How to Design a Small Garden

How to Design a Small Garden-bp-fi

Garden sizes aren’t what they used to be, many modern gardens are small and often odd shapes. This reduction in area makes designing more difficult, what can you put in and what should you leave out of the garden. Traditionally gardens have been designed around a lawn with flower beds and a small patio, but this layout doesn’t work well in smaller spaces. Luckily for you, here are some top tips to help you learn how to design a small garden.

Small Garden Problems

No garden is perfect, there are always areas that give the owners a headache, but small gardens concentrate those problems, for example our love of lawns. Grass is great, it is nice to walk on and sit upon, but grass doesn’t really like being walked on much! In small gardens, the grass is more likely to spend more of the day in shade (from buildings and fences) but more of an issue is footfall. Because the lawn is small, the route walked over it is always the same, some grass gets walked on endlessly, so it wears away.

Aha, I hear you cry, that’s why you pop a path through the lawn, but the path then becomes the focal point in the garden; leading your view to what? The shed, garage, bins, the gate?


Small gardens have many issues to deal with:

  • Getting the grass to grow evenly and well
  • Rain-shadows caused by buildings, creating dry shaded areas
  • Paths dominating the design and layout
  • Storage – sheds don’t shrink just because the garden has!
  • Seating takes up a larger percentage of the available space
  • Straight vertical and horizontal lines dominate
  • Larger plants would take up all the space and the sunlight
  • And then the neighbours can all see in – you need a bit of privacy

How to Design a Small Garden

The picture is of a very typical small modern garden, so how do you start thinking about a design?

Firstly; Prioritise your needs.

This is your garden, so it has to tick the boxes you want. Consequently the first piece of equipment you need is a pen and paper! Write down all the things you love about being outside. What makes you smile, what would you like to do if you could. But most importantly what you dislike about gardening and what you dislike about your garden.

Decide what to adapt and what needs a design solution

This is about understanding what can’t be changed. In the above garden, the house wall at the end will always cast a deep shadow. Trying to grow a lawn or flowers in this area will prove tricky – so what could be a better solution? In essence you work with the problem to find a workable solution, the garden will be better for it.

The shed can be adapted, it can’t be moved, but there are ways to integrate the shed into the design . The shed is too big to hide, but it can be hidden in plain sight. It can be made more attractive and less like an orange shed!

Plan the design around what you like doing most

There are going to be compromises in any small garden, but you must not compromise what you would like to use the garden for. It may be you love sunbathing, or you love cooking outside. Whatever it is, this reason is the main driver of the design – everything else fits around this purpose.

This is just a starting point, but hopefully this post has started you thinking in a different way about the design for your garden.

PlantPlots Garden book

Clearly we could write a book on how to design a small garden (which I have!) but there are plenty of articles on this site to help you design your garden.

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