Small Garden Design Ideas | Embrace Landscapes

Small Garden Design Ideas

Image courtesy of Custom Creations Landscapes

If you are looking for small garden ideas you have come to the right place. Inner-city living can often mean settling for a small garden or courtyard. While it might seem like your landscaping options are limited, don’t be fooled – there are endless opportunities to maximise the small space and have your dream garden.

Vertical gardens, outdoor art, outdoor kitchens, fire pits, water features, hidden outdoor furniture, built-in seating, large privacy screens, statement pots and a planter box… the options are endless.

So, if you are looking for small garden ideas you have come to the right place. Below are our top landscape design ideas for small gardens and courtyards.

Idea 1: Vertical gardens, garden walls and green walls.

In small gardens and courtyards, it can be hard to allocate space to a garden if you also need to maximise the usable space for entertainment, play or relaxation. But you can create the illusion of a big garden within your small garden space if you are willing to embrace vertical gardens.

There are lots of different types of vertical gardens from ready-made systems that easily attach to a fence or wall via a couple of screws, through to container systems and canvas pocket systems. There are also some great DIY options for those that are a bit handy with a hammer.

It’s important to ensure that you first decide on the location of your vertical garden as the level of sunlight will dictate the type of plants you will use. For full sun check out Verbena (Verbena canadensis) and Baby’s tears (Soleirolia soleirolii). If your small garden space is well-shaded, ferns do well, so consider the Boston fern (Nephrolepis sp) and devil’s ivy (Epipremnum sp). A valuable source for more information on verticle gardens is the DIY vertical gardens book which you can buy here.

Idea 2: Outdoor art

Outdoor art has exploded into the small garden design scene and it’s bringing interesting and often colourful focal points into small gardens and courtyards. Just like vertical gardens, most outdoor art is upright and easily attached to walls and fences which means it’s a great way to introduce a statement piece into your small yard without sacrificing much space.

There are lots of materials to choose from but metals are our favourite. Copper, for example, can bring a real sense of permanence to a yard, especially as it starts to green. Stainless steel, on the other hand, can add a little sparkle to a modern yard design.

If you are after a more rustic look consider some aged timber art. Some of the recycled timber available often has a great story to go with it from its previous use. We found some great turpentine planks that had previously been used at the wharf and once cleaned up that looked amazing as a deck.

Some of the timber art can have custom patterns and designs burnt into it. The black ash on the aged timber is very subtle but can make a great one-of-a-kind feature piece.

Idea 3: Hidden outdoor furniture and storage

It is not easy to find room in a small garden or courtyard for a daybed or dining table, but with a little extra thought in the design phase, it is often possible to incorporate these items without taking up any additional space.

For example, one of our favourite additions to a small courtyard is a fold-down table. These are attached to a wall or fence and when folded up they can either blend in completely with the wall or they can be a feature piece of wall art taking up zero space. Once folded down they provide an excellent table for dining and entertainment.

Another great idea is to have raised garden beds that conceal a roll-out daybed. The hidden daybed will make the garden bed soil level much more shallow, so consideration needs to be given in the design phase as to the plants used in the garden beds.

Idea 4: Built-in seating

If you want to draw people out of the house and into the yard you need to incorporate design elements that entice people outside and built-in seating is a great way to do this. There are lots of options but two of our favourites are floating bench seats and bench seats with built-in storage.

Floating bench seats allow you to still see the ground under the seat and so, despite the bench seat encroaching into the yard, you still get a sense of greater depth and space. Make sure you extend the paving under the seating so that you create a sense of continuity in the surface covering and also consider adding some lighting under the seat. At night the lighting will help to frame the yard.

Bench seats with built-in storage are also a great option and allow for the bench seat cushions to be stored away from the rain when not in use. In fact, built-in seating can be used to store a range of items from lawn mowers to bicycles, just make sure that these items are taken into account during the design phase!

Idea 5: Create privacy

The small gardens and courtyards that are characteristic of inner-city living often go hand in hand with privacy issues. Most people want their garden or courtyard to feel like a private space for relaxing or entertaining, but having the neighbours so close can cause some issues. Don’t fret – there are solutions to give your garden the privacy you need.

Most Australian local councils allow fence heights to be extended to 2.1 metres, so a quick option is to have a screen constructed to take an existing 1.8-metre fence to 2.1 metres. That may not sound like much but it can go a long way to prevent overlooking neighbours having a direct line of sight into your yard. Adding a screen can also be an opportunity to bring a new design theme into a yard. For example, instead of just having the screen start on top of your existing fence, install a screen that covers the fence from the ground up. This can be a great way to cover an old metal or timber fence that lacks in visual appearance.

If you need more height to get the privacy, plants are the best way to go. You will want to choose a plant that matches the overall design of your yard. For example, if your design is very modern, a bamboo like Slender Weavers can really help to complement the straight lines associated with the modern theme. If you have more of a formal space, consider an ornamental pear tree such as Pyrus calleryana.

Idea 6: Pot plants

Given the limited space within your small garden or courtyard, it’s important to choose wisely with pots. Stick to one or two statement pots to make a big impact, rather than over-crowding the space with too many. Choose a style and colour that suits the feel of your garden, such as terracotta for a traditional look or a concrete pot for a more minimalistic vibe.

Clustering your pot plants in a section of your garden can also be an ideal solution for a small space. Not only will it take up less garden space, but also creates a feature in a section of your garden or courtyard. Opt for pots in varying heights and fill them with plants of different styles and texture to really create an impact.

Vertical pots are also an effective solution for small garden spaces and doubles as a natural, rustic piece of art. It’s an easy DIY project you can put together in a weekend, making it a cost-effective option as well. Start with an old timber pallet and attach stainless steel cable ties with nails. Slot in small pots filled with your favourite plants and voilà, your vertical pot feature is ready!

Idea 7: Utilise ceiling space

If your garden or courtyard has a ceiling above it, don’t disregard it! There are plenty of ways to utilise ceiling space to create more room in your small yard. Attach hanging plants to the ceiling to add more greenery without taking up additional floor space. Ferns are a great option for hanging pots, as are Devil’s Ivy, which will grow and cascade from the ceiling.

Think outside the box and use your ceiling space to attach a hidden TV screen. There are a number of ways to hide your TV in the ceiling and several Australian companies have designed motorised hidden TV solutions that can be installed in a variety of space. Installing a TV that can easily be hidden away is particularly effective if your small garden space has multiple uses, such as a dining space or mediation zone.

Idea 8: Maximise natural light

Natural light is an important aspect of your garden or courtyard and it’s important to maximise it where possible. A retractable roof is a great option, as it allows you to use your garden space in rainy weather but also lets you open up the space on a sunny day. A number of different retractable roof designs are available, from a simple fabric awning to the more sturdy louvered roof blinds solution.

Decorative roofs can also bring more light into your courtyard or small garden, while adding a decorative touch at the same time. The intricate designs also create interesting shadow patterns throughout the courtyard. Choose a bronze, rusted metal for a raw, natural look or a black painted metal for a sophisticated effect.

Idea 9: Outdoor cooking

Having a small garden or courtyard shouldn’t stop you from utilising the space as an entertaining and cooking area. Barbecues, smokers and pizza ovens are all fantastic cooking tools to have in your yard and won’t take up too much space if you shop carefully.

Options are endless when it comes to outdoor barbecues. Opt for a portable style that can be stored away when not in use or a cost-effective, portable electric barbecue if you aren’t ready to invest in one yet. If you have a particularly unusual shaped courtyard, consider having a custom barbecue designed and installed to maximise the space you have.

Smokers and pizza ovens are another great solution for small gardens and courtyards. Shop around to find the right size and type to fit your space or choose a portable style that can be stored away.

For more information on outdoor kitchens check out our blog on Designing an Outdoor Kitchen

Idea 10: Flooring and grass

Outdoor flooring, whether it’s pavers, decking or grass, is an important element in designing your yard. Before deciding on your flooring, sit down and think about how you want the space to be used and who will be using it. Will you mostly be entertaining? Do you have a dog that needs space to roam?

Pavers are a great solution if entertaining is your forte, as they can be easily cleaned and don’t require any maintenance to keep them looking great. Choosing the size of your pavers is important and should be carefully considered. Small pavers that have more joints tend to make a small space look even smaller, so a large format paver with fewer joints is often the best choice. However, small pavers have their upsides too – they generally weigh less so might save you money in labour costs if less tradesmen are required to handle them. Smaller pavers are also useful if your garden has curved edges that need to paved around.

Another solution is to use a combination of large pavers and stones to create texture and save money, as less pavers will be required to create the look. Choose stones that are a similar colour to your pavers to ensure a seamless look or go for different colours for an eye-catching effect.

If you’re worried that pavers look too plain, try adding an outdoor rug in a bright colour or geometric pattern. This will create a focal point and add to the overall look and feel of your courtyard. Many outdoor rugs are made from recycled material, making them an eco-friendly option as well.

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