No matter how small, think of your garden as an extension of your home. Ask yourself: What can be removed to make it less complicated? Once you settle on an overall theme, you can build the garden in stages. Select some tips from this list, implement them and then keep going. Soon you’ll have a small garden that’s beautiful and functional.
TRICK THE EYE
Make your fence disappear. Since they are more apparent in a small garden, painting fences and gates a dark color helps them blend into the background, while still appearing refined.
Reflect the sky and surroundings. Use a dark plaster color on your pool or water feature to increase the water’s reflectiveness. During the day it will reflect the clouds; at night it will reflect the moonlight. Mirrors or other reflective surfaces can also help expand your garden visually.
Draw the eye up and out of the garden. When planting along the perimeter of your garden, layer smaller plants in front and taller plants in back. Larger plants also help screen neighbors or other distracting features outside your garden.
Reveal a view with a see-through window. Whether framing a view within or beyond your garden, a cut out in a wall or fence will help it feel more spacious. Square or circular shapes are equally interesting and you can incorporate a salvaged window frame to give the feature more character. If you are concerned with privacy or safety, install lattice or metalwork in the opening.
Organize the garden around major architectural features. A beautiful window on your home, a weathered brick wall—in a small garden these become instant focal points.
Stick to a simple paving palette. A garden will look more cohesive if the patio, walkways, steps, and pool coping are all one material.
Repeat key shapes. Use boxwood spheres planted throughout the garden to tie spaces together or create a sense of order with a series of lattice squares mounted to a wall.
Use your side yard. Often overlooked, a side yard can be transformed into an outdoor room with a fire pit, seating area, and plantings.
Build a deck to make use of a slope. It can add hundreds of square feet to your outdoor living space—enough for a fire pit, lounge seating, and entertaining space.
Invite the birds and the bees. Don’t rule out a habitat garden in a small space. A pond with a boardwalk for watching birds, bees, and frogs can fit in a 1,250-square foot garden rather easily!
Make use of your walls. If you’re extra short on space, a vertical garden with succulents or herbs can be attractive and productive. If you want to grow fruit, you can train apples, pears, plums and other hardy fruit trees to grow along a wall or fence with a technique called espalier.
Size features right. Think small, but don’t omit features you want. A plunge pool can be just as enjoyable as a lap pool.
Divide and conquer. Consider splitting your space into distinct garden rooms each with a primary purpose —cooking, playing, swimming, relaxing, eating. This creates destinations throughout the garden. Each space feels like a retreat.
Think multi-use. A concrete fire feature can also be a planter, a water-collection tank, and a seat wall.
Change the grade. A recessed patio or raised planting bed adds interest to a small garden, making it feel more dynamic.
PLAY WITH PLANTS
Refine your plant list. In small gardens everything is seen at once, so too much variety is overwhelming. When you find a plant you like, plant more than one or two — use 6, or 8, or even 10. Arrange groupings of the same plants in different areas of the garden.
Choose interesting plant varieties. Small spaces bring you closer to the plants, so growing types with year-round interest is vital. To demonstrate, trees with eye-catching trunks can function as living sculptures within your garden.
Soften hard lines with sprawling plants that tumble over the edges of paving. Small gardens need balance, and this helps tremendously.
Bring plantings right up to your windows. From inside, small gardens are like a landscape painting—there’s nothing to interfere with the views. Use high contrast plantings that mix fine textures with bold foliage.