How to Plan a Small Garden – Follow These Rules

Gardening experts share the top tips they always follow when designing a compact plot


Full article first published on Houzz
Amanda Pollard, Houzz Contributor

If your garden’s on the small side, you might be wondering where to start when it comes to designing the space. Here, five professional garden designers reveal their best nuggets of advice to help you decide how to plan a small garden layout and create your own outdoor haven.

Professional advice from: Barbara Samitier of Barbara Samitier Gardens; James Hutchison of James Hutchison Garden Design; Rory Andrews of Rory Andrews Landscape Design; Emma Lynne of The London Gardener; Fiona Green of Green Tree Garden Design

Go large

You might be wary of adding anything big to your small outdoor space, but our experts disagree. “Don’t go small,” enthuses Barbara Samitier. “Instead, you must be bold. A lot of people think that if the space is small, they need to put small things in it. But it’s the opposite – don’t be afraid to go big! Use large floor tiles, or a giant pot, and keep the planting simple but bold.”

Rory Andrews adds, “Avoid smaller proportions, such as narrow paths, small lawns and terraces, and small features and planting. Less is more and big is better. Larger proportions will make the garden feel larger.”

Choose plants wisely

When planning a small garden, Fiona Green recommends you apply the ‘go large’ rule to your planting, too. “Buy good-sized plants. Too often, people think that, as they have a small garden, they should buy smaller plants. Weirdly, larger plants can make a smaller area feel more spacious,” she says. 

Emma Lynne advises, “Make sure you research the eventual size and spread of plants you intend using.” She also recommends evergreens when planning a small garden design. “Evergreen planting is always useful in a smaller garden, as there’s nowhere to hide and the garden is visible all year round.”

Plant a tree

Think you don’t have space for a tree? Think again, says Barbara. “Even the smallest outdoor space, even the most minimalist garden, needs a tree,” she says. “It will bring scale, give a sense of seasons, introduce dappled light and movement, and create a focal point.”

Rory agrees. “Although it may seem counterintuitive, getting height into small gardens is essential,” he says. “The use of small trees, such as crab apples, amelanchier, or pollarded and topiarised trees, can help to make the garden feel bigger and more balanced. Without these, the space can feel flat and bare.”

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Say yes to straight lines

It’s best to plan a straight-edged layout in your small garden, advises Fiona. “Generally, straight lines and angular shapes work well in a smaller space, as it can be hard to create pleasing curves if the area’s too tight. Having said that, there are many examples of beautiful small garden designs using curves.

“Small gardens can be harder to design than larger ones,” she adds, “as it’s essential all the details have been carefully thought through before any work commences – any mistakes are much easier to spot!”

Keep it simple

It’s tempting to try to squeeze as much as possible into your garden, but this can be a mistake in a compact area. “Prioritise what you want to use the garden for and don’t try to fit too much into a small space or it will look cluttered,” James Hutchison says.

Emma recommends deciding what you want from your garden first. “Will you be eating in it, or do you require storage?” she says. “Are you hoping for a place to sit and relax, or is an area where children can play safely required? Do you need to block a view or give your garden privacy?

“Avoid trying to add fussy, unnecessary details and cramming too much into the space,” she adds. “For example, ask yourself if you really need a dining table and chairs as well as a lounge space, given that it’s likely the kitchen will flow out into the garden and there will probably be a dining table there. Good design needs to have space around it for it to function well and look good.”

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Avoid too many materials

When planning a small garden our experts also encourage simplicity with the materials you choose. “Don’t use too many materials, as this will make the space look smaller,” James cautions.

Fiona agrees. “It’s important to avoid using too many different materials, as this can make the garden seem busy and cluttered. A maximum of three materials works well, such as sandstone paving, brick and wood, or limestone paving, limestone setts and gravel.”

Plan the boundaries

One of Fiona’s top tips is to pay attention to the boundaries. “These are critical,” she says “as a well-thought-through boundary solution can make a garden seem larger and more spacious. Evergreen climbers or pleached trees are a great way of covering boundary fences and screening in an elegant and attractive manner.

“Painting a fence or screen black or a dark charcoal grey before you plant helps to make the boundary recede, again giving a feeling of space.”

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