The key principles of small garden design

Small garden design can be a bit of a challenge, even for the most experienced garden designer.

Small garden design can be a bit of a challenge, even for the most experienced garden designer. Many of us in the UK have limited outdoor space, from small urban backyards to the modern builds that seem to have almost given up on giving us a garden altogether.

However, small gardens, if designed well, will add significant value to your property. You're effectively creating another room, and especially important if you're in the city, creating a little outdoor escape from all the hustle and bustle.

In the UK, it is not uncommon to see a backyard space as small as 4m x 2.5m, which as you can imagine creates quite a challenge from a design perspective, especially with the large modern sofa-style garden furniture that is so popular at the moment.

For me, the key to creating the perfect garden design in a small space is getting the balance between having adequate space for entertaining whilst keeping enough space for planting and other integral features.

So rather than looking at the many examples of other people's fab small gardens (just do a search with the terms 'small garden design' and you'll get pages of them), we thought it would be beneficial to look at some of the key design principles that will help you create the perfect small garden.

Be that how to utilise garden lighting, clever use of a few plants, bold use of colour, and plants to create the illusion of depth.

The hardest part about designing a small outdoor space is knowing what not to include and how much is enough. A small garden by its very nature is confining.
Squeezing in different elements will only give you a space that feels cluttered, and possibly smaller than it is when the opposite should be your goal.

The key is to keep things simple. Less is more in a small garden design!

1. How will you use your small garden?

A starting point no matter how big or small your outdoor space is. Do you use your garden for relaxation, entertaining friends, a space for the kids to play, somewhere that looks good from inside your home, or is it somewhere to grow your own veg? The answer to this simple question will help to define the best way to design your garden. And again, try and keep it simple, only focus on one or two 'wants'.

2. Don't be afraid to go 'big'

For me personally, some of the best small gardens are those that aren't afraid to break the rules. Don't be afraid to make a statement with garden art, bold planting, or oversized outdoor furniture. Sure, you can't just plonk it in the middle of the garden, the key is to carefully work it into the overall design scheme.

Going big will help to prevent the space from looking disjointed. Trying to squeeze too much into space can dilute the overall impact. Keep things simple, strip down the design, look at the minimum that you need and take it from there.

Taking a few large-sized items, as opposed to lots of smaller pieces, will help to unify the space. It will make the final garden feel less claustrophobic. Larger style hard landscaping, clearly defined boundaries, large planters or a bold need to be in scale to the garden furniture, and this will make your space feel more spacious.

3. Keep colours light

Light colours will always help to make any small space feel bigger, inside or outside the home. The downside in the garden is that they're harder to clean and maintain, requiring a regular fresh coat to keep them looking light.

It is also beneficial to limit the colour scheme across your garden. And that includes everything from plants to outdoor furniture. This will help to give a small garden space cohesion, while the use of lighter colours will make the garden appear bigger.

4. Space is key

The key to successful small garden design is creating space, or at the very least the illusion of space. If you can get that right, then the rest will follow. Even in the smallest garden, using design tricks as simple as rotating your design by 45 degrees can make the space feel much bigger and add increased visual impact.

Create a large cluster of planting in each corner of your garden to soften the angles and hide ugly brick walls, and don't be afraid to plant larger varieties to further add impact to the space.

5. Think of the garden as one whole space

It is much easier to create a design for a small space if you view the entire garden as a whole. Don't try to divide it with a path or into different areas. View the space as a single composition.

6. Keep planting and furniture simple

Limited space means you will have to make firm choices. The simple fact of the matter is that can’t grow every plant or purchase every piece of garden furniture you like. You can't buy on impulse and just assume you’ll find a place to fit them.

When space is limited, every plant needs to serve a purpose, and every piece of garden furniture has to be carefully measured to fit/work in the available free space. There's no room for large dining sets or underperforming plants. You need to get at least two seasons of interest from any plants, whilst furniture is best comfortable and compact.

7. There are many advantages to having a small garden...

And finally, it is not all difficult decisions, there are many positives to having a small garden. For a starter, it takes fewer plants to create the wow factor, and therefore less cash too. It is easier to keep on top of tending to your plants and any maintenance.

You find it is much easier to personally express your garden design flair in a small space, and if those personal tastes should change, it’s much easier to re-design and change a small garden.

And remember, while you may be limited to ground space, you can always garden up. We're big fans of vertical gardening and there are some great examples in the current gardening mags or online. A garden, no matter how small, is always full of potential, don't feel you are limited by what you can do.

If anything, the key principles of small garden design are as much about exterior decorating, as they are about good old-fashioned green-thumbed gardening.

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