How to Get Creative with your Small Garden Design - Tips from an Expert

24th June 2024

Discover how to make a big impact in your small garden with our smart design tips!

A small outdoor space is a treasure. Whether a tiny front garden, petite patio, small courtyard, or restricted balcony, you can create a unique garden experience not easily replicated in large backyards or sweeping landscapes.

While it might seem easier to design a small space, it's actually more complicated. Small spaces have more challenges and require more creativity.

At City Botanics, we push the boundaries of what can functionally be achieved in small spaces without compromising the form of a design. We don't give in to simple solutions like a lawn bordered with rectangle garden beds. We not only get excited by the challenges that small spaces provide, but we thrive on executing them!

How do I make my small garden look bigger?

This is undoubtedly a big question! And one that often occupies the minds of our clients.

From getting creative with furniture and features, to enhancing depth and perspective, there are some innovative design tricks you can use to maximize your garden’s potential and achieve the functionality of a big garden in a small space.

But first things first... Less is more.

Before we move on to our tried-and-tested garden design methods, defining your garden lifestyle is essential. What will you be doing in your garden? Will you have friends and family with you? What time of day will you be out there?

By building a clear picture of how you'll be using your garden, you can start to create a list of features and elements that you might like to include.

Then make a list of priorities! Otherwise, you risk trying to recreate a large garden in miniature by filling it with scaled-down versions of every garden design element available.

Selecting only the elements you need will result in a garden that suits your lifestyle and feels more spacious. Using a garden planning guide is a great way to help you define your lifestyle, wishes and priorities. We have one specially designed for our clients to assist them with the planning process.

Make your features multitask.

Including multifunctional elements, furnishings, or even plants is an excellent way of ticking off your requirements list without compromising on space.

Could your steps or garden beds serve as extra seating for your guests? Could your seating double as storage? Perhaps your edible plants could double as ornamentals, mixing nicely into your plantscapes, or your garden shed could double as a green wall. As an example, in the image below, a productive citrus tree also doubles as the gardens feature tree.

Fortunately, there are lots of great creative solutions available, and a specialised garden designer will be able to help you find suitable options.

This lemon tree also doubles as the gardens feature tree.

The earth isn't flat and your garden needn't be either.

While we might start a design by accurately measuring the area, it's equally important to remember that a backyard can be much more than just the ground underfoot! Using surfaces other than the ground you walk on is an excellent method of creating a sense of space.

The easiest way to do this is to go vertical; on walls, fences, and any other upright structure.

Consider treating your fence like a blank wall in your house and embellishing it with plants or accessories. Plant beautiful climbers that creep messily over the fence or create a living wall that's more confined and contemporary. Hang baskets from a pergola roof or create a succulent frame on the wall.

Wall planters are a great way to embellish empty fence space.

Mirror, mirror on the wall, which is the fairest garden of them all?

Another interior design trick known to small garden enthusiasts is incorporating a well-placed mirror to make the garden appear more significant.

You can choose a more traditional placement, above or near a seating area, or get adventurous and try something more unexpected: high on a fence, leaned lower on a wall, or nestled among the foliage.

Consider the placement carefully; you don't want to be looking at a blank wall or inside the house. Likewise, if the lighting is too intense, you might find yourself dazzled!

Play hide and seek.

You can add a sense of discovery and encourage leisurely strolls by tucking in a few surprises!

Pots and containers need not be limited to the patio or stairway; consider scattering them throughout the landscape. Adding containers, sculptures, or other decorative items in untraditional spaces such as planting beds creates an exciting contrast in textures and challenges our ideas of what's possible.

Why not get creative with what you use, have a sense of humor, or choose items that reflect your hobbies or travels. A piece of driftwood collected from the West Coast or a sculpture bought while on holiday. The addition of personal touches to a garden makes it more magical.

Zone out.

Taking on the boring rectangle, common in small and medium-sized yards, requires a design that minimizes the space's boxiness. We can break the garden into different zones, creating the illusion of multiple destinations and a larger space.

Organising the garden on a diagonal and incorporating pathways are excellent ways of creating zones. The tilted axis allows our eyes to focus on different points, interrupting the strong rectangular shapes that follow the lines of the house.

A simple solution is to install planter troughs on decks or patios to create zone boundaries. Planting see-through greenery like grasses or perennials or hedging plants that don’t have dense foliage creates a barrier to your line of sight but shows just enough of the garden beyond to create depth of perspective.

Level changes are also a great way to separate the garden into zones and create depth and perspective. The courtyard above has been cleverly designed and incorporates many of the tricks we have covered, including vertical planting, zones, and levels. The final result is a tiny garden with maximum impact.

Small Auckland Backyard
Multiple zones create interest and a sense of depth.

Excellent small garden design takes thought and planning, but with some helpful tricks, the end result is greater than the sum of its parts!

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