Small garden terrace ideas that make the most of their surroundings

Follow these practical designer tips and expert planting ideas for making the most of a small garden terrace

Do you have a small garden terrace? A small footprint – whether it’s raised or on ground level – can result in a bijou and beautiful garden space.  

In garden design, a terrace is a feature where a flat section provides a space for seating, socialising and/or enjoying a view. “It often (but not always) provides a transition between the house and the rest of the garden, explains James Scott of The Garden Company.   

“It is usually paved, gravelled or may be composed of wooden decking. It provides an opportunity to deal with changing levels in the garden, and sometimes steeply sloped gardens can benefit from more than one terrace to provide a different viewpoint.”

Round table and metal garden chairs by NeptuneCredit: Neptune

Follow these practical designer tips and expert planting ideas for making the most of a small garden terrace… 


1. Look to vertical planting

Compensate for a lack of vegetation

Vertical garden wall next to terraceCredit: Growing Revolution

Planting up walls could be the answer for a lush and fertile feel, especially if you are short on square footage on above ground level or flat roof terraces.  

“You can create a vertical garden in as little as 60cm (2ft) x 60cm (2ft), making it easier than ever to add greenery to any space,” says Matt Lindsay, Director at Growing Revolution, which makes PlantBox living walls. “They are lightweight, sturdy, and easy to put together. Simply stack your troughs and fix to a suitable wall or frame, then plant your chosen selection of plants in your peat-free compost.” 

An inbuilt watering system will ensure your plants get just the right amount of water, so you don’t have to worry about daily watering. 

2. Construct a gazebo

Give your small terrace a shelter

Garden shelter in aqua blueCredit: Chiltern Garden Design

Even small spaces can have room for a characterful covered area in which to view the garden. They create shade on hot days or cover when the weather isn’t so good.  

Consider its position carefully, advises garden designer Sam Proctor of Chiltern Garden Design. “In this bungalow garden in Surrey, the client originally anticipated creating a pergola right outside the main French doors,” says Proctor, “which would have potentially darkened her living room.

Creating an open gazebo on the upper level of the terrace gives the option to enjoy the garden under cover without blocking light to the house.”  

3. Include hard and soft surfaces

Get the balance right

Terrace with plantingCredit: Clive Nichols for The Garden Company

It is important to create terraces that have a good balance between hard and soft landscaping. “Hardscaping refers to everything inanimate in a garden design; softscaping refers to all of the horticultural, living elements (not necessarily actually soft!),” says Scott.  

“Soft landscaping is not only aesthetically pleasing, it benefits the environment hugely too. Obviously, plants and trees improve air quality and boost biodiversity – other key benefits include reducing soil erosion and softening noise pollution.” 

This pale grey sandstone terrace is complemented with planters of weathering steel that rust to warm tones. The abundant planting has a softening effect.  

4. Go round with tables

Circular is better on a small terrace

Round table and metal garden chairs by NeptuneCredit: Neptune

Circular outdoor tables are the shape to go for when considering furniture for small garden terraces, as they are easier to manoeuvre past. Round designs also make home entertaining intimate and convivial for small numbers.   

“You don’t need huge amounts of garden space to create an outdoor room,” says Simon Temprell, Interior Design Manager at Neptune, who recommends the Cheltenham collection for its pleasing shape and comfortable chairs. “You just need a few square feet, and you can create an intimate dining area for four.

“Because the chairs and table base are made from steel, they can withstand the elements, and the seat cushions are showerproof, which is invaluable during a UK summer,” he adds. 


5. Don’t block the view

Furniture placement is all-important

Patio with lounger and steps to lawnCredit: James Scott/The Garden Company

Avoid obscuring the view from the house to the garden with furniture on the terrace. It’s best to place any furniture – such as lounge chairs – to one side of the main view from the house to avoid a ‘cluttered’ look.  

Aim for a seamless transition from the house to the garden, too, advises James Scott of The Garden Company, “Continuity can be achieved by more selective use of landscaping materials. Each needs to be carefully chosen to be sympathetic to the period of the house and its architecture.” 

6. Design at different levels

Give each tier a separate task or function

Landscaped garden with steps and pavingCredit: Chiltern Garden Design

The key to good terrace design is to think about varying heights within the garden. Different levels allow you to move from one space to another in order to enjoy the space from different aspects.  

For example, think about a level for seating and a level for planting. You can join these levels with paving, wood or gravel. It can also make maintenance easier, as seen in this bungalow garden. “To allow the owner to maintain the space more easily, we brought the main bed up to knee height, which means less bending,” says Proctor. “We also created a secondary seating area at the upper level to allow long views down the garden and to the trees beyond.”   

Blend the hard and soft landscaping by planting into gravel where the terrace breaks up into stepping stones, bringing the planting closer to the house.

7. Invest in a glasshouse

Make your potting projects a highlight

Greenhouse by Hartley BotanicCredit: Hartley Botanic

A small garden terrace with stone pavers is the perfect situation for a glass or greenhouse. The level surface will allow for a sturdy, elegant base and makes for more growing room if you have limited planting areas.  

“They also provide a stunning focal point,” says Tom Barry, CEO of Hartley Botanic. “When placing a glasshouse on a terrace there is also an option to create an additional planting bed, increasing your garden’s ground-level planting areas and creating an additional space under the cover of glass.”  

Position a comfy chair for days when you just want to sit and enjoy the view. 

8. Sit your small terrace centrally

Don’t sideline your viewing platform

Garden terrace and bordersCredit: James Scott/The Garden Company

It’s natural to push everything to the edges in a small garden terrace, but actually a central focal point acts to draw and direct the eye. This could be achieved with a beautiful sculpture, a water feature or stylish seating, and means it will be the first thing people pay attention to when entering the garden.  

In this garden terrace by James Scott, “a high proportion of planting to hardscaping was used to create a truly ‘gardenesque’ feel, whilst still allowing for separate dining, seating and entertaining zones softened with greenery.

In addition, focal points were created to lead the eye from one side of the garden to the other; this included a reflective garden sculpture, which added a different dimension by playing with the light and a lovely existing acer.” 

9. Light up your small patio

It will take your terrace to the next level

Garden terrace looking back to house with Crittall style windowsCredit: Detail Lighting

Spotlights, floodlights, in-ground lighting and post lights are all simple ways to create a welcoming small garden terrace 24/7.   

Through clever placement and careful planning, you can create different zones within the garden, whilst making the whole area seamlessly flow from one zone to the next – creating a true extension of the home. 

“In this central London courtyard garden, the lighting was all planned to make the most of the space available,” says Piero De Marchis, director of Detail Lighting. With outside space at a premium, enhancing the external area you have is all the more important, and was of the utmost importance for these homeowners.” 

10. Plant with an eye for colour

Use the same plants on repeat

Colourful planting in small terrace gardenCredit: Jonathan Buckley

In small garden terraces such as courtyards, garden designer Marlene Lento recommends that you repeat a small number of plants to create a cohesive scheme.  

“Remember that green is also a colour, and there are so many shades of it. Stick to 85% evergreen planting and choose shrubs like choisyas that have fragrant blossoms in addition to being evergreen. There is also ‘ever-grey’, ‘ever-yellow’ and ‘ever-purple’ in foliage,” she says.

“You can paint a colourful garden with just those, as demonstrated by this Tunbridge Wells courtyard garden that shines with euphorbias, phormium, pittosporum, rosemary and sage.”   

For flower colour, add in blocks of ‘work-horse plants’ such as Geranium Rozanne to give colour from May to November. 

11. Keep the size in proportion

It should measure up to both your house and garden

Terrace with steps and lawnCredit: James Scott/The Garden Company

Creating a terrace of the wrong size is a common design mistake. “There is no hard and fast rule to follow,” says Scott, “but the terrace size needs to be balanced with the garden space itself and also to be in proportion to the architecture and size of rooms in your house.” 

 You also need to consider the terrace size in the context of surrounding plants. “Once they have matured, they may spill over onto the terrace and reduce the space available for your use,” adds Scott.   

Finally, remember that with a small terrace, the furniture needs to be proportionate too. For instance, choose a dining table with ample room on either side for the space to feel comfortable. 

12. Consider trees

They can provide shade and scale

Avenue of trees flanking small garden terraceCredit: Penelope Walker

A small terrace garden doesn’t mean that you can’t have trees; it simply means, you need to do your homework to discover what may be suitable. Trees channel the eye and can be used in symmetrical lines.  

“Eventual height and spread will be a basic consideration but there are plenty of trees which are listed as having a large ultimate size but can be maintained at a smaller spread, for example acers or osmanthus,” says garden designer Penelope Walker of Llevelo Garden Design.

“Remember to think about what will be underneath the tree, though. If it is to be planted near a paved area, consider if the tree is likely to drop fruit.”  

13. Direct the eyes up

Use climbing plants and architectural frameworks

Festoon lighting over Cox and Cox patio furnitureCredit: Cox & Cox

Views upwards are just as important as views outwards. A pergola trained with grapevines and hung with festoon lighting adds height and interest above eye level on a raised and decked terrace garden.   

A vine loves a warm sheltered and sunny position. Plant in free-draining soil at the base of a pergola so that it can ramble upwards and then horizontally across the slats of the pergola. The RHS suggests Vitis ‘Boskoop Glory’ and Vitis ‘New York Muscat’, both black varieties. Once established, you’ll be rewarded with bunches of grapes for your own vintage! 

14. Listen to the sound of water

Small designs can sit centrally or be wall-mounted

Sculptural water featureCredit: David Anderson

A sculptural water feature that alights up at night makes for a dramatic space when the sun goes down. An original Georgian outdoor area was turned into a striking contemporary space by garden designer David Andersen 

“I chose strong contrasts between modern materials, such as rendered walling, modern slate, stainless steel to contrast with the original 1820s brick and stonework.” The space includes a raised seating area, a contemporary water feature and dramatic lighting. It is compleimented by simple, bold and architectural planting, mainly olive trees and palms.

Cox & Cox water featuresCredit: Cox & Cox

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15. Plant for scent

A smaller plot means you’re closer to fragrant flowers

Massed containers in the Dutch YardCredit: Jonathan Buckley

Small garden terraces and courtyards are perfect for adding fragrance in either earth beds or pots.  

“If you have a sunny wall, plant three Rosemary Tuscan Blue’ cuttings behind and at either side of a slatted bench,” says horticulturalist Sarah Raven, “and allow the rosemary to grow up through and all around the slats. This is wonderful all year round, brilliant for pollinators with its hugely long flowering season, and gives you plenty to pick for the kitchen.”

Sarah also recommends scented climbers, such as Trachelospermum jasminoides. 

Whats the best base or flooring for a small garden terrace?

It depends on your budget

Consider your budget first. Hard landscaping can be surprisingly hard on the wallet. You might also want to consider sustainability and ethical factors. Look to a supplier with a transparent environmental and ethical policy. Recycle existing pavers where you can, taking up and relaying where possible. It is also worth sourcing reclaimed materials.   

 The lowest cost option for surface treatment will be loose gravel,” advises Proctor. “It’s easy to lay, permeable (so no worries about water pooling) and available in a range of different colours and sizes.”  

Medium-range options include sandstone paving and entry-level porcelains, though the latter will typically cost more to lay as they are hard to cut (with a diamond-bladed saw) and need more precision to lay. Proctor says: “Indian sandstones tend to be reasonably priced, but there’s a range of qualities, and you also need to watch out for slip factor

“Riven stones have a tendency to let water sit on their surface. Algae then grows, making them more slippery,” Proctor adds.  

“Softwood decking should be avoided as a timber surfacing option as it tends to warp, rot and get very slippery, but sustainable reclaimed hardwoods are a better bet for a lovely barefoot outdoor experience.”  

Luxury options include York stone (still a sandstone but much more hardwearing, and sourced from within the UK), limestone, granite and luxury Italian porcelain. “These are all highly refined materials which will give years of enjoyment if laid well,” says Proctor. 

But she adds that there is another material that can match them. “Quality composite decking can be as expensive as a quality stone product, but much quicker to install, and will last a long time. The best quality ones offer a good range of natural looking boards, hidden clip systems so no visible fixings are necessary, and a warranty on the product.” 


Written by Rhoda Parry


Rhoda Parry is the former Editorial Director of Ideal Home, the UK’s best-known media brand, and its sister titles, 25 Beautiful Homes and Style at Home. She is also former Editorial Director for Gardeningetc, Amateur Gardening and Easy Gardens.

As an experienced Interiors and Gardens journalist, she’s spent her career tracking the trends, interviewing the experts and reviewing the best products for inside and outside living spaces. When she’s not writing, she’s tending to her gravel garden that overlooks the sea in Sussex.