9 genius tips to make your small garden look bigger

Create the illusion of more space with these simple tricks.

Feeling a little boxed in, even when you’re in the garden? Whether you’ve recently downsized or have been frustrated with your modest patch for a while, we’re here to help you discover how to make a small garden look bigger.  

All gardens, no matter their size, are important. Our plots present us with the opportunity to help save nature, and spending time outside is generally great for our mental and physical health, too (you can get fit with just 30 minutes of gardening). 

Credit: Thorndown Paints

So don’t let a smaller space get you down, because it’s still brimming with potential. We’ve spoken to garden designers, who have let us in on their secrets to opening up a small plot. It’s easier than you might think.

1. Contrast floor and wall textures

Larger paving slabs will help

Credit: Porcelain Superstore

You might still be considering the pros and cons of decking vs patio, but regardless of the floor type you decide on, contrasting materials is a good way to make a small garden look bigger. 

There is also texture and contrast in hard landscaping – natural stone faces or brick are brought out by smooth-sawn paving or velvety timber. 

“One of the biggest mistakes in a small garden is to go for too little contrast,” advises garden designer Marlene Lento. “Make sure that the characteristic you are showcasing is very different in two materials, so that each enhances the other. Where this is most often overlooked is in the size and format of materials, such as bricks set next to stones of similar size, or where too many materials, formats and patterns are used at once.” 

In this design from Porcelain Superstore, the wooden panelling of the garden boundary wall is contrasted smartly against the paving slabs and the neat hedging to the rear. If you have brick boundary walls, your small garden may benefit from a contrasting deck underfoot.

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Using larger paving slabs is a simple trick to make a small garden look bigger. Fewer gaps for grouting between the stones or tiles give the illusion of a wider floor space. 

2. Plant up your boundary walls

Hedging can create a luscious, restful scene

Small garden with hedge boundaries, central plant beds and a small bistro dining setCredit: Marlene Lento Design Studio

Whether it’s a high-walled courtyard garden or low-fenced area, another way to make a small garden look bigger is to plant up the walls. 

“The most important feature of a small garden is its vertical boundary,” says Lento. “It takes up a large part of our field of vision as we look out onto the garden from the inside or, indeed, when we’re in it. 

“To create a verdant feel, consider evergreen climbers or boundary hedging instead of a fence, or hedging clipped tightly in front of a fence.” 

This approach is shown here in Lento’s design, which creates the feel of a secret garden lined with luscious leaves. Because the boundary is blurred by the greenery, you won’t feel so fenced in. 

“Make sure the vista is interesting, restful and green, especially during the winter months,” she adds. 

3. Add a mirror

Reflect the illusion of more green space

selection of three different outdoor garden mirrorsCredit: Cox & Cox

Windows and mirrors can give you a glimpse of magical worlds beyond your borders. Adding a mirror to create space is also a great idea if you have a long and narrow garden. But they can work wonders in a small one too. 

“If you have an attractive view beyond your garden, consider creating a window in your boundary,” says Lento. “Alternatively, you can create the impression of a window by strategically placing a garden mirror and make sure that it reflects planting from the most attractive viewing angle.” 

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4. Plant evergreens

Year-round colour to entertain the eyes

Mixed border planting in a small garden with evergreensCredit: Marlene Lento Design Studio

Knowing how to make a small garden look bigger is all about engineering what you allow the eyes to see. Give your glance a good old excursion around the space with evergreen planting that stays interesting all year long. After all, too many deciduous, spring-summer flowering plants will leave your modest plot looking rather sorry for itself in winter. 

“Choose evergreens and pay attention to the texture of the foliage,” says Lento. “If you ditch the idea of having a lawn, you will be left with generous areas for planting and shrubs that add interest and dimension to your courtyard garden.” 

Lento adds that though it may feel counterintuitive, “If the eye can’t see everything in the garden at once, this creates interest and makes the garden feel larger than it is. So don’t be afraid to create layers with planting.” 

Marlene Lento’s plant recommendations for small gardens:

These plants offer year-round texture and fragrance. 

  • Choisya (also known as Mexican orange blossom) 
  • Euphorbia (also known as ‘spurge’) 
  • Phormium (also known as New Zealand flax) 
  • Pittosporum 
  • Rosemary 
  • Sage 

5. Illuminate features with lighting

Make garden seating pop

small garden with green egg barbecue, decking, wooden storage and garden seatingCredit: Industville / Joanna Kossak (photo) / Chris Harrington (design)

Some of the simplest special effects – as seen in TV shows and even make-up tutorials – are merely a trick of the light. The same approach can be applied to your small gardens. 

“Pick a feature as a main focal point,” suggests Lento. “This could be a well-formed tree, a sculpture or a water feature. Use light to bring out the shape of the object.

Experiment with uplighting, downlighting and how many lights you need to create the most dramatic effect. Textures are best ‘grazed’, but remember ‘grazing lights’ will show up unintended irregularities in smooth textures as well. Use baffles where needed to reduce glare.” 

This approach works well here, with the garden seating area gently underlit, and the same hued lighting is used on the fence, creating a cohesive design that highlights certain features – drawing the eye around the space. 

Finally, painting the shed in the same shade as the fence allows it to merge into the background, again making the garden feel bigger and less ‘full’ and cluttered.

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6. Add height with a pergola

Expand the sense of space upwards

Small garden with wood fired pizza oven, dining table and pergola overheadCredit: Garden Trading

Even a small garden can have a stylish outdoor kitchen area, and no alfresco feast would be complete without a dining table. If you’re concerned it may make your plot feel cramped, don’t be. Popping a pergola above it can create a sense of height and expand the space upwards. 

“Create volume and places of sanctuary within the space,” says James Scott, managing director and principal designer of The Garden Company. “Trees and structures (e.g. pergolas, gazebos, seating) can add height, expanding the perception of space and create defined areas for different uses. Consider placing the main seating area away from the house a little, so that it can be surrounded by planting. This will create a short ‘journey’ to the seating and feel more haven-like once seated.” 

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7. Avoid narrow flower borders

“Keep the eye in the garden”

White and blue natural english cottage garden view with curvy pathway. Wooden archway with clematis, nepeta (catnip, catmint), stachys byzantina (lamb ears) and hydrangeas blooming in summerCredit: Shutterstock / Maria Evseyeva

You might be tempted to make a small garden look bigger by keeping as much space in the centre of your plot free as possible. But this might end up having the opposite effect. 

“Avoid narrow borders around the edges,” says Scott. “Pushing planting to the boundaries of the garden will accentuate the lack of space, instead of ‘keeping the eye’ in the garden. Deeper borders allow for more abundant planting, with layering to add more visual interest.” 

Lento agrees that, if space permits, small garden owners should, “undulate the border to create deep pockets of planting and blur the boundary”. 

This is a great idea if you’re keen to create a cottage garden aesthetic, and don’t worry if you’d like minimum upkeep. We’ve created a guide to the best low-maintenance border plants that will provide bounteous blooms without the effort.  

8. Create a point of focus

A summerhouse, bench or water feature will add interest

Credit: Thorndown Paints

Who says that a small garden can’t have big aspirations? Impressive features aren’t the preserve of sprawling spaces, and adding a striking focus will make you forget all about the size of your plot. 

“Sculptures, vases, water features, benches – even a hammock – all add depth and interest to a small space,” says Scott. “In a small garden, a sculpture may change the perception of the space available by framing a view out to surrounding countryside.” 

If you don’t have a view, though, then create your own. We love this idea of a serene summerhouse, which has created a relaxing, all-weather seating area in a small garden that has minimal planting to rely on to create interest.  It’s been painted with Thorndown’s Bullrush Green to contrast against the natural grain of the fence and planter wood.

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9. Arrange your garden at an angle

Create the illusion of movement and flow

Credit: Shutterstock / Joanne Dale

“A trick for creating the illusion of more space is to arrange the garden at a diagonal to the rear of the house, or even just lay materials at an angle,” explains Lento. 

This way to make a small garden look bigger is often used by professional garden designers. The British Academy of Garden Design explains why this method works on its website.

“A garden laid on diagonal makes for dynamic vistas in all directions, creating perspective and depth,” the organisation says. “The diagonal is the longest dimension in a garden layout, and these lines produce effects of dynamic movement, whereas rectilinear ones tend to be calmer and more static.” 

This garden design uses several of our hacks to make a small garden look bigger. Some of the boundaries have plants climbing up them; the plant borders are of differing depths (aided by the diagonal layout) and there are plenty of evergreen plants to provide year-round foliage. Your eye is drawn around the garden, led by the different angles, and it appears to be a much bigger space than its true footprint would reveal.  

Rosanna Spence

Written by Rosanna Spence she/her

Updated:

Rosanna Spence has been a journalist for nearly 10 years, reporting on a huge array of topics – from microwaves to cocktails, sustainable buildings, the Caribbean islands and beyond. She’s interviewed chefs at the helm of Michelin-starred restaurants and chatted to countless CEOs about their businesses, as well as created travel guides for experienced travellers seeking life-changing adventures. Throughout her career, she has created content for Business Traveller, i-escape.com, Pub & Bar, BRITA, Dine Out and many more leading titles and brands.

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