10 simple ways to create big impact in a small garden

Whether you have a postage-stamp garden, a small deck or a teensy balcony, here are 10 smart ideas for turning it into your own little slice of heaven


1. Install a vertical garden

Install a purpose-built vertical garden and fill it with lush and leafy plants, or make your own by re-purposing a hanging canvas storage organiser, filling the pockets with potting mix and planting small succulents or trailing groundcover plants. Other great DIY options include attaching clay pots or recycled tins to wooden pallets and hanging them on a wall, or fixing lengths of guttering onto a fence and planting them with shallow-rooted annual flowers and herbs.

TIP: Make sure there are drainage holes in your recycled containers.

2. Create a miniature garden

When you have no outside space to speak of, why not create your own miniature garden inside or on a balcony? Terrariums have made a comeback and with good reason. They’re very easy to make and maintain, you can fit them on a sideboard, bench or cafe table on the balcony, and they’re cheap as chips. They’ll even improve the oxygen levels in your home.

TIP: The best plants for terrariums in low-light rooms are small ferns and mosses. Go for tiny succulents in warm, sunny spaces.

3. Add pots and plants

Green up that deck or courtyard with big pots and planters large enough to grow small trees, shrubs and possibly vegetables, too. When choosing trees to plant, remember to select a variety suited to the conditions of your garden or balcony. You don’t want to splash out on a gorgeous Japanese maple, for instance, only to find the setting is too hot for this shade-loving woodland plant.

TIP: Pots dry out more quickly than garden beds and they’ll freeze faster in cold areas.


4. Try low maintenance succulents

There are plenty of good reasons for the undying popularity of succulents: they’re tough, low maintenance, drought-tolerant and come in a huge variety of shapes, colours and sizes. If your fingers aren’t particularly green, these are the plants for you. Fill window boxes, troughs and pots with them.

5. Train climbing plants up blank spaces

Don’t just plant at ground level – utilise any available vertical space, too. Plant pretty climbers such as star jasmine, native clematis or Mexican blood flower (Distictis) in pots and planters and train them to grow up pergolas, walls and other structures.

6. Layer up

Why have just one type of plant in a garden bed when you can have three? Planting in layers is one of the best ways to make a small garden feel larger and lusher. Use low-growing groundcovers on the bottom level, with small shrubs or perennials forming a second tier above. To create a top layer of lushness, grow taller plants such as small flowering trees, bamboo or dwarf fruit trees to provide screening and vertical interest.

TIP: Three layers of plants will require plenty of nutrients to thrive, so if you’re using narrow beds or planters you’ll need to feed the plants and top up their growing mix regularly.


7. Hang some baskets

Hanging baskets have always been a popular option for adding colour and greenery to patios, decks and balconies. For a variation on the theme, try planting up recycled colanders or old upcycled teapots.

TIP: Shallow baskets and containers can dry out quickly so you’ll need to water plants regularly. It might also pay to invest in a watering unit designed to reach plants in high places.

8. Clip and trim plants to fit your space

Training and trimming plants are age-old gardener’s tricks for small spaces. Espalier fruit trees (the branches are trained to grow horizontally along a fence or wall) are the perfect solution if you want a productive garden in a tiny area. Handy with the scissors? You could clip shrubs into compact topiary, or pleach a row of taller trees by trimming their foliage into a rectangular block, like a hedge on stilts. Pleaching is the best option for green screens as it allows light into the garden while still maintaining privacy.

TIP: Small-leaved shrub varieties such as box, corokia, lavender and murraya work best for topiary.


9. Choose plants with evergreen foliage

Smart gardeners go for foliage over flowers in small spaces. Flowering annual plants such as pansies and petunias need to be replaced every few months, whereas evergreen foliage gives you a soft, lush look all year round with far less effort.

TIP: Light green, grey and silver foliage makes a small space feel larger, while very dark green leaves tend to be overpowering in a small space.

10. Connect the inside to outside

When your indoor and outdoor living areas are a tad cramped, the best way to make them both feel bigger is to connect them visually. Use similar materials, colours and detailing for the floors, walls, furniture and accessories in both spaces to create a seamless flow. Make your outdoor area feel as room-like as possible by screening it on at least two sides and adding lighting, outdoor rugs, heating and art.

Words by: Carol Bucknell. Photography by: Annette O’Brien, Angelita Bonetti, Jason Busch/ Getty Images.

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