Small Garden Design Ideas to Transform Compact Spaces

A small garden with a seasting area with two chairs and permeable paving interplanted with ground cover plants
(Image credit: Harry Holding)

Small garden design ideas are vital if you're working with a limited outdoor space. Unlike those with sprawling lawns or patios to seat a hundred, every inch of space has to be considered when planning a small garden design

The key is not to feel limited by a compact outdoor space — as our experts will demonstrate, they often inspire some of the most elegant and interesting design solutions. 

As not every space is the same size or shape, we've collected a range of styles, designs and landscaping layouts so you can get started with all of the inspiration and ideas you will need. 

Scroll down to find everything from strategic planting tips, ingenious hardscaping ideas and simple, cost effective upgrades that will make the most of any awkward area. 

Maximise your space with these small garden design ideas

First things first, start by thinking about your priorities for your garden. Do you like planting in beds or pots? When designing beds and planters in a narrow garden, try to construct along just one side, rather than two to reduce the feeling of being boxed in. Pots are great as they can be moved out of the way as needed but consider adding one large, feature pot to create drama. 

Will a patio be required for entertaining guests? Is it worth extending the patio through the whole garden, rather than dividing the small space into unusable and separate patio and lawn areas. 

Would a covered space for all-year-round use be helpful? If we have learned anything from this year, it's that maximising time out in the garden is key to wellbeing and, sometimes, socialising. Consider adding a permanent cover over a section of garden for use in rainy weather.

Once you have a wish-list it is much easier to collect small garden design ideas that will suit your space that can be replicated for a sleek finish. 

1. Pack in as much greenery as possible

A small back garden with a seating area at the bottom and a permeable green pathway leading to it

(Image credit: Harry Holding)

Harry Holding, who won first place in the 2024 SGD awards Big Ideas, Small Budget Award category, explains his approach to designing small garden ideas. "Imagine the garden as an entirely planted space and then carved out the hard landscape areas that are required for functional purposes."

"Being surrounded by planting is a joyful thing so ensuring a small space is packed full of plants and that your journey through takes you into the planting can have a powerful impact," he says.

When choosing a planting pallette for small gardens he explains it's vital to always work with the conditions and be led by the environment and site. 

Harry Holding headshot
Harry Holding

Garden designer Harry Holding has won multiple awards for his work including the People's Choice award at RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2023 as well as SGD awards for the past 3 years running.

2. Screen certain areas from view

A small rectangular garden in an urban plot. With an outdoor dining table near the house and a relaxed seating area at the rear

(Image credit: Harry Holding)

Harry's aim was to bring 'depth, mystery and intrigue' into the small garden space he transformed into an enchanting woodland garden.

He did this through multi-layered planting, a winding path and obscured views. 'By screening aspects of the garden and avoiding reading the whole garden in one glance, you can create an immersive experience that makes you want to explore further into the space,' Harry says.

Think about ways you can screen areas of your garden, either with planting or decorative screens. This is a way to create privacy from neighbours as well. 

3. Use a restricted colour palette 

A small patio with lush planting on the boundaries and in pots with a small bistro furniture set

(Image credit: George Cullis)

In a small space, award winning landscape architect George Cullis, likes to use limited colours to keep a cohesive space.

In the scheme above George explains that he "developed a restrained planting selection with a limited colour palette of greens, blue and white with textural interest to create cohesion in the small space."

He also introduced a rhythm and sense of calm within the planting scheme, by using large splashes of repeating flowers. 

This restrained approach also applied to the hardscaping. "By restricting the hard landscaping materials to soft greys and off whites there is a further sense of unity," explains George.

George Cullis headshot
George Cullis

George studied landscape architecture at the University of Greenwich, London. After receiving his Master of Landscape Architecture (MLA) George has led and delivered a wide range of projects both in the UK and abroad. 

4. Blur the boundaries

A decked garden area fenced off with black railings and with naturalistic planting in the foreground

(Image credit: Ellie Walpole)

Professional landscape designer Adam Vetere, believes that a garden can extend beyond its own boundaries by 'borrowing' views from the surrounding area.

"Utilising views or landscapes beyond the garden can be integrated into the design," he says. Blur the boundaries using planting. "These design techniques can make the space appear larger than it actually is," says Adam.

He also suggests: "Providing points of interest/stopping points for the eye, as it wanders through the space". This can be done with planting, sculpture or water features.

Adam Vetere headshot
Adam Vetere

A multi award winning garden and landscape designer and member of the APL Association of Professional Landscapers. He was awarded Designer of the Year by them in 2022.

5. Allow space for seating

A high angled shot of a small bistro table and chairs on a gravel patio surrounded by planting

(Image credit: Ellie Walpole)

"Somewhere to sit and enjoy the space you have created is key,' says Adam Vetere. "If space allows, a small area for a dining/cafe table. The area should be warm and welcoming, even on the coldest and darkest of days during the winter months," he advises.

If you are after a seating area for your small garden, consider buying foldaway furniture, or a narrow table that won't take up too much of the patio/garden space. 

In this tiny outdoor space, extra storage can be found in the built-in seating while the steps also offer different levels to place plants — providing the illusion fluidity and space. 

6. Create an Indoor/Outdoor Connection

A view through sliding doors to a small courtyard garden lush with planting

(Image credit: George Cullis)

A trick normally used to make interiors of houses feel bigger, using sliding glass, bifold or patio doors ideas to connect indoor and outdoor spaces can work both ways — making the areas feel like one large, usable living room. 

In this design George Cullis worked closely with the client to integrate the planting palette with the rest of the house decoration. "The meandering pockets of planting ensure there is a sense that there is always something beyond helping the space to feel deeper," says George.

7. Light Up a Cosy Garden Dining Area

An outdoor table under a shaded archway with climbing plants and festoon lights

(Image credit: Lights4fun)

In a small garden which doesn't get much sun – for instance once which faces North or is over-shadowed by trees or neighbours – have a change of perspective and create the perfect outdoor spot for evening and nighttime entertaining. 

An essential feature of this is ensuring you've incorporated adequate garden lighting ideas

Solar LEDs hidden in beds, wired outdoor wall lights and festoon feature lights are all great options for creating a warm and welcoming environment. 

8. Create Privacy in a Small Garden with Strategic Planting

A grey garden corner sofa on a decking with an outdoor rug and potted plants

(Image credit: Danetti)

Houses with smaller gardens tend to be overlooked by neighbours in terraces or hemmed in by unappealing fencing so choose plants and shrubs wisely to create height and a sense of privacy around the border.

As small gardens are naturally limited on plantable space, opt for perennials and evergreens that offer visual interest all year round.

9. Utilise Cost-effective Tricks for the Illusion of a Bigger Garden

An outdoor mirror mounted on a red brick garden wall

(Image credit: CharlesTed)

Installing a mirror along a garden wall to reflect the sky, greenery and create the illusion of extra space is a cheap trick that works wonders.

Other ingenious ideas along the walls could include adding shelving to increase potting potential and hanging baskets with creeping and drooping plants.

10. Transform a Small Shed into a Covered Seating Area

covered seating area in small garden ideas

(Image credit: Lights4fun)

This tiny, narrow garden uses every inch of space to create the ultimate cosy garden seating area but the real winner to us is the shallow shed at the end of the garden, welcoming visitors to shelter with a blanket and a glass of something tasty.

11. Create an Outdoor Living Room

small garden living room design ideas

(Image credit: Wayfair)

Take the principals of decorating interiors to a cosy outdoor corner to give a real sense of purpose in a small garden.

This garden is relaxed yet incredible welcoming — complete with fireplace (and firepit), trolley bar and comfy armchair.

12. Give a Small Garden Design a Makeover

bright colour on walls for small garden design

(Image credit: Carpetright)

If your small garden is feeling a little tired and in need of TLC, consider giving a new lease of life to exterior walls and fencing with a bright, vibrant colour (using the best masonry paint). 

By creating an identity associated with the space, it will feel renewed and ready for another year to host and entertain.

13. Get on a Different Level When Designing a Small Garden

simple garden planting ideas

(Image credit: Cox & Cox)

Looking at garden steps ideas, adding a sunken patio or creating a change in level will give opportunities to create a feeling of space, as well as a few extra spots for adding greenery, water features, and even a small sculpture. This can also help to create more useable space for sloping garden ideas

Amy Reeves

Assistant Editor Amy began working for Homebuilding & Renovating in 2018. She has an interest in sustainable building methods and always has her eye on the latest design ideas. Amy has interviewed countless self builders, renovators and extenders about their experiences for Homebuilding & Renovating magazine. She is currently renovating a mid-century home, together with her partner, on a DIY basis, and has recently fitted her own kitchen.