Small garden ideas that will make a modest plot blooming lovely

Why should a cosy garden restrict your wildest design dreams?

In his Channel 4 series Amazing Spaces George Clarke has shown us time and again that tiny spaces can make wonderful homes. Each design cleverly maximises every inch of space without sacrificing that indefinable feeling of home. The same approach can transform a small garden. It’ll reveal space you never knew you had, creating an outdoor ‘room’ where you can entertain, grow veg, cook, or just sit back and enjoy nature.  

Apparently, the average UK garden size is 188 sq m (2023 sq ft), according to data from the UK census 2021. But even that may sound generous to those who have downsized. When it comes to giving our outside space a little love, many of us will be looking for small garden ideas instead.

small garden full of flowers with dining table and chairsCredit: Shutterstock / symbiot

The wonderful thing about small gardens – front or back – is that they are manageable. The focus on design, from storage to planting, is about quality over volume. And don’t forget that small front gardens can also boost your home’s kerb appeal if you’re thinking of selling. 

With a few design hacks, you can prove that when it comes to gardens, size certainly doesn’t matter, and you can still think big creatively. 

1. Layer up different flooring

Don’t be afraid to vary your materials

small garden with white in built barbecue, raised seating area and white planter with benchCredit: Marlene Lento Design Studio

You may worry that using lots of different materials could make a small garden feel busy. But done right, it’s an effective way to zone the space, making each area organised and purposeful. 

This small garden idea from Marlene Lento uses four flooring materials. She urges gardeners not to be afraid to create layers: “It may be counterintuitive, but it helps if the eye can’t see everything in the garden at once. This creates interest and actually makes the garden feel larger than it is.” 

Lento subtly uses different flooring to define the different sections of this small garden. The raised seating section has wooden decking surrounded by red bricks. The same red bricks form the steps up to the deck. The paving slabs, which are laid over turf instead of cement grouting, draw the eye towards the compact outdoor kitchen. Finally, the whole layered garden is framed with gravel. Note that even more space is saved by incorporating bench seating into a planter.  

Three tricks to create space in a small garden from designer Marlene Lento: 

  • Arrange the garden at a diagonal to the rear of the house – this can help the garden’s boundary feel further away 
  • Undulate border planting to create deep pockets, this will also blur the garden’s boundary 
  • Bold, mass planting can be very effective in smaller spaces. Stick to 85% evergreen planting and throw in workhorse plants such as Geranium ‘Rozanne’ to give you colour from May to November. 
Buy Geranium ‘Rozanne’ at Waitrose from £8.99

2. Build small plant beds with bug hotels

Encourage the tiniest creatures to your small garden

Big hotel sat on raised bed full of flowersCredit: National Trust
Buy National Trust Foraged Insect House for £18

With native bird and insect numbers in decline, it’s essential that any small garden idea can accommodate visiting wildlife.

Simple additions, such as a bug hotel, can encourage more pollinating insects to make your small garden their home. This will mean they don’t just stop by for a quick meal of nectar. 

This design uses raised beds full of flowering plants to help attract these insects the first place. Raised beds can also be easier to maintain in a small garden, as they can keep plants more contained and better organised.  

3. Conceal your corners

They’re a good hiding place for unsightly storage

Small white garden with raised planters in each cornerCredit: Anna Helps Garden Design

Nearly every garden has at least one purely practical element to itbe it your bins or a compost heap. And most gardens will also have a dark, awkward corner that’s inhospitable to plants. So why not make the latter home to your recycling bins or stable of family bikes?

This small garden idea from Anna Helps Garden Design hides a storage unit behind diagonal planters and screens.  

Though both far corners of the garden have been brought closer to the rear of the house, they are softened with green foliage. Creeping plants also adorn the panels, and the layers of planting elongate our line of vision.  

Having the planters sitting snugly in the corner with a diagonal frontage is a great use of space. Each section has plenty of room for a variety of plants but keeps as much floor space available as possible. 

4. Make relaxation a focus

Hang up a hammock

white and white striped hammock hanging in a small gardenCredit: Wayfair

A small garden’s focal point doesn’t have to be a plant or other natural feature.  

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

A hammock, meanwhile, can create a space to lounge in your small garden where a full-on sunbed might not be an option. It keeps the seating off the floor, creating the illusion of space. Though check how your chosen hammock is suspended, as a tree or sturdy structure might be necessary.

Not only does a hammock leave floor space untouched, it also makes the area more spacious and easier to manage. Just imagine how quickly you could sweep away any debris to spruce it up in an instant. 

Buy the VonHaus Hammock from Wayfair for £26.99

5. Add a compact garden room

Build a hobby room or office space

Glass garden office built in a small garden with table and chairsCredit: Green Retreats

Garden rooms aren’t just reserved for sprawling outside spaces. Whether you’re still logging on for work, or want a space to paint or make music, an external garden room can transform your garden (and quality of life at home)

With a clever, compact design you can create a new home office or hobby space within the most modest of gardens. Make sure you consult with an architect or official supplier to ensure you apply for the right planning permissions. Often, these garden rooms can be designed to be very energy efficient too.  

This small garden room only takes up half of the outside space, leaving plenty of opportunities for plants and a seating area.  

Visit Green Retreats for more information on the TGO1 room

6. Let your flowers grow wild

Embrace seasonal abundance

Flower borders of a small garden with dining tableCredit: The Garden Company

A small garden can become full of birds, bees and butterflies with some careful planning that prioritises abundance. Even small border planting schemes can present a huge opportunity to attract pollinating insects and birds if you design them to make the most of the seasons 

“Embrace the change in the seasons,” says James Scott, managing director of The Garden Company. “Leave seed heads for the birds. Cut back herbaceous plants late and enjoy the emergent growth in the spring. Add bulbs to increase early colour.” 

This design (by Scott, built by The Garden Company) for a wide, short plot sees the contemporary garden table and seating area framed by the timeless flower scheme that gently spills over onto the paving. Some great plants that add a pop of colour include all types of lavender, Verbena bonariensis ‘Purple Top’ and Ribes sanguineum ‘Pulborough Scarlet’. 

7. Make a micro herb garden

Vertical planting saves space

vertical wooden herb planter in a gardenCredit: Dobbies Garden Centres

Vertical gardening is the ultimate space saver. But you don’t have to go all out and build a vertical garden wall with drainage and all the rest to achieve it.  

With this freestanding vertical planter, small garden owners can still enjoy foraging for dinner ingredients from a herb garden that has the tiniest footprint. Plus, there’s no need to worry about drilling anything into the wall. This is great news for people who would rather swerve another DIY job.

Buy the Tall Vertical Herb Stand from Dobbies for £126.99

8. Clear a view through the garden

Draw the eye to the furthest point

Garden with central gravel path leading to tree and a benchCredit: Doug Holloway Garden & Landscape Design

This design from Doug Holloway contrasts organised sectional plant schemes with a subtle focal point in the form of a slender tree.

The central pathway draws our eyes down towards the back end of the garden, so the wide planters avoid feeling oppressive. 

A key small garden idea is to create a journey through its features. This is commonplace in a long, narrow backyard but that same illusion of length can be achieved in a shorter plan too, as Holloway has shown. Plus, we love the addition of the inviting seating area for your eyes to land on. This means the garden can be enjoyed from both angles, with a view back to the house. 

9. Use the space overhead

Reach new heights by growing up above you

Garden pergola surrounded by plants decorated with fairy lights over a tableCredit: Lights4fun Ltd

Why restrict yourself to planting on the ground and around your borders? Height can be added with various wooden structures, and these can then be planted up too. Scott says this creates places of sanctuary within a small garden.  

“Use trees and structures such as pergolas and gazebos to add height, expand the perception of space and create defined areas for different uses,” he says. “Consider placing the main seating area away from the house, so that it can be surrounded by planting. You can create a short ‘journey’ to the seating and make it feel more haven-like.” 

Make sure any structure you choose isn’t too tall. A pergola within 2m (6ft 7in) of a boundary mustn’t be taller than 2.5m (8ft 2in), for example, according to PergolasUK. Always check that a structure you’re erecting in your small garden doesn’t need planning permission.

Visit Lights4fun for ideas on lighting your pergola

Embrace the challenge of a small garden redesign  

Don’t underestimate the impact a small garden idea can have on your wellbeing. Redesigning your modest plot can create space to relax in on your own or with others. Your creative vision might even make your house easier to sell – and it’ll be worth the hard work. 

“Designing a small garden can present many challenges,” says Scott. “They are often an awkward shape, shady or overlooked, and can be tricky to access. A well thought-out garden design can positively transform the way a client enjoys a small space. It may become a quiet, intimate haven or a special place to entertain family and friends. 

“In a small garden there is absolutely no hiding place for the design choices made. Every detail is on show and has to be extremely well considered. Of course, creating a place of enduring meaning – however small – enhances a home’s overall appearance and may increase the property value.” 

10. Introduce a water feature

A relaxing soundscape

Silver domed water feature in a gardenCredit: Soul Decor

Don’t be afraid to include a water feature in your list of small garden ideas. Get any images of Niagara Falls out of your mind – water features can be dinky and dainty and don’t need to take up space.  

“Using water creates a sense of tranquillity,” agrees Scott. “No garden is too small for water and you don’t need a pond. Any watertight vessel (a basin, pot, urn or stone trough) can be put to good use.” 

Scott also notes that water attracts birds and other wildlife. This brings movement and visual interest to any garden, as well as obvious benefits to the environment. The sound of running water in a very small garden may also help it feel less claustrophobic. 

Visit Solus Decor for more information on this water dome

11. Choose weather-proof seating

A cosy pod that’s out of this world

Round glass and wood seating pod in a gardenCredit: cuckooland.com

Adding a covered area to a small garden is not practical, particularly if you don’t want to starve plants of precious sun. But you can still include a rainy-day seating area if you’re prepared to be adventurous in your design and have a healthy budget.  

This space-age pod will look after you in all weathers, letting the sunshine stream in on dry days and keeping most – if not all – of the rain out. Meaning you’re free to enjoy your outside space in all seasons (though you may need a blanket and hot water bottle on colder days). 

The Small Oval House Garden Pod is available from cuckooland.com

12. Make it work at every level

Low furniture works well with taller planting schemes

Three low garden seats around a tableCredit: Out & Out

Playing with contrasting shape and form, then pairing this with concise colour schemes, is great small garden idea that can help maximise space.  

“Low-lying seating that’s generously proportioned makes an excellent focal point,” says Exceptional’s design experts, Sarah Harley. “To avoid the area feeling overcrowded, choose furniture that has similar colour shades to the flooring so that it blends in more naturally.  

“Adding differing heights of plants and trees around the edges is another clever design trick that will draw your eye outwards and upwards. This makes the overall space feel bigger than it actually is.” 

Buy the Belgrave Wooden Garden Lounge set from Out & Out for £1,299

13. Make your shed a mini one

Small gardens benefit from being tidy

Small wooden garden storeCredit: cuckooland.com

Smart, slimline storage is a small garden essential. Mini garden sheds, such as this one, are a super-efficient way of storing your gardening tools. They don’t give you the option to hoard unnecessary items, and everything is always within easy reach.  

Keeping a small garden tidy is so important, as any mess – or garden tools lying around – is much more noticeable than in a larger plot.  

This wooden option might be more appealing to some people, rather than the plastic versions that are available. Especially if you don’t have the space to tuck your storage units out of sight. And you can always paint it if you’d like to make it a colourful feature – or simply want to change things up. 

Buy the Forest Garden garden store from cuckooland.com for £209.99

14. An overhanging roof can make things feel cosy

Make use of an existing shed

Dark wood outbuilding and canopy over outside sofa seatingCredit: b&m

It can often feel like there’s a short window of time when we can confidently set up outside seating with cushions and blankets to socialise or relax.   

It’s not always possible to install completely weather-proof seating, but a slimline canopy can help. One could be installed on an existing shed or wall of your house. They’re helpful to protect from the worst of the rain if the weather is changeable. But they’re also handy in that they won’t block out too much sunlight.  

Small gardens may be slightly restricted on the patches of sun they receive throughout the day. So, a slimline canopy like this won’t cast huge shadows around the place. 

15. Add a subtle support for climbers

Wall additions that let plants steal the limelight

Wire trellis attached to brick wall with green plants growing through itCredit: Ivyline

Wall space is invaluable in a small garden. In a small courtyard garden, for example, you have three walls that are additional surfaces to plant on. This maximises your greenery without hogging all the floor space 

A trellis doesn’t have to be a huge structure wooden structure either. Often, traditional designs may stand out against your small garden’s existing features. This wire example is a much less distracting option and blends in better with the texture of the wall it’s attached to.  

Subtle wall trellises like this are great for evergreen climbers that don’t self-support, like clematis or jasmine. 

Buy Honeycomb Trellis from Ivyline for £59.99

16. Work with, not against, natural features

Dress the space to impress

Overgrown garden with table and benches dressed with cake, jugs and flowersCredit: National Trust

A small garden can feel even more enclosed if it’s bordered with very mature shrubs and trees. Though some people may choose to clear this area to create space, there are ways you can embrace these features.

Keeping these plants around is also a big tick for sustainability and helping to support the wildlife that visits your garden. 

We love this cosy scene, where decorative lanterns and bunting hang from the surrounding branches and foliage, creating an intimate tea party vibe. If all the available floor space is taken up with a rustic table and bench seating, dress the space with vibrant fabrics. This can lift the mood and create a cosy, natural nook for the whole family to enjoy.  

Shop the look from National Trust

To clear, or not to clear? 

Garden designer Doug Holloway has found that clearing space is often the most important thing to do in a small garden.  

Once he has removed overgrown, badly-maintained shrubs and tree structures “roots an’ all”, his clients often can’t believe how much bigger their garden seems. That’s even before the rest of his small garden design approach is put into action.  

“That being said, I believe in keeping the usable existing trees and shrubs wherever possible, and pruning to renovate,” he adds. “This is important if we are going to create gardens sustainably. But also because we keep some of the sense of place a site has developed and build on it, which I think is very powerful.” 

That’s why it’s essential to properly prune and maintain plants growing in a small garden. 

“If plants and trees have been neglected, they often merge together and splurge out into the space,” he continues. “No amount of hard pruning can renovate them; in that case we have to clear.” 

17. Employ multipurpose furniture

A bench can double up as a planter

Wooden planter benchCredit: cuckooland.com

Some small, narrow gardens might not have enough room for a separate seating area and plant beds. But there are some multifunctional pieces of garden furniture available that can provide a solution. 

Save space by choosing furniture that incorporates planters or storage. This one could even accommodate climbers with the help of a little garden twine to keep them in place. 

The small area under the seat could even be used to store items that need to be kept outside, keeping the area tidy.  

But the Rowlinson Wooden Garden Bench and Planter from cuckooland.com

18. Choose neutral tones

Pale shades can open up the space

Black dining table and chairs on beige garden decking surrounded by beige wallsCredit: Cult Furniture

Just as you’d paint a small house in neutral tones to make rooms feel more spacious, garden masonry and decking can also benefit from being pale shades. 

Neutral tones let this space breathe, and the decking is dressed with minimalist furniture choices.

This is a calming small garden idea that is great for entertaining friends, and ideal for people who don’t have the time to tend to lots of plants. Instead, the outside area is an extension of the home’s interior, and can be adapted to mirror your own decorative scheme.  

19. Make the most of your boundary walls

Can your fence become a feature?

Three decorative fence panels lining garden boundaryCredit: Stark & Greensmith

Don’t just put a load of plain fences up to enclose your small garden. Alternating screens and hedging, for example, can add variety and create another feature without encroaching onto useable space in the garden

The most important feature of a small garden is its vertical boundary, since 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,” says garden designer Marlene Lento.  

“To create a verdant feel, consider boundary hedging instead of a fence, or hedging clipped tightly in front of a fence. Where the structure of the boundary is exposed, it is best to make this a deliberate feature. This may be an existing wall with an attractive texture, or you can add cladding or Venetian batten screening.

“Use this as a stage for some feature planting, a group of pots, a sculpture or even a small water feature. Then light it well to create a focal point and add some drama.” 

These garden screens are available from Stark & Greensmith

20. Layer up border plants

Escape the feeling of being ‘boxed in’

Garden shed at the bottom of a small English cottage garden. It has clematis around the door with various plants in the borders. The lawn is well maintained.Credit: Shutterstock / Simon Vayro

When you’re working with a small outside space that has fullheight boundaries, it’s easy to feel a little claustrophobic. But garden designers have a planting trick that hides views of neighbouring buildings. This approach enables the design to merge the soft landscape inside to bigger, natural elements outside of it, according to Holloway. 

“I find the best thing to do to create spaciousness is building up plants in layers around the boundary,” he says. “This works two-fold to obscure the fence and more importantly to connect the internal garden space to trees and the sky outside of the site. The irony is not lost on me that with this method you are filling the space to make it feel emptier.” 

He explains that by doing this, our eyes are drawn towards the internal softly-layered planting: “It’s all about perception versus actuality”.  

21. Make use of a corner

Seating or plant beds can fit an awkward space

Wooden corner pergola with seating and trellis in paved gardenCredit: cuckooland.com

Every inch of a small garden is precious, and sometimes you’re left with an awkward corner. Rather than leave it bare, waiting to gather debris, why not make a feature out of it?  

Corner seating can bring a corner to life, and this example includes trellises. This type of hybrid pergola means small garden corners can also become home to climbing plants, creating more opportunities for the space to be practical and abundant with foliage. 

Corner raised planters are also a great option if you’re looking for a way to brighten up a dull corner with some foliage. We’ve put together a great guide on the best plants for a raised bed, so you’ll know exactly what to fill a planter with.

The Rowlinson Balmoral Corner Arbour is available from cuckooland.com
Rosanna Spence

Written by Rosanna Spence she/her

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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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