Designing A Small Garden

Make grand plans for a little plot to get a lush garden in a compact area

Great gardens really can come in small sizes, as having only limited outdoor space doesn’t mean you have to scale back your plantings or your imagination.

There are lots of ways to give a postage-stamp size yard the look of a thriving garden featuring colourful flowers and lush foliage. All it takes is good planning. 

Think outside the square to have a garden almost anywhere, including along the side passage of a house or even on a concrete patio. 

Design the garden

For a small garden to be able to incorporate flowers, trees, edibles, decorative features and seating you need to make the most of the available space, and design with the seasons in mind.

The key to creating a lush landscape is to make every millimetre count using layered plantings and strategically placed pots. 

PLAN THE LANDSCAPE in layers, looking at the entire space from ground to sky and progressively populating it with groundcovers, perennials and annuals, then shrubs, climbers and small trees.

DOUBLE UP PLANTINGS to create the feeling of a larger, fuller garden. Mix bulbs with perennials and annuals with shrubs.

SHOWCASE THE SEASONS by choosing plants so there’s always something in bloom or leaf. The idea is to have colour in every season.

TIP Use vertical surfaces like fences and walls, or install a trellis to maximise growing space. 

Use potted plants

Containers and pots can be used to great effect in a small space and provide flexibility, especially if you only have a hard-surface area like a patio or courtyard to work with.

On a deck, use plant stands with castors to give pots mobility, moving them to catch the sun or to make room for entertaining.

Use hanging baskets to grow flowers, attaching them to external walls, pergola posts and timber fences.

In the garden, planters or raised beds can be used as mini vegetable patches, while terracotta urns are great for feature trees. 

Container-grown plants can’t get water and nutrients from the soil, so good drainage is essential. Use a good-quality potting mix that contains a slow-release fertiliser. 

For the best results, use a medium formulated for the species being grown. You can buy potting mix for cacti and succulents, roses, vegetables and herbs, or citrus and fruit.

Grow fruit and vegetables

A small garden can be a feast for the table and the senses as it’s easy to incorporate vegies into flower beds. 

Tuck tomatoes among sun-loving blooms, train sweet peas and beans up a trellis or even use lettuce as an attractive leafy border.

Vegies and herbs do well in pots as it’s easy to position them in the best location for the crop, such as tomatoes in full sun and lettuce in part shade.

This versatility applies to the growing season too. Start herbs on a sunny windowsill in spring then move them outside when the weather warms up, no transplanting needed. 

You may even prolong the harvest by bringing edibles indoors on cool nights once autumn hits.

TIP Grow citrus trees in large pots to double as a decorative feature

Get the look 

The garden featured in the main image blends formal and cottage style to great effect in an 8 x 9m area.

For a similar look in your patch, incorporate these design elements when planning the landscape.

LAY A GRAVEL PATH around a central bed, creating a walkway and providing access to all corners of the garden.

DEFINE THE BEDS with edging, using stone or concrete with curved sides to complement the gravel surface.

ADD OUTDOOR SEATING at one end, positioned to make the most of the outlook and also to provide
a destination in the garden.

COVER A WALL with a trellis and climbers, adding shrubs in front to create the illusion of depth and blur the boundaries of the space.  

POSITION AN ORNAMENT in the central bed, such as a sculpture on a pedestal, to act as a focal point and surround it with densely planted flowers, shrubs and herbs.

Diagram outlining where to place flowers in a small garden, Handyman Magazine, Gardening, DIY,
This diagram outlines where different plants are situated in the garden featured in the main image of this article 

Easy watering 

To efficiently water a small garden that is densely planted with a variety of different species, install a drip-irrigation system, running it through garden beds and connecting it to planters.

Soaker hoses, flexible poly pipe, joiners and inline taps are inexpensive to buy and easy to set up. Using an automatic timer also takes the guesswork and routine out of watering.
 

Planting small trees

Even in tight spaces it’s important to plant trees or evergreens to bring a sense of scale and structure to the landscape. There are many varieties of dwarf trees that are ideal for small gardens. 

For an edible feature plant, add a lemon or olive tree in a tub or planter. Both are perfectly suited to growing in containers, offering foliage as well as fruit.

Another idea is to plant trees that grow on a smaller scale but are large enough to provide beauty such as weeping Japanese maples or magnolias that only reach a few metres tall like the Magnolia stellata ‘Rosea’. 

TIP When choosing a tree, check the mature size to prevent crowding the yard or creating heavy shade.

Lemon tree, Handyman Magazine, gardening,
Meyer lemon trees are compact and crop well from an early age. Image: Getty Images

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