Small gardens have a lot more potential than you realize. Whether dealing with a long narrow space behind a vintage home, a cramped backyard that lacks privacy, or a shabby garden at the rear of a brownstone the possibilities are endless. So don’t write off your 40-foot by 20-foot outdoor area just yet — with the right design, it could be an incredible garden.

Design Ideas

Small Gardens That Feel Big

Design tips:

  • Remember the importance of negative space, even a tiny courtyard or lawn can provide balance to a small garden.
  • Include built-in seating in a corner to keep your garden from feeling crowded.
  • Use a living wall to add lushness where ground space is limited.
  • Step back and look at your yard with fresh eyes, then simplify and tidy.
  • Even if your outdoor space seems overwhelming, pick just one thing that you most want to change.
  • Think big. Ample pathways and gathering spaces are inviting, and large features are engaging in any size space.
  • You can maximize the livability of a small yard by taking advantage of changes in terrain to segment the space into different living areas. Dividing a garden, even when small, often has the paradoxical effect of making it seem larger.
  • In small gardens where space is too limited for major focal points, compose a series of mini views within the garden itself, offering interest in every direction while using plants to provide a framework.
  • Divide the garden into outdoor rooms that echo and expand upon the home’s interior, giving both inside and out more purpose and making everything feel larger.
  • If you plan to entertain groups, keep the furniture and plantings along the perimeter of the garden to allow for mingling in the center of the space.
  • When selecting plants for a relatively small space, don’t go color crazy — stick with a more monochromatic scheme of cooler colors (such as blues, violets, yellows and silvery greens) — otherwise you may end up with a garden that feels close and confined.
  • Don't forget lighting to extend the use of your yard well into the night.

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