10 Small Garden Ideas to Make the Best of Your Outdoor Living Space

a blue windowsill with blue windowbox full of flowers

The average garden size in the UK is around 130m² which would indicate that a lot of us have small gardens, patio gardens, balconies, or no garden at all. Small gardens are prominent in towns and cities, with the average size where I live in and around Brighton being 23m².

This means we have to be clever and inventive with our outdoor space and people are always searching for small garden ideas.  Many people are choosing to renovate and extend their homes which also means the size of our gardens is shrinking and that is certainly the case for us.

Our home already had a 3m x 5m extension put on the back and over the winter we added another 3m x 5m to extend our kitchen and utility room. This meant we had lost 30m² of our garden.

Small Garden Ideas

Our house from the back drive including our driveway and large double garage
We took down our huge double garage and double drive which sat in the prime spot of getting all the sun. In doing so, we effectively doubled the size of our small garden

However, all is not lost! To make way for our kitchen extension, we took down our large double garage which was virtually the same size as the garden we originally had and just took up far too much space.

We also reclaimed the double driveway at the back which sat in a prime position for getting the sun all day. Considering our small garden is north-facing, the rest of our outdoor space was either in the shade or only got parts of the sun throughout the day.

We are currently redesigning and planning our small garden space so over the last couple of weeks I have been researching how to make the most of a small garden and thought I’d share what I’d found. I often get asked how to design a small garden so here are a few garden and yard ideas. 

Go Up!

pergola and garden furniture sitting on a platform in the middle of a swimming pool
Garden pergola – Amazon I just need the pool to go with it!

When we think of our gardens, we tend to just look at the horizontal space and add patios, seating areas, and a lawn. We all have walls, fences, and borders in our small gardens so why not think about adding plants and features vertically? Putting in pergolas is a great way to make the most of a space.

Growing plants around the pergola like bee-friendly passion flowers, bright pink clematis (which are a great alternative to the sun-hungry bougainvillea), and the Instagram must-have – wisteria, can really transform a small garden space into a colorful and nature-friendly zone.

Vertical Gardens

Another way to use your vertical space is to add living walls. These can be either real or faux, depending on the space.

It doesn’t have to be expensive either. You can create a trellis out of old pieces of wood and attach it to a wall and encourage plants like Virginia Creeper which goes a beautiful bright red in the autumn.

You could also attach paneling to an unsightly wall and fix pots and plants to it and grow herbs, ferns, or Geranium Rozanne which produces a beautiful blue flower.

Another good way to use vertical space in your small garden is to add window boxes. Window boxes are a great way to add a touch of color and greenery to small gardens, patios, or balconies. They allow you to bring the beauty of nature closer to your living space, even if you don’t have a large outdoor area.

Window boxes come in various sizes, materials, and styles, and can be customized to match your taste and needs. 

windowboxes full of flowers

Planting mushrooms in a vertical garden also offers a space-efficient solution for cultivating plants in urban environments. These innovative structures not only enhance the aesthetic appeal of urban spaces but also provide numerous environmental benefits. 

Add Trees

back yard with white shingle on the patio, eucalyptus tree, festoon lights and a fire pit
We had the most wonderful eucalyptus trees in our old garden. Fire pit and Adirondack chairs from Von Haus

Continuing the use of height in a small garden, trees are a fantastic addition to your outdoor space and help make it feel bigger. Trees are so important in garden design. They help attract wildlife, clean the air, and change color throughout the seasons.

They are also important when it comes to providing shade for your garden and giving you a bit of privacy.

pink magnolia tree
Magnolias really are the most beautiful trees. Especially when they flower in early Spring. Photo by Marina Reich

When choosing trees for your small garden, it is important to choose varieties that won’t grow too tall and leave your space completely in the shade. Also, giant trees can make a space feel smaller. Go for smaller varieties like magnolias, cherry trees, or Japanese maples. You could also look at planting trees in pots like Olive trees, Bay Trees and Rhododendrons.

Divide Into Small Zones

composite decking in the garden with bifold doors open
We’ve recently had Trex Composite decking laid in our garden. This is a perfect small seating zone.

Zoning your garden is a great way to make the most of the small space. It adds interest and purpose, helping to make a small garden look bigger.  Dividing the small garden space up is easier than you think.

Create a small decking or patio area where you can put your garden furniture. Cordon off this space with planters and plant pots to help define the different zones.

Lay grass or a small lawn around the decking area (I don’t think it matters how small the space is, having a bit of grass helps break up different areas and is pleasing visually) and decorative stones or gravel to border the grass.

Small Greenhouse

Are you a keen gardener but your small garden leaves you little room to grow anything? There are now plenty of small greenhouses and grow houses to choose from which can be cleverly tucked into a corner.

They may be small but give you ample room to grow your tomatoes, herbs, and other vegetables.

Mirror It

A great way to make your small garden feel bigger is by adding mirrors to reflect light. Depending on what kind of design you choose, your mirror can have a dramatic effect by either looking like a garden gate, window, or more plants.

Mirrors are the perfect accessory to hide ugly walls or fences and can give you the automatic feeling of more space.

Bistro Sets

small patio decking with wooden bistro set
This Garden 3-Piece Foldable Dining Set from La Redoute is perfect for small gardens and can be folded away in the colder months

If you haven’t got room for a large sofa or dining set in your small garden, there are plenty of small bistro sets you can use instead.

I think it is really important to have seating in your garden. That way you get to spend more time outdoors with a cup of coffee or a good book. Spending more time outside in nature is always good for the soul.

Pallet Bar

You’ve zoned your garden and added some decorative stones and gravel to a corner or around your lawn. What do you do with the pallets that they were delivered on?

Pallets are fantastic for reusing and turning into something sustainable for the garden. If you haven’t got room to create a pallet sofa or have a bar in your garden, you could create a vertical bar out of your pallets and hang it on a wall.

They are quite easy to make. All you’ll need are 3 or 4 wooden pallets, 2 lengths of steel chains, chalkboard paint, some screws, and some DIY tools to put it up with. The pallet can hang from your wall with a drop-down shelf to create a DIY cocktail bar.

woman putting a tray on a pallet table with tiles in a garden

Light Up Your Small Garden

garden at dusk
Lighting in your garden can really transform your space. Festoons from Lights4Fun

Lights are a must in the garden if you want to keep on using them into the night and in the autumn and spring. During the pandemic, we used our gardens increasingly for entertaining, getting together with friends, and escaping from our own family after being indoors with them 24/7.

Because of this, we turned our gardens into entertaining zones and festoon lights and lanterns were hard to come by.

festoon lights and fairy lights in the bushes in a garden. There are lots of fairy lights and candles on a table.
Core Connect 40m 80 Warm White Connectable Festoon Lights – lights4fun.co.uk

Now the pressure is off a little on buying garden lighting and there is a huge range to choose from. Festoon lights are ideal for accentuating zones, particularly over seating areas.

Uplighters around your lawn and paths are brilliant at making an area feel bigger. Candlelight can flicker soft light around your walled garden to make your patio feel more spacious.

You could even have dedicated little spotlights to highlight particular plants and make them appear bigger.

anthracite grey decking in the garden
Lanterns and festoon lights can look just as pretty during the day as they do at night. White lanterns from Lights4Fun

I am a huge fan of lighting in the garden, they make a space feel magical and help you to use your small garden after the sun has gone down.

Turn Your Shed Into a Multipurpose Area

If you have factored a shed into your small garden, take advantage of this space. Sheds were always spaces to fill with tools, lawnmowers, and potting plants but they have become so much more over the last decade.

Some ideas on how to use your shed include –

  • Turn it into a little summer house with clever shelving and hooks to keep all the garden paraphernalia out of the way.
  • Replace a window with a drop-down shelf so you can turn your shed into a bar.
  • Make use of all the walls of your shed. Hang paneling to attach pots and plants to and fix hooks to hold up your tools and watering can.
  • Add window boxes under the window to fill your small garden with plants
  • Turn it into a home office to give you the feeling of actually leaving home when you work from home
  • Install adjustable shelving so you can maximize the storage space
  • Use a pegboard for hanging your tools or use it as a noticeboard if you turn it into a home office.
  • Use the door! Hang shelves, hooks, and baskets from the door.
  • Make use of the ceiling. If your shed is tall enough, install ceiling storage to keep things tidy and store items you don’t use that often.

A small garden doesn’t mean it has to be small in character. There are so many things you can do to turn your small garden into a feast for the eyes with a clever layout, lots of plants and accessories, and lighting and mirrors to make the space appear bigger.

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