Design an Urban Garden


How to Design an Urban Garden.

More and more people are living in cities so what do you need to consider when you want to design an urban garden.

Aside from the garden being quite small often the main garden feature is everyone else! Looking out of the window or back door reveals a view consisting mainly of other buildings and fences. How do you create a garden that feels like you are in your own little oasis when all around you are windows and walls?

It’s all about tricking the eye and activating your senses.

The more your garden holds your interest through sight, touch, sound and smell – not forgetting taste…. the less interest you have in the world outside.

Take this example of a small city garden space.

emtpty small urban garden grass no plants overlooked garden


You want to maximise the available space you have, but also include attractive looking plants that provide some privacy. The best shape of plant to choose are tall but skinny plants.

Here are some tips:Shop category images planting plans

  • Avoid anything spiky (no matter how ‘architectural’ it may look) in pots or in your borders ; no-one likes being impaled!
  • Keep to a simple design and avoid irregular shaped borders.
  • It is better to have 1 large impressive border in a small garden than lots of narrow or small borders.


Light or Privacy?

This is always the paradox with small urban gardens, to create a more private space, you need to plant tall – this however cuts down the available sunshine and increases the amount of shade. You need to decide what is more important for you.

If you choose privacy, then you can create a tall oasis of ‘jungle’ plants. Use lots of different foliage shapes and textures and only use 1 or 2 flower colours (with one being white).

drawing garden redesign small urban garden wildlife friendly plants

Keep your attention in the garden with bright happy colours

If you prefer to maximise the available light, then you have more of a choice with the planting styles, bold and bright colours will capture your attention more than a pastel palette holding your vision inside your garden.

However choose plants that will move in a breeze and also those with plenty of scent. Our eyes are conditioned to notice movement, as such swaying plants are more interesting to look at than boring shrubs. Secondly as you are enclosed, the perfume from scented plants will stay in your garden for longer, so you can enjoy it more!

Can I help? A little advice is always free


We all love a lawn, but when looking to design an urban garden, you really need to ask whether you can grow a good lawn.

  • How well does the ground drain?
  • Do surrounding buildings cut out the sunshine?
  • Will you always walk on the same small piece of grass?

If there are issues with poor drainage, low light levels or heavy use; don’t have a lawn.

Lawns need sunshine to grow lush and thick. The smaller the lawn, the greater the proportionate wear and tear, so you quickly develop muddy patches and threadbare bits. Plus, you need a mower and sheds take up a lot of space in a small garden.

Paths and Patios must be low maintenance, so choose the right medium for the right place.

  • In shady spots, you will get green algae growing, which is slippery and ankle-breakingly slippery on decking.
  • Light coloured paving will go green too in the shade.
  • Decorative stone paths (not pea shingle) are impossibly difficult to rake clear of leaves.
  • Pine needles are even worse to try to rake or remove, so have an easy to sweep path or patio if you get needle drop.
  • Decorative concrete setts / block paving have lots of joins – meaning lots of places for seeds to germinate, so a putting an ornamental grasses garden upwind of your patio…you know you will have work to do!
shingle paths

Paths – Plan for Debris!

Messy Trees & Untidy Plants:

If you read lots of garden magazines you will get lots of tips for plants and trees for small gardens, many will advocate the virtues of fruit bearing trees as these trees have ‘something going on’ all year round and that is great.

But no one shows you the picture of the red or purple bird poop droppings everywhere or the rotten fruit that has fallen on the ground attracting wasps nor do they mention that the fruit drop stains the patio.

We think these things are actually important, the boss’ garden at home is surrounded by birch trees – ‘ooh how wonderful’, according to garden design books.

Birch trees cast a light dappled shade, are not too overpowering, have pretty bark but also drop thousands of leaves, bucket loads of the tiniest seeds that invariably blow into your wine glass as well as dropping armfuls of twiggy branches – ALL YEAR!

Here are our top plant design tips for small urban gardens!

  • ‘Good for Naturalising’ plants are not good in a small urban garden.
  • ‘Vigorous’ – is a word to avoid on any plant label.
  • Spreads via underground roots/suckers – maybe only plant this in a large sturdy pot.
  • ‘Self Seeds’ you have a choice, don’t buy it or cut the seeds heads off before they are ripe.
  • Evergreen – this is good!
  • Scented…this is good too
  • Avoid anything prickly – it will be a pain in the proverbials
  • Climbers, these can easily become a tangled mess. Climbers will grow toward the light, so if your garden is quite shady, you will eventually only see the woody stems as the plant heads up to the sunshine and flowers above your head.

Read also: The Plotting Shed or why not get in touch. Email me for some advice at rachel@plantplots.com or you could buy a fabulous garden design book I Want to Like my Garden, which has lots more wonderful advice to help get your garden looking gorgeous.

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For more amazing garden advice – buy our book. Written to help make your garden better.