Planning the Garden Layout
First Steps to an Unmatched Small Garden Plan




A garden layout that sets itself apart from a typical residential design is spawned by a designer who employs a unique set of thinking. 

Many of us do not think of arranging a garden in terms of manipulation of the human eye in the

creation of our landscapes. Doing so can pave the way to an exceptional garden.

The very fact that your garden is small means that any ornamentation you employ will have greater and more dynamic impact.


beautifully planted clay pot

The ideas we will visit on this page will allow you to achieve unified, dynamic small garden layout by helping you focus on the elements that can set your landscape apart during the formation stages of your plan.

What you do during the design stages absolutely sets the tone for your garden, much as flooring or paint color is one of the major considerations when you plan your indoor decor.

Why do we overlook that in the landscape?


Create the Base Plan - The First Steps

These steps set the foundation for a garden layout that achieves star status. Your first critical decisions shape the final fantastic result more than any other decisions you make in the entire design process.



a woodland path withgarden stairs

Use opportunities to create multiple levels


Your first step in developing a new garden layout is to evaluate your site.

As you review a small space, what are the key things you notice about the garden surfaces? Look for the clues in what you already have, and decide what they suggest in regard to changes of level.

Respond to that thinking by designing in multiple levels before you ever begin thinking about planting if your garden will support them. If your garden does not lend itself to changes of level without considerable expense, move on and begin thinking about the next design element.




Preserve Interesting Borrowed Elements

While you are assessing your site, look around you at the features on nearby property that provide unique interest. Do you live next to the ocean or a beautiful lake? Does your property overlook a quaint street scene? Are there mountain views that are worth preserving? Maybe there are interesting buildings within borrowing distance of your property.

garden water feature with a view of the ocean

A garden layout that incorporates these borrowed elements benefits from a sense of integration and unity with the surrounding environment.

Designing to preserve these elements while in the planning phase, you are thinking like a professional landscaper.



Decide upon the mood you want to create

english garden with beautiful garden urn

Having assessed your site for its inherent and defining characteristics, it is time to begin thinking about what style and mood you want to create. Small garden designs, like those of a larger landscape, benefit from a unified mood.

Begin to think about whether you want cottage style, english formal style, shade gardens, or a touch of Tuscany in your landscape. These decisions guide other choices you will make, such as design of hardscape elements and what plants to use. They also will suggest what colors to emphasize in your planning and influence the design of structures and ornaments for your new space.

Unfortunately most homeowners begin here, and they have already missed important elements that help to shape the most endearing and heartwarming displays.



Pump up the Space Plan

garden courtyard with koi pond

A strong garden layout for your small space, almost more than any other landscape design, must organize space and work hard. Small gardens must provide drama while maintaining a functional capability akin to the Space Shuttle. 

This is your opportunity to start the development of a unique garden. The stimulating garden shown here could have been the "normal" set of perennial beds, and might have been very beautiful, but the designer

here did not stop with beautiful! This space is a conversation piece... quiet, beautiful, and definitely unique. 

This was achieved because the designer thought deeply about the use of the available space.



For more on how to make your garden appear larger, take a look at the page I have put together on spatial organization. Here you will get a glimpse of some important visual principles related to how we view space.

You may also want more information on how to layout your landscape to ensure it has the functionality you desire. You'll find that help by visiting the identifying your goals page.




› First Steps

Continue to Building Garden Structure Page



Some Photos Used Under CC License from the following contributors:

Brenda Starr



Related Links



Landscape Planning


Garden Plan


Cottage Garden Style Guide


Formal English Garden Style Guide


Country Garden Style Guide