Garden Design for Small Spaces

Small Space Garden

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Gardening in small spaces is generally overlooked in garden design manuals. Garden design is often presented as a list of principles or rules, and there is value in the key elements of garden design, but they are too often illustrated on a grand scale. Most of us do not have acres of land on which to carefully calculate the width versus length of our perennial borders. Many of us don’t have the time or the inclination to undertake the maintenance these acres of gardens would need.

Gardening in a small space has its limits, but it need not be limiting. In a small garden, the gardener can pay attention to detail. You can keep on top of maintenance, while still having time to sit and enjoy your small garden. In fact, many small space gardens are designed around entertaining and sitting areas, rather than the need to nurture plants.

Whatever your reasons for having a small garden, there is no reason it cannot be a well-designed show stopper. Virtually any plant or garden style can be worked into a small garden space. The principles of good garden design still apply, but you’ll need to tweak them slightly.

Small Garden Design Challenges

  1. The entire garden can be viewed as a whole. Some small garden spaces will be able to accommodate a hidden turn around a path or even be divided into garden rooms, but for the most part, small gardens can be taken in whole, in one look. This means that, more than ever, your garden will be viewed as a composition. You will undoubtedly be tweaking for years to come, but starting with somewhat of a plan will save you the time and effort of endlessly moving things around.
  2. Limited space means you are going to have to make choices. You won't be able to grow every plant you love. This could be the toughest challenge for most gardeners. You will need to curb your inclination to buy a plant on impulse and assume you'll find a place for it. Shopping with your garden plan in mind will help you focus on the plants that will work best in your garden.
  3. Color should also be limited, to give your small garden cohesion. Less is more. Start with a palette of 2 - 3 colors. You can always add a few plants in accent colors. Cooler colors will make the garden appear larger and give the garden a feeling of depth. You can compensate for the limited color palette with a variety of textures. The textural contrast will help blend the various plants and allow the garden to flow.
  4. Every plant or feature will need to serve a purpose. There is no room for wasted space or under-performing plants. Plants should offer at least two seasons of interest, preferably three or four.

Small Garden Bonuses

  1. Design can be easier when you can take in the whole picture at once.
  2. It takes fewer plants to make a dramatic effect. Just make sure you aren't planting one of this and one of that. Too many different, individual plants will create chaos. Find a few plants that grow well and plant them in large clumps, repeating the clumps throughout the garden.
  3. Gardeners get to know every space and plant in a small garden. Any plant that is out of place or not thriving can be spotted and corrected quickly. Be ruthless. If you can't bring yourself to compost an ailing plant, at least move it out of sight will it recovers.
  4. Small gardens lend themselves to being enclosed. You may not want to install a stone wall, but a flowering or evergreen hedge will give the illusion of a secret garden. A simple low boxwood edge transforms a small garden into a formal garden. Hardscaping and fencing enclose and define a space for entertaining or children's play.

A small space garden lends itself to personal expression. Smaller gardens are extensions of your home and speak volumes about the sensibilities and tastes of the gardener. And if those tastes and sensibilities should change, it's much easier to rework a small garden.

Have a peek at this small garden photo gallery and see how varied small spaces can be.