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Top 10 Tips for Designing a Small Garden

Unless you have a large garden, chances are it’s either smaller than you would like or a shape that needs careful planning.

This is especially true in towns and on new estates, where the gardens are small.

Tricks to deceive the eye are called “trompe l’oeil”, an artistic term for an optical illusion that makes a 2D image appear as 3D. In the garden, such techniques are employed to make short gardens seem longer, long gardens seem shorter and small gardens seem bigger than they are.

In garden design, certain tricks are used to make you pause to look at a feature or view. Done well, you will never realise any of these have been used.

Shorten a long, narrow garden

Long, linear gardens can be made to seem shorter by laying paving across from side to side on a path, instead of lengthways, which would make it feel even longer. Wide, rectangular slabs are ideal for this.

Bring the end towards you

Bright colours stand out, pale colours fade away, so plant brightly coloured, tall plants at the far end of the long garden to make it feel shorter and use pale ones at the near end.

Create a meandering route

A long, straight pathway in a long, narrow garden will make it feel even longer. Curves, angles and separate “rooms” within the garden will all help make it much more of an experience to walk from one end to the other.

Make a short garden feel longer

If you lay paving, have it running away from the house in a lengthways pattern, so the space feels bigger, and use small, narrow slabs to create the illusion that they are actually larger than they are.

Using colours

If you plant bright colours at the front of a short border and fade to pale colours and white at the far end, you can make the border seems longer than it really is.

Using mirrors

If the short garden ends in a wall or fence, hang an outdoor mirror on it. Have it off-centre, so you never walk towards yourself (it would ruin the illusion) and train a plant on trellis around it to disguise it. Once the plant grows, it should look as if you can peep into a different part of the garden.

Increasing light levels

Small gardens can sometimes suffer low light levels, which will slow the growth of some plants and possibly limit the choice of what will grow. You can help this by bouncing and reflecting whatever light is available. Paint the walls or fences around the plants in pale colours and apply light-coloured gravel as a mulch to reflect light back from the soil.

Using white

White flowers stand out, especially at dusk, and will draw attention to any part of the garden. Using them at the front will make the far end fade away and, conversely, using them in the distance will bring it into focus and make you look.

Shaped trellis

There are many shaped pieces of trellis available to mount on walls to deceive the eye. Arches that decrease in size look like a pergola you could walk through. Perspective pieces trick you into thinking an area is bigger.


Whichever effect you are aiming for, good planting will enhance it. Try to reduce the look of all the solid features that make the garden feel like it has edges. Soften harsh outlines, disguise solid barriers and blur the edges of paths so nothing is definite. Use climbers on frames if it is not possible to grow them against the wall or mount hanging baskets filled with trailing plants where you can.

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This story was published on: 04/07/2024

Image attribution: Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

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