden among whimsical planting – can add a sense of wonder to the garden, as well as the relaxing ambient soundtrack of rippling water. 

4. Dedicate a flower bed to edibles

small garden ideas with a vegetable patch with green wooden obelisk, and white-painted sheds

(Image credit: Annaick Guitteny Photography)

Keen cooks, get yourself a vegetable patch. You don’t need a rolling kitchen garden to grow your own food, just an area of bedding dedicated to edible delights. 

Great small vegetable garden ideas include chillies, runner beans and tomatoes because they all offer high yields in a small space. If you’re really short on square footage, potted herbs can be stacked up on outdoor shelving. 

5. No grass, no problem

small garden ideas with small set of table and chairs, surrounded by planting including lavender and hydrangeas

(Image credit: Brent Darby/Future Publishing Ltd)

Swapping turf for a patio doesn’t mean you need to ditch green for grey. Making your garden patio-first is a low maintenance life-saver, meaning you can focus on bringing a wider array of greenery into the space. 

Here, easily cared-for paving slabs are lifted with raised bedding and climbers weaving across a trellis. 

6. Keep it simple in a small garden

A garden table and chair on gravel in front of a rustic stone wall with a yellow ladder

(Image credit: Future / Spike Powell)

Don’t get too carried away when planning a small garden. A carefully chosen palette of materials and plants is often the most satisfying. 

However, this doesn’t mean you can’t be adventurous and experimental, just be mindful that trying to squeeze everything into a compact space will make it cluttered and decrease usability.

7. Plant smart in tiny spaces

Trachelospermum Jasminoides

(Image credit: Future / Colin Poole)

The choice of planting is essential in smaller gardens. Use plants that won’t overcrowd the space. 

However, you also need to ensure you are not always looking at fencing or boundary walls as somewhere to plant. A really useful plant is the evergreen climber Trachelospermum Jasminoides, commonly known as star jasmine. It will offer year-round interest with an abundance of white flower from mid to late summer.

8. Pot up in a small garden 

A modern house with a small courtyard garden with potted shrubs on.

(Image credit: Future / Paul Raeside)

Using plants in pots provides additional flexibility in smaller gardens. They come into their own in balcony gardens or if looking for courtyard garden ideas where there is no earth to plant beds in. 

You are able to position the pots around your dining terrace and relocate them easily whenever you need to, as well as vary the planting from season to season.

9. Consistency is key

Small garden ideas showing a tiny deck with a small table and colourful outdoor dining chairs.

(Image credit: Future / Emme Lee)

Continuity of approach from the inside out will help make the garden feel part of your home. 

This can range from paint colors and materials to simply using plants whose flower color complements the interior. 

Be mindful that although some paving materials can be used both internally and externally, the stone outside will tend to weather over time.

10. Create interest with a water feature

A garden water feature

(Image credit: Future / Colin Poole)

Introduce focal points, which can include sculpture or water features, specimen trees and even an outdoor fireplace. 

Correct positioning is important. Some will be most successful as the design centrepiece while others are better tucked away within planting so that you aren’t fully aware of them until you enter the garden.

11. Light right 

Trees with festoon lighting hanging between them in a garden

(Image credit: Future / Emma Lee)

Dan Bowyer from Fisher Tomlin & Bowyer explains how clever outdoor lighting ideas can transform small spaces: 'Lighting specific areas and focal points will create interest and provide a backdrop to the house all year round, even at times when you are not in the garden.'

'It is important to not light the whole space, areas of darkness are essential to the success of a garden lighting scheme,' he advises.

12. Create a shady corner

Small garden ideas with a stone patio and steps surrounded by green leafy vegetation and a wooden fence.

(Image credit: Future / Mark Bolton )

Think about a shaded spot as a multisensory experience of sight, sound and scent. 

Trees provide excellent coverage without blocking too much sun, and can be trimmed back to suit your needs.

The best trees for a small garden include bay trees (Laurus nobilis), Euonymus Japanese Maple (Acer Palmatum) and the Magnolia Christmas Berry (Photinia ‘Little Red Robin’).

13. Go underground

An example of small garden ideas with a deck leading to stone steps and featuring a small garden dining area and shaded nook seat.

(Image credit: Future / Darren Chung)

Transform an overlooked or exposed garden space. Sunken gardens make great retreats and are especially useful in urban plots where boundary fences may cast unwanted shade. 

Lowering a terrace by just 45cm makes it easier to create a greater sense of privacy with planting or awnings; if you want to go lower, ask a landscape architect to check the water table level and advise on drainage. In a sloping garden, carve out terraces and create an outdoor room on the lowest level.

14. Instil good housekeeping

A tall and narrow garden shed painting in grey.

(Image credit: Future / Lizzie Orme)

It may not sound the most exciting, but getting on top of tasks such as the cleaning and tidying of pots, sheds and greenhouses is the perfect way to ensure that your small garden is clutter-free. 

Not only will this allow you to make the most of even the smallest of areas but a tidy space can also make a small garden look bigger.

If space allows, why not invest in a potting shed? Take a look at these shed ideas for more advice.

15. Use vertical space in a small garden

A living wall planted with leafy greenery in a small garden.

(Image credit: Future / James Merrell)

If floor space is at a premium, plant vertically instead. One of the most sought after looks this year – living walls are taking planting to a whole new level. 

To create these vertical gardens, plants are rooted into a structure which is then  attached to an interior, exterior or freestanding wall. Systems can range from  something as simple as plant pots hung on a vertical wall, or highly sophisticated  modular, hydroponic panels where all the water and nutrient requirements of the  plants are precision delivered and monitored electronically.

16. Opt for low-level furniture 

A simple patio design with a grey garden seat and a wooden outdoor coffee table.

(Image credit: Future / Jan Baldwin)

It is hugely important to get the scale just right in a compact area. Look out how your furniture pieces relate to each other and the surrounding space. 

A neat garden sofa and armless – or single arm – chairs are good options for a small garden or courtyard where space is limited. 

17. Build an office at the end of your small garden

A garden office in a city backgarden.

(Image credit: Future / Paul Raeside)

What better way is there to start your working day than a relaxed walk to the end of your garden? You don't need to have a large garden to build one of these, as in the picture above, but if you're looking for long garden ideas then this could be a great addition to the bottom of your garden - as it will be a nice distance away from the main house. 

You can hire a builder to create a simple studio, much like the one shown above, for as little as $7,000-$10,000.

Building an extra room with a view of the garden is now a growing trend. With the current vogue for open-plan, multi-purpose family rooms that combine a mix of kitchen, dining and living spaces, garden rooms and orangeries fit the bill perfectly. 

18. Enjoy small-scale topiary

Topiary in garden pots next to a wooden fence.

(Image credit: Future / Mark Bolton)

Often used on a grand and formal scale, try topiary forms in short-on-space areas to dramatic effect. 

In this tiny garden, topiary box has been cut into balls –in close proximity – to create a chess board feel.

How can I get the most out of my small garden?

In smaller or enclosed spaces, it’s important to draw the eye through simple, enticing design.

Many courtyard or urban gardens can be overlooked. Try obscuring any unwelcome views with considered planting that adds some height but not too much depth so as to avoid eating into a compact square footage. 

Long lasting plants such as Verbena Bonariensis add height and can be contained in small areas with flowers lasting from May through to the winter. Often a combination of hard landscaping, such as stone and brick, with bold, architectural planting, works best.

A terrace planted with a pair of large olive trees and a vibrant herb bed for example, will make more impact than a mass of overplanting. If your garden looks out onto a side return, consider painting the wall white to reflect the light and increase a sense of space. 

Another trick is to mix hard materials. Stone paving interspersed with narrow pebbled strips can look effective, as can juxtaposing angles, such as contrasting sleek decking with paved travertine.

Length will draw the eye, so try to site a standout plant, sculpture or small water feature towards the end of your space. Consider incorporating fixed seating, such as a banquette seating running along an external wall, to instantly increase the useable space, making sure the spot receives sunshine.

How do you make a small garden look nice?

Use planting to soften hard features. In smaller spaces, a sculpted, streamlined look can work best, such as stone paved terraces, or other materials, whether brick or paint, that that reference the property, combining inside with outside. But counteracting these hard materials with a mixture of clipped and more whimsical planting will soften the edges and add texture and interest. Make sure you know where the sun rises and sets in your garden so that you can plant accordingly. 

Balconies and roof gardens can benefit from simple planting, too. Prioritise space for sitting or dining and avoid overcrowding with too many varying pot shapes and sizes – aim instead for one or two statement pieces, such as a pair of bay trees or a sumptuous window box of favorite blooms, be they geraniums, hydrangeas, or overflowing campanulas. Finally, invest in some simple but effective lighting for small spaces to enhance appeal and increase the sense of space.

'Small gardens look great with just a few key elements that link the whole space together,' says ,' says Sean Butler, Cube 1994 Ltd. 'This may be through the use of repeating an accent color or a plant. Sometimes I choose a cushion fabric and then repeat its color through the planting. Clipped box can be used as an all year structural plant, while Zantedeschia thrive in city gardens in small amounts of shade and add a lush feel to the garden.'