Small Garden Design Ideas
The smaller your space, the more important the choices you make. Good design, colour, use of vertical space and other design elements can make a huge difference. When you make wise choices with your small garden design, you improve your garden’s productivity, visual appeal and functionality.
With a diploma in Interior Design and Permaculture, I’ve learned how to design a space efficiently for abundance, beauty, character and practicality. I help my clients maximise their garden spaces and ‘design out’ problems. If you need some inspiration for your place, dig into these tips!
We are all unique, with different needs and visions of what our ideal garden looks like. What a “small” garden means to one person, may be a large space to another! Our perspective of space is often relative to our previous experiences.
If you have lived on an acre and move to a quarter acre block, you may think you now only have a ‘small’ garden to maintain! If you have only had an indoor plant but now have a courtyard, your new garden is full of possibilities.
“In his garden every man may be his own artist without apology or explanation. Each within his green enclosure is a creator, and no two shall reach the same conclusion; nor shall we, any more than other creative workers, be ever wholly satisfied with our accomplishment. Ever a season ahead of us floats the vision of perfection and herein lies its perennial charm.” – Louise Beebe Wilder
5 Small Garden Design Tips
1. Keep it Simple: If you’re not sure where to start with your space, focus on one small area first. Make a list of the most important ways you need that space to work. A patio may need to provide you with a nice view, privacy, easy access to edible and ornamental pots, and a relaxing place to sit.
2. Choose a Theme: Start with your favourite foods or a colour that appeals to you. For example, a culinary or medicinal herb garden; stir fry garden; pest-repellent pots; or miniature fruit trees. For a colour theme, if you love red, choose plants with flowers, fruit or foliage in different shades of red. Or put your favourite plants into red pots.
3. Start with Container Gardens: Choose a suitable pot or planter if you have limited space, or need confidence as a beginner gardener. You can repurpose materials as containers, get crafty with DIY or buy new. Group a few together as a feature.
4. Use Vertical Space Wisely: Create an attractive design feature while maximising your vertical space. Some structures use both vertical and horizontal growing space. These include herb spirals, trellises, tepees, fences, ladders, espaliered trees and vines, and arbors. These structures increase your growing space and enhance your garden visually.
5. Garden Art: Reflect your personality and add character with garden art. If you have children let them create their own stepping stones; plant labels; a planter box; or paint a garden sign. Create a garden feature as a focal point by drawing the eye to a central position.
Perhaps you have a collection of rustic tools, musical chimes, a bird bath or feeder? Maybe pottery items you no longer use indoors but could add character outdoors? Take another look around your home and think about what items could have a new life in your garden.
Charming touches help you enjoy your garden more and decorative ornaments can help tell your story visually.
Part of the enjoyment of creating a special garden is adding to it over time. Search around to find things you like. You can often find treasures at opportunity shops, garage sales, online and Freecycle.org.
Small Garden Ideas . . . what you can grow
What can you grow in a small space? Here are a few ideas.
1. Tiny Indoor Gardens: It really doesn’t get any simpler than adding some fresh sprouts into your diet. You don’t even have to leave the kitchen bench or use soil! Soak seeds in water and rinse them daily. You will be sprouting green ‘plant babies’ in just a few days! Or try growing microgreens. These small but mighty ‘toddlers’ of the plant world are an even easier ‘indoor garden’. Both offer you delicious rewards.
Indoor plants of any kind will also help to improve your indoor air quality. How? Research shows pot plants help remove some of the VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and toxic fumes from appliances, furniture, flooring and building materials. Studies have also found indoor plants can dramatically improve your health and wellbeing by reducing stress.
2. Mushroom Kits: You don’t have to leave the house if you grow mushrooms with a kit. You can enjoy several harvests of fungicide-free mushrooms in a humid environment indoors. It’s incredibly exciting cutting your first flush of home grown mushies. They require a little patience but are so worth the wait!
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3. Herb Gardens: A pot of fragrant culinary herbs for the kitchen will provide you with tasty garnishes, herb teas and fresh ingredients for meals.
- Many herbs are multi-functional. They can be used to add flavour to meals, have medicinal value, provide attractive flowers (which in turn attract beneficial insects and pollinators) and can be brewed for herb teas.
- Plant chives and parsley as an edible ‘ornamental’ border around a small garden bed.
- Aloe Vera is a well regarded medicinal herb that is attractive in form and shape. It makes a beautiful feature plant and can be used to soothe skin ailments.
4. Flowers: Add so many benefits to any garden space. Flowers that perform multiple functions are a great choice. Flowers add beauty, colour, fragrance, attract bees, look great in a vase and soften hard landscaping features. Start with a punnet of annuals in a pot, a bulb or sprinkle some seeds. Some flowers even grow well indoors.
If you are buying flowering plants, why not coordinate species that have a similar colour? Blue and white is a classic combination that always looks sensational. With a little extra thought to plant selection, you can have flowering colour all year round.
Creative Design in Pots and Garden Beds
- Try experimenting with a hanging basket to save space and add colour at eye level.
- Recycle old containers and find new ways to reuse them in the garden. Think about the functionality of an object and how it can be utilised in a new way. There are many examples on this website to help inspire you.
- Recycle centres, council clean up days and garage sales are all great places to find old containers to re-purpose.
- When an old wheelbarrow rusts out or gets a few holes, rather than ending up in landfill, re-use it as an edible planter box. It adds loads of character and can still provide functionality as a mobile garden. Just wheel it to where the sun is!
- Almost anything can, with a little imagination be turned into a place to grow something in your own backyard.
- Choose containers with good drainage and made from materials that won’t break down too quickly. You will find lots of ideas and tips in Container Gardening.
- Raised no-dig garden beds not only save your back, but are practical, low cost and attractive. No dig beds are highly productive growing spaces and have many advantages.
Raised beds come in different shapes, materials and sizes.
Small Garden Design – An interesting history . . .
- Historically, gardening in small spaces goes way back to the Egyptians. These ancient gardeners used earthenware pots to highlight symmetry within a garden design, define and separate garden spaces and grow rare plants.
- The Romans embraced container gardening with great passion. They developed many new techniques for making terracotta pots. They invented greenhouses, topiary (pruning plants into shapes) and also loved their garden art.
- Many of the techniques used in small gardens today are borrowed from ideas the Romans developed. They painted courtyard walls with trompe-l’oeil trees and flowers to make the space look larger. They filled these courtyards with fountains, statues, pottery urns, artifacts and vases. They also grew a wide range of culinary, fragrant and medicinal plants. All ideas to inspire you!
Well, I hope these small garden design ideas have inspired you to get started with your next project!
Want more Design Ideas? Discover more tips: Ten Tips for Creating Beautiful Gardens, Clever Design Ideas, Micro Gardening and Container Ideas. For children’s garden design ideas, get some inspiration in Themes for Kids’ Gardens or check out some photos of creative containers to grow your garden in. Dig in.
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© Copyright Anne Gibson, The Micro Gardener 2016. https://themicrogardener.com. All rights reserved.