Small Garden Designs

Adding Structure to Your Small Garden


Small garden designs profit from careful planning for structural elements. These structural elements can make a huge impact when a designer takes the time to refine the base plan with a few key decisions.  

Look at each of these things with care and begin to infuse your garden with some unique features that set it apart.


Depending upon the size of your garden space, you may not be able to apply all of these key ideas, but each should be considered carefully and the benefits of each weighed before casting them aside.




Pay Close Attention to Proportion and Scale

Elegant Garden Water Feature with Clay ots

The garden pictured above makes excellent use of proportion and scale. This is one of the points that most homeowners tend to forget.

Garden design is all about arranging the masses and the forms of a space and taking advantage of the concept of figure and ground. The first unconscious observation most of us make when we view a space is about how these negative and positive spaces interplay with one another, and whether that interaction is pleasing to us.

If it is not, we dismiss the space as being unfinished or disproportionate, where if it is pleasing to us, we are likely to find the garden space lovely.

For a detailed discussion of these principles, visit my rules of composition page, and the pages on symmetrical and asymmetrical balance.


Design Unique Garden Structures


Use a beautiful trellis as the entrance to agarden path

Infusing small garden designs with a unique structure or two is just a good idea. Garden structures provide interest, create privacy, allow opportunity for storage or shade, provide purchase for new and exciting plantings, cover a multitude of 'ugly' sins and can help create a sense of order.

As you design for these structures to your garden, pay close attention to whether these structures are visually compatible with the overall effect you would like to create in your garden. Too much variety in styles, colors, or shapes can destroy the sense of unity required to ensure your final result is harmonious.


Consider Creating Garden Illusions


Small garden designs can often benefit from a bit of trickery. Especially in our postage stamp urban lots, where even growing a tree can be a challenge. Early in your planning you have opportunity to include some elements in your garden that can help to visually expand the space and provide more interest.

Use garden illusion to make things appear as they are not. One example is here, an old shutter placed strategically to give the illusion of a shuttered window facing out into the garden. This adds character to the garden, evoking images of delightfully decaying manor houses against the stucco covered wall.

Use an old window shutter as a garden decoratio

In this case, the imagery and associations associated with the stucco wall and old painted shutters evoke an elegant and restful feeling.


Construct Pleasing Garden Boundaries

An elegantly crafted bamboo fence makes a great garden borde

An opportunity often missed by amateur gardeners that invigorates small garden designs is including an attention-grabbing garden boundary. An interesting trellis or an unusual fence will up the ante on your small garden space, and is likely to be a great conversation piece to boot.

Fencing and boundaries can be living or inanimate. Beautiful climbers trained against an otherwise boring wall improve your style, while architectural treatments of fences, walls, and other inanimate elements in the garden add a decorative element to the boundaries that usually plays well against the bounty nature provides.


Enhance Your Garden with a Classy Entrance

Bougainvillea is an excellent climber for a garden arbo

Nothing says high-quality like a great garden entrance. One of our strongest instincts is to go through a doorway or a garden gate. We move through these entrances to delight in what is beyond. What is even better is we don't even really have to GO through them. Our imaginations will provide the lure without anything more than the mere suggestion.

Use these grand entrances throughout the garden to separate space, to create allure, or to provide enclosure. Ensure that as you design these doorways and gates into the garden that you pay close attention to creating a unified look. Sticking three differently styled entrances into various places in the garden will destroy the needed sense of unity, while the same three entrances highly unified in style will set the tone for the entire garden.


Get in the Groove with Interesting Garden Forms

An example of a formal garden with strong structural element

Playing upon the form of the plants in your garden, coupled with some interesting borders, can create some unusual and innovative gardens. The one above is a formal treatment, but the use of contrasting forms of any group of plantings or hardscape will generate an exciting garden. Evergreen plantings, structural garden specimens, all combined with creeping groundcovers and tied together with distinctive garden structures is a recipe for success in any garden style.

Plan to include interesting forms in your small garden designs right from the beginning. These additions will serve you well over the life of the garden, as they provide interest all year round, and during the lush months of summer provide a solid foundation for your more delicate and ephemeral garden plant life.



If you've missed them, there are some important design principles on the Elements and Principles of Design pages on this site that will help you to think about your design process differently. There is also a section you won't want to miss which puts those design principles into action...Check those out on the Design inspirations pages.




› Planning for Structure

Start at the Beginning with Planning the Garden Layout

Continue to the Planning a Garden Border Page 





Related Links


Planning the Garden Layout 


Decorative Garden Accents


Low Maintenance Gardening