Tricks for Small Gardens

Urban gardens are usually small gardens. This little album of tricks contains ideas that help urban gardeners overcome some of our spatial limitations. The picture above has three to begin with:

• Use the upward dimension. Be sure your small garden makes use of the infinite vertical plane with elements like arbours, trellises and wall plantings.

• Don’t fear division. Go ahead and divide your tiny space into smaller parcels. Creating hidden corners and winding pathways even in a small garden adds surprise.

• Think big. Don’t limit yourself to miniature plants, which can reinforce the overall bittiness. Add that giant hosta or plant in large drifts for drama and punctuation.


• Reflect. Reflective surfaces give the impression of a window into another world. Mirrors are one way to achieve this. But how about a saucer-sized reflecting pool, tucked beneath a plant (refreshing the water often to combat mosquito invasion). Even a glass-topped table can give you a pool of reflected sky.



• Get off the straight and narrow. Lengthen the lines in your pathways and garden beds by using curves or diagonals – an easy trick that instantly makes a small space seem larger.



• Punch holes in it. Putting up a fence or a gate? Give it a window. Even a tiny peek through to the other side, such as with this open trellis, visually extends the view from your small garden while providing a sense of privacy. Of course, good fences require good neighbours. But if you have some, why not share some air.



• Create a focal point… or borrow one. This arbour frames the fountain in a neighbour’s garden, but perhaps there’s something public you want to highlight or screen. Even if in reality it takes you only to a parking pad, a fabulous door like one this suggests unseen treasures. Or add a great piece of sculpture, leading the eyes to a far corner of small but often busy spaces, and giving them a cool place to rest.

Just a few ideas from my archives. Anything to add?


  1. Perfect post! Great ideas all… I love mirrors in a garden… wonderful photos and text. One can also look to the Japanese in creating spacial illusions.

  2. Great ideas and lovely photos, Helen in Toronto!
    In my garden I'm pleased with the arbors & trellises and divisions & hidden corners but that darned "overall bittiness" is much harder to address ;-]

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  3. Very good and comprehensive post! In small gardens I also like the idea of metamorphic or multifunction furniture – I designed an outside office chair once that had an integrated ice bucket and drinks stand for turning it into a mini-bar in the evening…!

  4. Wow Helen, I think that you have covered it all. Even when I had my tiny garden in the Beach (20 x 90, that is in feet, and was the whole lot, not just the garden), I divided my garden into rooms. It really did make it feel larger!

  5. Great post.

    Worst of these I see all the time at work is the small garden, small plants approach – "Oh, I can't get one of those (something that gets 3'x3'), I have a small yard"

    This is something I struggle with all the time with my 15'x20' back yard! I've started going up with plants though and it really helps.

  6. Such great tips….I have heard many of the same tips for the interior of your home as well.
    I absolutely love the first photo. I would love to have a small garden like that one :^)

  7. Wonderful ideas! I'm especially enamored of the glass-topped table as a reflecting surface. I'd never have thought of that in a thousand years. 🙂

    Absolutely gorgeous photos, by the way. I'm craving that green door.

  8. Loved these ideas. I have a small yard and I find myself using those tricks constantly. I especially love planting in drifts and having hidden corners. Having a place to sit down and enjoy it all helps, too!

    Christine in Alaska

  9. Carol, Yes, Japanese gardeners excel at creating perfect garden pictures, don't they?

    Annie, what a funny girl you are. Overall bittiness I'm only too familiar with, myself.

    Dawn, Sounds like a neat piece of furniture. Do you have pictures?

    Deborah, my lot's virtually the same size as yours was, so I know of which you speak.

    Seven acres, Jodi! All I can say is: Oh my!

    Andrew, I have my eye out for a hosta named 'Big Mama' that I saw in a nearby garden. It's pretty huge and pretty dramatic.

    Thanks, Noelle, particularly cuz that picture is actually of my garden.

    And, Meredith, the glass-topped table is mine, too. Yay! Racking up garden points. (The little water feature is me, too.)

    Christine, thanks for visiting all the way from Alaska. Good ideas work everywhere, right?

    Oh my goodness, Amy, these aren't all of my garden! (See above) I'd be so thrilled if they were. But thanks for thinking I could be so clever.

    Cheers, everyone. I appreciate you adding your thoughts.

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