You don’t need a massive amount of outdoor space or a large budget to create the garden of your dreams. Even the smallest of outdoor areas can be transformed, all it takes is a bit of careful planning and creativity and you can achieve a garden that will make everyone green with envy.
Getting inspired can be tricky, though, especially if you’re working with a blank canvas or are new to garden design. So, to help get your project started, we’ve compiled a list of 20 ideas for small back gardens that will suit a host of different lifestyles, budgets, and experience levels.
What can you do with a small garden?
There is no limit to what you can do with even the smallest of outdoor spaces. Whether you want to create an urban oasis filled with flowers and shrubs or a kitchen garden to grow your own herbs, fruits, and vegetables, it’s all possible with a little bit of careful planning.
In fact, there are many benefits to smaller gardens which make them more desirable than larger gardens. Firstly, having less space will mean that the required maintenance can be kept to a minimum - perfect for people leading busier lifestyles or beginners who are finding their green fingers for the first time.
What’s more, fewer plants or smaller grassy areas will also require less water to keep them looking lush and healthy. Not only will this help keep your water bills down, but it will also be better for the environment.
So, what are you waiting for? Carry on reading through our extensive list of small garden and landscaping ideas that will help you make the most of your outdoor space.
How to make the most of a small back garden
Getting the most out of your space starts with planning it properly. Don’t launch straight into a project without first giving it some thought and asking yourself what it is you’re hoping to achieve.
Start by making a list of all the features you’d like to include in your garden - living walls, patio areas, water features, vegetable patches, fire pits, decking, sheltered areas, flower beds, lights, and so on - because then you’ll be best placed to use your available space most efficiently.
Also, think about the overall design scheme you choose based on your personal preferences and how you plan to use the space once it's finished. Do you want a bright, colourful space that’s bursting with energy? Or, are you in need of a more relaxing environment that will serve as your escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life?
There are many different ways to achieve your perfect garden, and having a clear idea of what you want will help you make the best design choices from the get-go.
What are the best plants for small gardens?
Smaller gardens may have limited space for planters, flower pots, and flower beds, so it’s important to make your selections carefully. Regardless of its size, attempting to include too many or the wrong combination of plants in your garden will result in some of them failing due to lack of space, nutrients, or access to adequate sunlight. Spending time choosing plants that coexist well together will prevent you from having to remove them within the first couple of years.
The best place to start is to figure out how your garden works. By this, we mean looking at its specific qualities and characteristics - layout, temperature corners, sunny spots, shady areas, wind exposure, soil composition and so on - so you can choose the best plants for particular sections. Getting to grips with the microclimate of your back garden is crucial for making sure that you select flowers, plants, and trees that will be able to thrive once in situ.
Some trees, for example, need large areas to grow so that their long roots have enough space and depth to spread out. For smaller gardens, choose trees that can live happily in plant pots or small plots of land, such as:
Wild olive trees
Japanese maple trees
Cherry or apple trees
For shrubs, the options are more varied, as they tend to need less space than trees. It’s still important to consider their ideal growing conditions to ensure your garden will provide enough light, shade, heat, and water for them to thrive. Shrubs that tend to do well in smaller gardens include:
What evergreen plants are best for smaller gardens?
As a rule of thumb (or, should that be, as a rule of green fingers), it’s important to avoid planting taller evergreen trees or shrubs on the north side of your garden if you live in the northern hemisphere. This is because in the winter months they will prevent sunlight from entering your garden, which could affect the growth of other shorter plants or trees.
This is especially true for smaller gardens, which could be cast into full shade if larger evergreen trees are on the northern wall. If your garden is on the smaller side, it’s best to choose evergreen plants that aren’t going to grow taller than about 2 metres. Examples are:
What is an alternative to plants and flower beds?
Not everyone has the time to tend to flower beds or potted plants, even if they are low-maintenance varieties. You could consider artificial grass or shrubs if you fall into this category. They can be a fantastic way to bring greenery into your garden without worrying about mowing, pruning, or watering. Choose wisely, though, and research to ensure you choose the most environmentally-friendly materials.
Water features are another option for anyone who doesn’t want plants or flower beds. These come in various sizes and styles to suit design schemes and budgets of all types. They can bring a sense of calm and tranquillity into even the busiest areas, transforming your garden into a true urban oasis.
20 small garden ideas
So, without further ado, let’s dive into our list of ideas for small gardens. We’ve brought together a collection of different options so you’re sure to find something perfect for your space…no matter how much room you’ve got to play with.
1. Add mirrors
Mirrors are a tried and tested way of making smaller areas seem larger than they actually are. By fixing them onto exterior walls or fences, you can create an illusion of space and make your smaller garden feel much less cramped.
Marshalls Stoneface Drystack Walling
2. Install a fire pit of chimenea
Sitting around a roaring fire is a great way of spending quality time with friends and family, and it means that you can still enjoy your garden area in the cooler months. Chimeneas can sit on stone patio areas whilst fire pits can be sunk into the ground. Both are fantastic features to include as the focal point of paving circles surrounded by garden furniture.
3. Create feeding areas for small animals and birds
Encouraging wildlife to come into your garden is great for the local ecosystem. Adding bird tables or hanging feeders can attract different species of birds, squirrels and hedgehogs into your garden and help keep unwanted insect life at bay.
4. Outdoor lighting
Lighting is one of the most important design elements of any space, whether indoors or outdoors. Twinkling string lights, recessed patio lights, and lightbulbs on stakes are all great choices for smaller outdoor areas as they don’t take up much space but still add a real sense of atmosphere.
Solar-powered options are great for reducing energy consumption and costs, but bear in mind that these may turn on less in the winter when there is limited sunlight.
5. Make use of low-level walls
If you have any retaining walls within your garden, think about repurposing these as seating areas. All-weather cushions can be placed on top to create space-saving benches. Also, if the walls are being used to contain flower beds, upcycling them as seating means you’ll be able to sit back and enjoy all the scents and colours of your garden.
Marshalls Sawn Walling
6. Repurpose and recycle materials
Upcycling old bits of furniture is a great way to transform your garden on a budget. By using things that would otherwise have gone to landfill, you can create ultra-cheap furniture or planters. A quick lick of paint is all that’s needed to give them a new lease of life, but make sure that you use a weatherproof one to avoid the wood rotting in the rain.
7. Courtyard creativity
If you don’t have any green areas, plants, or shrubs in your garden, it’s time to get creative with your courtyard space. Enhance the natural beauty of stone paving, patios, and walls with warm lighting fixtures that complement its earthy colours or make an impact with pops of colour by getting some statement pieces of furniture.
Marshalls Scoutmoor® Yorkstone Paving
8. Sheds and Wendy houses
You might think that small gardens aren’t big enough to have a shed or Wendy house, but there is a huge range of options available nowadays, meaning you’ll be able to find one that fits. Sheds are a multifunctional feature that can serve as a handy DIY workshop, a bar space for summer garden parties, a hideout for children, and a storage area for garden furniture.
Painting your shed a neutral colour will retain a sense of calm and contemporary elegance in your garden, but you can paint it a brighter, more adventurous colour if you want to bring a sense of fun and energy into your outdoor space.
Marshalls Sawn Versuro Borders
9. Choose statement seating
Standard chairs and tables are fine, but smaller gardens can be transformed into the defining feature of your home by incorporating statement furniture. We’re talking about sun loungers, retro deck chairs, hammocks, and even swing seats.All are guaranteed to turn your garden into a space that everyone wants to hang out in.
Marshalls Argent® Coarse Paving
10. Go green
You can bring greenery into your garden in other ways than plants and grassy areas. Think about painting fences with earthy tones to boost the space's natural aesthetic or add green accents by choosing green chairs and accessories. This is a great way of making smaller gardens feel lusher and more at one with nature.
11. Create different levels
Making the most of a smaller garden can be tricky, but creating areas on different levels can provide you with distinct zones and maximise the potential of the available space. You could install a raised decking area with sheltered seating and include storage space underneath. Bringing different levels into your garden makes the whole space feel more dynamic and exciting to the eye.
Marshalls SYMPHONY® Classic & Stoneface® Drystack Venner
12. Use colour (but sparingly)
Smaller gardens can benefit from a splash of colour to provide an accent or focal point, but be careful not to overdo it as this could result in a space that feels overwhelming. Include colourful elements but combine them with a core palette of lighter, more neutral tones to make the garden seem brighter and roomier than it actually is.
13. Set up an outdoor bar area
Gardens are great for hosting parties or gatherings with friends and family, and every good party needs a bar area where you can serve food and drinks. Sheds can make fantastic bars with built-in shelter from the elements, whilst more quirky tiki-style bars can bring a real sense of fun into your space.
Pull-down bars can even be fixed onto your perimeter walls or fences to save additional space when they’re not in use, and any furniture can be stored or stacked until needed.
14. BBQs and outdoor kitchens
For the foodies out there, BBQ areas are a must. They are much more effective and environmentally friendly than disposable BBQs and can become a hub for social events, family gatherings, and more. Barbeque areas should be built using heat-resistant stone slabs to avoid any accidents.
15. Hanging planters
If floor space is an issue for you in your garden, think about installing some hanging planters. They can be fixed onto walls using brackets or suspended from tree branches and beams to provide areas for growing flowers, herbs, and shrubs.
Hanging planters also have the added benefit of being out of reach of common garden pests such as slugs, meaning your plants will be safe from being eaten.
16. Create a kitchen garden
Even small gardens can be optimised to allow for the inclusion of vegetable patches, fruit trees, and herb gardens. You have loads of options, such as dedicated raised beds with specialist soils and fertilisers, small greenhouses, or upcycling old furniture like ladders to create quirky herb planters that can sit neatly against walls.
Some plants are better suited to growing in smaller beds or pots, with tomatoes, beans, peas, herbs, and strawberries thriving in small areas.
17. Bring the indoors, outdoors
Create a lounge-inspired set-up in your back garden to make hosting get-togethers a piece of cake. A huge range of outdoor sofas and chairs are available from high-street retailers, so you’re sure to find a set that’s just right for your lifestyle.
You could even set up an outdoor office in a small shed or Wendy house. With more people working from home than ever before but struggling to find the right balance between their professional and personal lives, garden offices are a great compromise.
Marshalls SYMPHONY® Plus Urban
18. Cinema screens
Installing a projector and screen in your garden will allow you to watch TV and films al fresco. They can be fitted onto perimeter walls or flat fences making them a great option for smaller gardens as there is no need for lots of floor space.
Pair your cinema area with comfy seating and you’ve got an area that’s an instant hit with adults, teenagers, and children alike.
19. Go vertical
We all think that gardening and garden design are about what’s on the ground, but for smaller gardens, it can help to think about the vertical space available. Consider installing planters mounted onto walls, fences, and freestanding trellises to maximise the utility of your outdoor space.
20. Create a jungle garden
Filling your garden with plants might seem counterintuitive in smaller gardens, but a jungle-inspired garden can create the illusion of there being more space than there is in reality. A large selection of plants, trees, shrubs, and flowers can trick our eyes by making it hard to tell where the garden ends.
Create your perfect small garden with Marshalls
For more inspiration and ideas about how to create your dream garden regardless of its size, check out the other guides on our blog. Or, if you’re looking for the perfect paving or patio area to complete your outdoor spaces, browse through our extensive range of high-quality stone, paving slabs, and bricks.