Small Garden Design – How to Get Started

So, you have decided to start a small garden, but where should you start? The first step in any small garden design project is planning the type of garden you want to grow.

Do you want a small garden with lots of color? Will you want flowers that you can cut and bring indoors? If so, then you will want to think about flower garden design. Do you want to combine an interest in cooking with a small vegetable garden design or an herb garden design? Maybe you want to consider a combination garden.

Once you have a starting point on the type of garden you want, before you start your small garden design, you need to consider a few things…

What is your planting zone?

How many hours of sun does your garden area get during the day?

Does the amount of sun change during the day or the seasons?

If your garden is in a small portion of a yard, what else is already growing in that area?

Let’s start with your planting zone. What is a planting zone? In North America, the USDA has created a Hardiness Zone Map that divides North America into 11 different planting zones. A low and high range of temperatures defines each zone. While there are limitations to using a zone map, it will give you some idea of whether a plant will survive in your climate.

Some sources for finding planting zone information are on the back of seed packets, in the plant description, and on the internet. This information will not only help you determine if a plant can survive in your climate range, but how early you can plant a particular plant in your location. While zone maps are not perfect, they can provide a useful start to determining the plants to use in your small garden design.

One of most important factors in determining the types of plants you can use as you develop your small garden design will be the amount of sun you get in the area you want to plant. Whether it is a container garden for your patio, deck, balcony, or rooftop or a small area in your yard where you are going to plant, you need to spend some time evaluating the amount of sun you get in that area. Do you get full sun for 6 to 8 hours a day? Is the area in the sun in the morning and shade in the afternoon or shade in the morning and sun in the afternoon?

The amount of sun you receive in your planting area will determine whether you can plant sun-loving plants, shade plants, or plants that can take part sun/part shade. Armed with the information about your planting zone and the amount of sunlight in your area, the next step will be to start determining the types of plants you want in your small garden design. Now the fun starts…

Small Garden Design Ideas – Introduction

One of the challenges of small garden design is of course space Unlike large gardens, you must be much more disciplined in your approach. While experimentation is easier in the smaller garden, you will want to spend some time planning. You will need to be satisfied with fewer types of plants. Instead of buying a new plant spur of the moment, you will want to spend a little more time thinking about the potential new plant’s fit in terms of spread, height, color and texture.

With the smaller garden, it is not as easy to do things like hidden turns and garden rooms. But this does not mean you need to throw away the elements of contemporary garden design. You have opportunities to do similar things on a smaller scale. Imagine you have a small garden space towards the back of your yard. It is on your right as you walk towards it. You can start with a low boxwood-type hedge, or in my case a rock about 12″ high with a sharpish edge on the top. My rock is about 3 feet long. I laid the rock perpendicular to and touching my garage wall, forming a border shaped like a mountain range. As you walk further back, the area at first obscured by the rock reveals itself. I tried to make this more dramatic by using multicolored peonies planted very tightly against the side of the rock near the garage wall. This way, you see a small explosion of color that remains hidden until you have come completely to the level of the rock. This is my version of the hidden turn.

While large hardscapes such as boulders and walls may be out of the question, you can still create the illusion of separation by using hedges, rocks as in my example, gravel rivers as in Japanese gardening, etc. For myself, instead of trying to create rooms or separation within a single garden area, I have several small garden areas which are for the most part separated by lawn. In some cases I try to treat each of these tiny areas as separate gardens or rooms.

This gives me the ability to try new things fairly quickly in a small garden area. If it doesn’t work, or if I want to try something new, I may buy some additional plants, or I might move plants from one of the other little gardens. I can add my “mini hardscapes” like rock, and move plants around in a matter of minutes. I think experimentation is one of my favorite things about this type of gardening. While on the one hand, you need to plan for the appropriate plants, on the other hand you can swap different plants in and out of a particular spot to see which works best, or just to try out a new idea.

As always, you will need to take note of your growing zone, especially the hours of sun vs. shade in the area you are planting. We do site analysis in the first place to know which plants will thrive in our garden. I read once that a poorly chosen plant becomes an annual, so don’t let that happen to you! Make sure to select your plant for the appropriate size, texture, color, and durability for your planting area. Some of my areas get sun for 6 hours, some are always in shade.

Unlike a larger garden, you will be able to see your entire garden as one entity. Even though you can have some separation into tiny rooms if you want, remember to look at each small garden as a complete composition. The way the plants work together to form the whole can be much more important in the small garden.

Everything I have read indicates that you should be somewhat monochromatic with your small garden. Use different variations and subtleties of the dominant color. Show differences with height, texture, etc. On the other hand, I have always been a little bit of a contrarian, so you can always try explosions of different colors, especially if you have an object to anchor the explosion, like a rock, small bird bath, sundial, bench, etc. For myself, I will never tire of red and green against a whitish rock.

And again, here is the versatility of the small garden. You can still have some of the traditional elements of the larger garden, like a separated sitting area or playing area. But here are some options. First, instead of one garden area with a play area, have 2 different garden areas separated by the playing area. If you want a bench, or sitting area, try the same – 2 separate gardens divided by the sitting area.

If you decide to try some of these small garden design ideas, I’d love to know how it worked out for you!

Small Garden Design Advice and Tips

A Small Garden Design can be just as enjoyable and in some ways effective and productive as a large Garden in the sense of crop production per plant, of course I am looking at Vegetable Garden Layouts, in the case of a flower garden they can be just as visually stunning. However as I am looking at a crop garden you will have to accept that in many cases small gardens will be in confined spaces and we would need to consider this when selecting out planting items.

We must of course maximise what little space we have in Small garden design so and we must therefore consider if containers will be more productive as we can perhaps move them around. If for example our Garden is shaded at certain times of the year we can easily move containers about to best maximise this available sunshine.

Building on levels can also help both in planting to maximise sunshine but also in providing an illusion of size and keeping certain crops separated. It may also allow access to more sunshine by eliminating shadows and obstruction from surrounding walls. Just take a look at the shadows in your garden and see where the sun is hitting at the different time of day and of course season and if by having a raised container it removes this obstacle, certainly I first remember as a kid seeing some containers on tables and could not figure out why and asked the question and saw that this simple process had more than doubled the amount of time the crop was in the sunlight.

Some assistance with what to plant can be found on the back of most seeds, here information will be available and of course in North America the USDA has created 11 planting zones which helps define the types of plant which are best suited for your area. The zone provides information on sunshine and temperatures and this helps to pick the right plants for your climate and also gives information on the right time to plant them.

Now just because it is a Small Garden Design does not mean we should forget all the other criteria when we are planning. S o we still need to consider soil and drainage as well as the sunshine prior to going ahead.

If however we plan this out and just take some time on the assessment of what we can and can’t do subject to the environmental conditions there is no reason why we can’t have an enjoyable and productive garden.

Small Garden Design: What You Need to Do

For people who love plants, a small garden is a curse. But it shouldn’t be. As a matter of fact, small gardens can be such a delight if you apply small garden designs that make your space look a lot bigger.

Sure, having a small garden is not as grand as having acres of land devoted solely for gardening. But when it comes to setup and maintenance, a small garden is a winner. You don’t need a whole lot of plants just to make the garden filled with life. You only need a couple of key elements during your start up, and you’re good to go.

There are a couple of things to consider before planting. The following should be included in planning your small garden design:

  1. Budget constraints – Having a small garden may seem less costly than having an expansive one. However, there are still expenses involved especially if you want your garden to look its best. If you cannot afford to buy all the plants and ornaments you need at once, deal with the most needed at the moment. You can always build a collection of plants over the months once you have your budget sorted out.
  2. Selection of plants – Some plants thrive in shady areas, while others bask under the sun. Consider where you’re going to place your plants so that you won’t have to risk them withering due to inappropriate conditions. You might also want to look into having perennials instead of annuals or biennials as the former thrive longer. This means you don’t have to redo your garden design often since you can count on your plants to simply grow back again.
  3. Focal point – Gardens are about not only flowers, trees and plants. They are also about focal points or centerpieces in your garden. A focal point serves as a balancing add-on to your garden. It helps emphasize your garden design by guiding the eye toward the midpoint. Without a focal point, your garden will simply look like a hodgepodge of plants lopsidedly placed on the ground. Without a center, your garden will look more of a jungle.
  4. Layers or rooms – The problem with a small garden is that it can’t accommodate all the plants that you want. By building layers, you get to place varieties of plants in smaller areas, thereby giving your garden character. Before you do the layering, ask your local gardening stores which plants grow tall and which do not so that you’ll have a successful layered design for your garden.