18 Beautiful Design Ideas for Small Gardens

If you have a limited amount of real estate but want to design a garden with unlimited impact, we have some great ideas for you to create a beautiful garden that will suit your space perfectly. Here, gardening expert Melissa Strauss shares 19 design ideas that are perfect for creating a beautiful garden in a small space.

A serene garden glows with colorful flowers and trees, embracing the warmth of the radiant sunlight. Beyond the sturdy wooden fences, towering trees provide a verdant backdrop, adding depth to the picturesque scene.

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To design a beautiful garden, you don’t necessarily need to have a grand space to work with. Some of the most charming and well-curated gardens I have visited were created in small spaces. Working within a limited space can actually make it easier to create a cohesive and well-planned garden.

Small-space gardening requires some forethought if you want to maximize the space, and a well-drafted plan is a valuable tool in designing any sized garden. You might be surprised at how much time and money you can save by planning ahead. Begin by determining what your design goals are and what kind of plants will work best in your space.

Decide whether you want to build a small functional vegetable garden, a strictly ornamental garden, or something in between. Once your goal is clear, you can begin to explore designing a garden to suit your space. From the innovative to the tried and true, here are 19 design ideas to create a beautiful small garden

Tower Garden

A row of white vertical planters lines the garden, each brimming with lettuces reaching for the sun. Adjacent, a variety of plants thrive in their individual planters, creating a lively tapestry of greenery and texture in the urban oasis.
Vertical planters maximize space by stacking flower pots in tall columns.

Vertical planters are a great way to maximize the space in a small garden design. A vertical planter is essentially a tower of flower pots that stack on top of one another, forming a tall column. There are many great ways to utilize vertical planters to create magic in a small space. 

Vertical planters are perfect for growing vegetables and herbs. For a really dramatic vibe, fill one with gorgeous trailing plants that will cover the planter in green. Not only will your vertical garden make excellent use of a small footprint, but it can also create privacy in your smaller space. Vertical plants make spaces feel cozy and secluded, which can be a great thing if you have close neighbors. 

When it comes to vertical planters, there are quite a few options, from stacked vertical beds to cloth pockets that can hang on a fence or other structure. The Greenstalk 7-Tier Vertical Planter is a great option for vertical planting. It’s also made from food-grade, UV-resistant plastic, so it’s safe for herbs and vegetables. My personal favorite color is the Epic Oasis, a gorgeous blue-green shade that speaks to the maximalist in me. 

Private Oasis

A quaint backyard garden filled with a variety of lush green plants and colorful blooming flowers, creating a serene natural oasis. Two large, red umbrellas stand tall, offering ample shade and a charming spot to relax outdoors on sunny days.
Create a tranquil oasis with water features in small urban spaces for relaxation.

The word oasis typically refers to an area of fertile growth in a barren landscape or a peaceful area where one can relax and reconnect with nature. If you live in an urban area, these types of spots can be hard to come by. Why not create one of your own? A small yard can make a wonderful hideaway from the hustle and bustle. A patio or balcony can work as well. 

An oasis typically evokes the use of a water feature. Water features like a small fountain can have a calming effect on the gardener. They also draw birds and pollinators to the garden. Birds are great agents of pest control, and pollinators increase your garden’s yield significantly. Not to mention, they are soothing to observe.

To create an oasis in your small space, think about layering and leaving a space for outdoor living. Add taller plants to the perimeter and then work your way down to smaller border plants. Containers work well in this situation because they can be moved around to accommodate guests if needed

A small bistro set or a pair of comfy Adirondack chairs don’t take up much space and create the perfect spot to enjoy your morning coffee or chat over a glass of wine. It’s a bonus if your outdoor furniture can be folded up and put aside to make space for tending to the garden. 

Balcony Kitchen Garden

A wooden planter brimming with vibrant herbs and leafy greens, showcasing nature's bounty up close. Various hues of green intertwine, creating a picturesque arrangement that invites the senses to savor freshness and earthy aromas.
A kitchen garden offers convenient access to fresh herbs and staple vegetables.

If you are a culinary virtuoso, a kitchen garden is both modern and classic. What chef doesn’t want access to fresh herbs within reach? A small kitchen garden typically contains a few staple vegetables, plenty of fresh herbs, and maybe a fruit tree or two. 

Fruit trees don’t have to take up overly large amounts of space, and some can be grown quite successfully in large pots. Citrus trees like lemons, limes, or kumquats can be kept small and still produce an abundance of fruit. 

Vertical planters or raised beds provide great solutions for growing in small spaces. A raised bed with a trellis can have you snapping fresh green beans in the summer and harvesting delicious greens in the winter. Many herbs grow well in containers, and quite a few are evergreen, so they look and taste great all year.

If you love to make sourdough bread at home, try growing some rosemary in your kitchen garden. The pungent, savory aroma of fresh rosemary bread is irresistible. If a classic English tea garden strikes your fancy, grow some chamomile and lemon balm. Don’t forget to add some edible flowers like pansies and nasturtiums for dressing up salads and baked goods. A kitchen garden can be both beautiful and functional.

Courtyard Cottage Garden

A garden scene featuring large wooden planters brimming with lush greenery, harmoniously nestled amidst verdant surroundings. Bathed in the embrace of radiant sunlight, these planters create a tranquil oasis.
A cottage garden offers a whimsical atmosphere with high or low-maintenance options.

A cozy cottage garden is the perfect thing for a courtyard or other small outdoor space. Cottage gardens can be as high or low maintenance as you want them to be, and they add a welcoming whimsy to your space that will charm visitors and benefit pollinators

A trellis or arbor is a quintessential element in the cottage garden, and vertical elements are a wonderful way to maximize a small space. Climbing vines have a small footprint but make a major statement. Try planting a climbing rose or even some lightweight squash on your vertical element. Cottage gardens commonly mingle edible plants with ornamentals, and roses are a classic cottage garden staple. 

For a cottage garden that looks lovely all year, consider an evergreen foundation followed by flowering perennials. A small potted tree can add more vertical interest, and you can’t go wrong with a flowering shrub. 

To add extra charm to your courtyard cottage garden, don’t forget to create a space to sit and enjoy the flowers. Personal touches and found objects infuse the space with playfulness and give visitors a glimpse into the gardener’s imagination. A birdbath or feeder will bring liveliness and entertainment to the space. 

Pocket Prairie

A serene pocket prairie nestled alongside a tranquil canal, adorned with wildflowers swaying gently in the breeze. A quaint wooden bridge spans the water, inviting wanderers to cross and immerse themselves in the peaceful embrace of nature's beauty.
Creating a pocket prairie involves planting native grasses and perennials in a small space.

If native gardening is high on your list, consider planting a pocket prairie in your small space. A pocket prairie can be any space smaller than an acre, contains native plants that support pollinators, and often focuses on native grasses that replace a more manicured lawn. 

A pocket prairie is a great idea for making use of a front yard or other space that otherwise doesn’t get used very often. If you have a portion of lawn that is made up of non-native grass, and you want to replace it with something that supports the ecosystem, this is a perfect solution. 

To create your own pocket prairie, start by clearing the space of any non-native plants. There is typically no need to amend your soil when planting a native garden because plants that are native are already adapted to your environment and soil type. It doesn’t usually hurt to work some compost or other organic amendments into the soil, though, to give your garden a head start. 

Fill your pocket prairie with an assortment of native grasses and perennial flowering plants. Feel free to incorporate some self-seeding annuals into the mix as well, as these plants bring a lot of color and interest to the garden. It’s up to you how wild and natural or neat and organized you want your space to be. 

Pollinator Haven

Lush plants adorned with delicate pink and blue flowers. Amidst the greenery, a solitary yellow flower captures attention with its radiant hue, adding a striking contrast to the scene as they all bask in the gentle caress of warm sunlight.
Create a pollinator paradise by planting native perennials to sustain local populations.

I don’t know about you, but I have a passion for pollinators. As a beekeeper, I devote a large portion of my garden to growing plants that help sustain local pollinator populations, as well as adding to my own private supply of local honey. Pollinators are very important members of the ecosystem. In fact, they are responsible in some part for as much as 80% of the food we eat. 

Your pollinator paradise can be as involved as you choose. Simply planting a few native perennials that feed local pollinators will bring them to your space and help sustain populations. If you want to go all out, it’s a great idea to research local bee and butterfly species and determine what plants best serve these insects. 

Honey bees are non-native, so they don’t require specific plants to harvest nectar and pollen from. Butterflies are a different story, as each species has specific host plants that provide food for their larvae. Milkweed is a pollinator garden staple and will draw Monarch butterflies to your yard. Planting fennel and dill will attract swallowtail butterflies.

To attract hummingbirds, plant red or orange flowers with a tubular shape. Porterweed is also irresistible to these sweet birds. Bees see light best on the ultraviolet end of the spectrum and are most attracted to blue and purple flowers. I always see bees on my African blue basil and anise hyssop plants. Don’t forget to add a bird bath or other water features to your pollinator garden. Those little garden helpers get thirsty doing all of that work in the garden.

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A Moveable Feast

A row of green, oversized grow bags sit atop concrete, fostering the growth of vegetables. The verdant plants, thriving within the bags, display lush foliage, hinting at the promise of a bountiful harvest in the making.
Building a moveable vegetable garden maximizes space usage and enhances outdoor leisure.

I’m fairly certain that gardening is not what Hemingway referred to when he titled his memoir. But hopefully, he wouldn’t mind my borrowing the moniker. A great way to utilize a small space for growing vegetables while still maintaining a space to sit and enjoy the outdoors is to create a movable vegetable garden.

If you want to grow your own vegetables but still have a place to sit and eat them outdoors, there are some tried and true and some new and innovative ways to grow everything you need and still be able to move your plants around to accommodate for an outdoor living area when you need it. 

By using elements like rolling bases for planters and fabric grow bags with handles, you can place your plants in the optimal sun exposure spaces most of the time and move them to the perimeter of your space when you want to entertain or simply enjoy sitting in your garden.

If you don’t mind a challenge, consider building a platform on wheels to support a raised bed. Use a trellis in your raised bed to support vining vegetables.

Deck the Walls

A serene garden adorns the side of a wooden deck, creating a tranquil outdoor retreat. Large rocks strategically placed within the garden add a touch of rustic charm, while a sturdy red brick wall provides a visually appealing backdrop.
Vertical gardening maximizes space by utilizing walls to grow various plants in limited areas.

Even in the smallest of spaces, vertical gardening can provide plenty of space for growing your favorite flowers and veggies. If you are unwilling or unable to give up much real estate to create the garden of your dreams, consider creating living walls. You can utilize structural walls and even fences to create a garden.

There are different ways to go about creating a wall garden. If you own your home or can alter the outside of the building, you can attach shelving or garden boxes directly to the walls and fence panels.

You can even attach flower pots to the wall or fence using hardware designed for the task or special containers that are designed to attach directly to a structure. Another way to create a wall of green is to erect a trellis and grow vining plants vertically. There are so many possibilities to play with when covering the walls with plants, and the result is always beautiful. 

Olfactory Sanctuary

A close-up showcases a jasmine flower, its delicate white petals elegantly unfurling amidst lush, glossy leaves. The intricate layers of the petals create a mesmerizing focal point, accentuating the flower's natural beauty and inviting fragrance.
Create a fragrant garden with vines like sweet peas and jasmine.

If flowers are your forte, consider planting things that are particularly fragrant to create a space that looks as good as it smells. Many vining plants with fragrant flowers can be grown on a trellis, fence, or wall. Sweet peas, hyacinth beans, and jasmine are some of my favorite fragrant vines.

Planters filled with lavender, mint, and scented geraniums not only smell amazing, but also do a pretty good job of deterring harmful insects while attracting the beneficial kind to your garden. You can’t go wrong with a rose bush. English roses tend to be among the most fragrant and are simply stunning.

If you only have room for a few sizeable plants in your fragrant garden, gardenias and tuberoses pack a punch in the perfume department. Both plants are best suited for warm climates, but they can also both be grown in containers and moved indoors for the winter as long as you have a sunny window.

Patio Paradise

A wooden pergola base features flat stones nestled within its structure, adding a rustic charm to the design. Vibrant plants and flowers of various hues adorn the perimeter, creating a picturesque and colorful oasis for relaxation.
Constructing a pergola enhances outdoor space for vining plants.

For many urban gardeners, concrete can cramp your style. If the only soil you have to work with is the type that comes in bags, you can still create a lush and lavish garden using larger containers like raised beds and planter boxes. Have I mentioned how useful vertical planters can be in a smaller space?

There is a wide range of trees that can be grown successfully in containers, as well, so you don’t have to stick to smaller plants. A couple of strategically placed cypress or olive trees in large terracotta pots can take an ordinary patio and evoke the feel of a Tuscan villa in no time at all. 

Constructing a pergola over your concrete or paver patio provides more space to grow vining plants, creating a living outdoor room and an elegant, secluded dining space. Choose containers and plants of different heights and volumes to create an aesthetically pleasing patio garden. 

The Grass Isn’t Always Greener

Spotted dead-nettle leaves, showcasing white hues adorned by green edges, soak up the warm sunlight, accentuating their delicate beauty. Nearby, a feathery plant flourishes, adding a touch of elegance to the natural tableau.
Replacing traditional grass lawns with flowering ground covers saves water.

If you have a small piece of earth that is currently only growing grass, you can replace that boring lawn with a lovely flowering ground cover. The simple truth is that non-native grass lawns are not sustainable or ecologically friendly. They require more water, pesticides, and fertilizers than most alternative ground covers if you want to keep them looking nice. 

If you prefer not to waste valuable gardening space on a grass lawn that requires far more energy than the alternatives, it will do more good than harm to replace it with something else. Many of these alternatives don’t require mowing or watering at all, so they are time-saving as well as ecologically friendly. Just make sure to avoid non-native plants that can be invasive.

Mini Moon Garden

A close-up reveals the delicate Queen of the Night flower, adorned with pristine white petals and stamens. The blurred background gracefully showcases green leaves, creating a serene contrast that highlights the flower's ethereal beauty.
Designing a moon garden entails choosing night-blooming or light-reflecting plants.

If most of your time spent at home is in the evening, as is the way for many folks who work during the day, you might enjoy turning your small space into a moon garden. A moon garden contains plants that either bloom at night or reflect the light of the moon. 

Moon gardens go well with outdoor dining areas because it is during the dinner hour that these plants show off their best features. When selecting plants for your moon garden, there are a few things to consider. First, plants with white foliage or flowers are the most reflective of moonlight, so they are the most visible flowers at night. White sage is gorgeous in the moonlight, and foam flowers look even more frothy in the light of the moon than during the day. 

Consider selecting plants that bloom at night, as many daytime bloomers close their flowers when the sun goes down. Some morning glories open at night and close with the light of day, so these are best enjoyed in the evening. Night phlox and Casablanca lilies are both night bloomers with white flowers that glow in the moonlight.

Finally, there are certain flowers that release their fragrance just as the sun sets. Many of these plants also have white flowers and do their blooming at night, making them a triple threat for the moon garden. Night-blooming jasmine, gardenias, and the enchanting Dragonfruit cactus all have white flowers that bloom and release tons of fragrance at night.

Evergreen Simplicity

A garden adorned with lush evergreen shrubs, creating a vibrant green tapestry under the sun's warm glow. The sunlight gently bathes the foliage, casting a tranquil ambiance over the verdant landscape, inviting peaceful contemplation and serenity.
Consider planting evergreen plants for a low-maintenance garden.

A garden doesn’t have to be elaborate, and sometimes, all you want is to look outside and see something green and growing. For a low-maintenance space that looks great all year, consider planting evergreen plants.

Evergreen isn’t a term relegated only to coniferous trees. There are plenty of broad-leafed evergreens that look beautiful year-round. Depending on your climate, you can add flowering plants like camellias that will bloom in the winter and showcase their glossy, deep green foliage in the summer. 

All types of boxwood, holly, mahonia, and viburnum are evergreen, and some produce lovely flowers as well. Don’t rule out conifers altogether because some very pretty types remain small enough to suit a compact garden. 

When in Babylon

A white residential building stands tall, featuring charming balconies that offer a picturesque view. Lush green plants gracefully decorate each balcony, adding a touch of natural beauty to the architectural elegance of the structure.
Terraced gardens are an ancient practice offering efficient use of space.

The notorious hanging gardens of Babylon are well known as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. In actuality, the gardens in question were less hanging gardens and more terraced gardens. Terraced gardens are a great way to use a small or awkwardly positioned garden space, especially those with a slope. 

You can construct a terraced garden using different mediums. A series of rock walls looks wonderful and has a permanence that you can’t get with wood. However, wood tends to be more economical and less time-consuming. You should use whatever works best in your space and suits your specific needs.

Terraced gardens serve many purposes. Of course, they are aesthetically pleasing, but they also help to conserve water, prevent soil erosion, and reduce noise pollution. You can make your garden as large or small as you please to suit your space and gardening needs.

Cut Flower Container Garden

Blue ceramic planters filled with orange flowers and lush green foliage create a striking contrast against the surrounding verdant flora. The large pots stand prominently, showcasing a harmonious blend of hues that invigorate the outdoor space.
Cultivating flowers in metal raised beds is an affordable method for enjoying fresh blooms.

If you spend much time watching gardening influencers on social media, you’ve probably noticed that cutting gardens are becoming increasingly popular. The ability to walk outside and come back in with a beautiful bouquet of fresh flowers is both sustainable and luxurious. There is also something delightful about bringing a bouquet cut from your own garden to cheer up a friend or neighbor.

I can’t even begin to estimate the amount of money I used to spend on fresh flowers. It would probably put my retirement fund to shame, if I’m being honest. The startup cost for a cut flower container garden is, of course, to be accounted for. However, once you’ve purchased your containers and soil, the yearly upkeep is fairly reasonable and relegated to seed packets and fertilizer

Choose containers that are large enough to grow a substantial harvest. Raised beds make this task an easy one as it is easy to contain your garden and control the soil. I highly recommend investing in metal raised beds, because they last significantly longer than wood, and they look clean and attractive for much longer, as well.

When selecting flowers for your cutting garden, the most important factors are long, strong stems and vase life. You want to plant flowers that have long stems because they are more versatile and easy to work with. Zinnias and Black-eyed Susans have nice, sturdy stems and a long vase life, and both are exceptionally easy to grow. 

Tropical Paradise

A peaceful tropical garden pathway amidst a water feature graced by elegant water lilies. The carefully arranged brown potted plants on either side contribute to the charming atmosphere, surrounded by the thriving richness of green foliage.
Creating a tropical garden with exotic plants adds vibrancy to any backyard oasis.

Gardening in a tropical or sub-tropical climate is unique in that there is a wide variety of plants that can be used here that simply cannot be grown outdoors elsewhere. Why not take advantage of that and plant some truly exotic tropical plants to create your little vacation paradise in the backyard?

Banana trees and Birds of Paradise make wonderful foundations in a small tropical garden design. These plants can grow very large over time, though, so make sure to select a variety that will suit your space when it is mature. Canna lilies are another plant that makes a stunning vertical element in the tropical garden. 

There are at least a thousand different ginger plants that can be grown in tropical landscapes, many with gorgeous, fragrant flowers. Don’t even get me started on orchids because there are tens of thousands to choose from. Most orchids prefer to be kept in hanging baskets, too, which serve a valuable function in small space gardens. 

Don’t forget to include some of the more spectacular tropical bloomers to bring color to the garden. Amaryllis is a stunning tropical flowering plant, and a small frangipani tree will add color and fragrance to your space.

Form and Function

A vertical garden adorns the wall, showcasing a series of small, earthy brown pots securely fastened. Each pot cradles a unique assortment of lush green plants, creating a harmonious blend of natural hues and textures.
Maximize small outdoor spaces by using vertical planters and shrubby plants.

Suppose you want to design your small garden in a way that obscures or beautifies the everyday necessary items commonly found outdoors. In that case, there are some beautiful solutions to consider. Creating solutions that beautify while still enabling access to everyday items can greatly add to the aesthetic of your small space garden.

A well-placed vertical planter or two can obscure an outdoor trashcan quite well. Make use of dense shrubby plants to serve a similar purpose and turn eyesores into conversation starters. If most of your space is taken up by a swimming pool, use some clumping bamboo to create a stunning screen to hide a pool pump. 

Objects like pool pumps and heaters, air conditioning units, trash cans, and compost bins can all crowd a small space and are not visually appealing. Why not take the opportunity to create a living wall or plant a beautiful flowering hedge to beautify and add depth to your garden?

Compact Homestead

In a quaint garden, green plants flourish under the warm sunlight, creating a lush and inviting atmosphere. The walls are adorned with cascading vines, their verdant tendrils weaving a natural tapestry that adds a touch of rustic elegance.
Urban homesteading on small plots is both feasible and sustainable.

Last, but certainly not least, if you’ve thought about joining in the homesteading revolution but lamented your lack of acreage, we have some great solutions for you. If you’ve never watched our Epic founder, Kevin, working in his urban homestead, you might be surprised at just how much you can do with a small garden design. 

The Epic Homestead is built on just under a third of an acre, and what Kevin has managed to grow there is simply astounding. While you may be hard-pressed to replicate something of this nature in an urban setting, you might be surprised by just how much you can do on a modest suburban lot. 

There are so many ways that you can create a functional, sustainable homestead in a relatively small space. From raising chickens for your own eggs to solar power and using your grey water to scale back on your water bill, you don’t need 30 acres to create your functional homestead.

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Final Thoughts

The wonderful thing about designing a garden is that you don’t have to follow a strict set of guidelines. Understanding your climate, soil type, and the amount of sun your space receives are all factors that should influence your design. If you want to borrow elements from several different types of garden designs, I say go for it. Make your perfect garden space work perfectly for you!

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A beautiful garden features a narrow, winding grass pathway bordered by colorful plants of varying heights.

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