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Small Garden Ideas for Your Yard Enjoyment

By Axis Fuksman-Kumpa December 5, 2022

garden furniture on a deck and in a backyard surrounded by flowers

There is no yard too small to add a small garden - sometimes it's just about the creativity! Small gardens can transform a small yard, an unused corner, a balcony or a patio into something special, maybe even the favorite part of your home. There are many landscaping tips and tricks to make the most of small spaces, but you don't have to be a professional to get started.

In this article we share some design tips to keep in mind when planning a small garden, a list of small garden ideas that can take your yard from boring to the envy of all your neighbors and some tips for getting started!

Design Tips for a Small Garden

When thinking about a garden design there are a few important design factors to keep in mind. Our designers have had extensive schooling so we'll give you our "garden design cliffs notes" so you can create the perfect small garden at your home.

Consider Scale

Think about the scale of your house when deciding the size and how to structure your garden. You won't want a front foundation garden with large arborvitaes framing it if they tower over your home. Similarly, if you have a three story home you can select larger trees and plants f as they won't dwarf your structure. This principle is the same for a garden bed anywhere in your yard- along a fence, next to your garage, or freestanding in your yard. Everything should be in proportion - especially in tiny spaces.

diy garden ideas, small gardens should consider scale like this front yard
A Tilly front yard in Arkansas

Maximize Your Design Layout

Bring balance and depth to your garden by placing tall plants in the back, then a layer of medium, and ground cover or small flowers in the front. Doing only two of the three of these steps can leave your garden bed looking like it's missing something.

cheap diy garden path ideas, small trees and plant pots around a dining table in a smallere outdoor spaces
A backyard Tilly plan in Maryland

Establish the Goal of Your Garden

Think about the goal of your garden before you start digging in the dirt. Would fruit trees be a great addition and feed the family? Would a pollinator garden that attracts butterflies bring you joy? Or are you looking to get out and garden as a mental distraction (there's lots of research around this!!)

outdoor spaces and garden should consider layouts and focal points when planning
A Tilly front yard plan

Plan with Purpose

Pick your garden style before you start planting so you can create your small space thoughtfully. Are you looking for an eclectic garden with tons of colors? A modern paradise in greens and whites? Or to fill an unused corner of the yard with raised beds.

small spaces need extra planning like this backyard with fire pit, pavers, raised beds and diy garden arch ideas
A California backyard and side yard with smart planning

Keep it Simple

Complexity to a garden is wonderful, but there is no problem with starting simple, especially if you are a newbie in the garden space. Starting with a tiny garden that you can grow is a great first step and way to keep things manageable.

garden ideas diy, smaller outdoor spaces with simple gardening and different size pavers
A Tilly plan in California

Reduce Lawn

If you are working with a small space and trying to find more room for gardening, consider reducing your lawn. Traditional turf lawn actually does very little to help local wildlife. If you want more of a garden, reducing your lawn can create more space for flowers or raised beds. Focus on native plants to make this new space low maintenance. This can be a win for your beautiful garden and for local wildlife. You can also consider artificial turf, which is an easy low maintenance solution.

garden diy ideas, a small garden ideas with less grass and more flower beds
A Texas plan with reduced grass

Landscape Lighting

You've done tons of hard work in the garden, now make sure you can show it off all evening long. Outdoor lighting comes in many different forms - whether it's solar, uplights, moonlights or traditional walkway lighting along a garden bed - there will be a great option to help your hard work shine.

use outdoor lighting for your small garden ideas
A Tilly Illinois plan with outdoor lighting

Make it Seasonal

Consider when the flowers you select will bloom and try to focus on native options. You don't want the entire garden blooming the first weekend in June and then nothing afterwards. Plan to make sure you have something blooming at all times so you can make the most of your small garden. This is also a huge benefit to local wildlife who are in search of food.

a white picket fence around a small front yard
A Tilly plan in Colorado

Disguise Equipment

If you have unsightly AC units, pool equipment, trash bins, there's probably a creative design solution to cover them. Whether it's a privacy panel with vines, potted plants, or gravel with a rock garden around it, get creative with the space. It is wise to remember that occasionally trying too hard to disguise something can actually draw more attention to it.

privacy screen and plant pots disguise this AC unit
A small backyard Tilly plan in South Carolina

Be Smart with Your Tree Selection

Trees finish off any design, but when you have a smaller outdoor space, make sure your trees are in scale. Research the mature tree height before planting so you know it will fit in with its surroundings.

garden ideas with skinny trees to fit the property
A New York Tily backyard

Inspiration for a Small Garden You Can Try at Home

Now that you have some basic design knowledge it's time to think about small garden ideas and inspiration. We're also fond of taking a walk in your neighborhood to get ideas or browsing Instagram, Pinterest or garden books are a great place to start.

Get Creative With Where Your Garden Goes

Get creative with your outdoor living space - maybe you turn a side yard into a narrow garden, or add window boxes outside your kitchen. Maybe there's a shady corner of your lawn that doesn't grow grass well, but would be perfect for shade loving flowers.

a tiny plot of side yard used for a vegetable garden with tomato plant
A Tilly plan with a vegetable garden in a side yard

Vertical Space

In this vein, grow your garden up! Whether this is through a decorative living wall, vines growing up a pergola or planters hung from a fence - compact gardening adds color and personality to a yard.

a vertical garden on the side of a privacy fence
A vertical garden in a Tilly plan

Create a Certified Wildlife Habitat space

Consider making your yard a Certified Wildlife Habitat® through Tilly and our alignment with the National Wildlife Federation™. Tilly can design your space to meet the requirements of this certification and will cover the cost of the certification. The requirements include design features such as having shelter, water, food, and places to raise young in your yard – many of these simple, but extremely beneficial requirements can be met solely by adding the right types of native plants to your small garden.

ornamental grasses create privacy around this outdoor seating area
A NWF x Tilly Certified Wildlife Habitat yard

Try Minimal

Minimal gardens with a small plant selection can make a big impact. We love a modern minimal garden with very well planned choices that make a high visual impression. Or a smart succulent and rock garden in gravel with small pops of native flowers. Sometimes less, truly is more!

Front walkway in a California Tilly design
A minimal plant palette with a lush look in this California Tilly plan

Frame Your Entertaining Space

If you have room for a seating area add planters around your outdoor furniture or add a garden bed around the existing patio or deck. This can do double duty providing beautiful visual interest while delineating the space and separating its use. Creating these outdoor rooms can create a better backyard to entertain in.

garden furniture on a deck and in a backyard surrounded by flowers
A Michigan Tilly plan

Court the Cottage Look

Cottage and eclectic style gardens are generally full of flowers and can be high impact in a small garden space. Surrounding a tiny patio with beautiful flower beds can create an intimate and beautiful seating area.

cottage style garden ideas for a front yard small garden, diy garden ideas
A Virginia Tilly plan with small cottage style flower beds

Raised Planters

Raised planters and potted plants are a controlled way to have a small garden in a tiny space. Frame an outdoor room with a "wall of pots" for division, or create hot tub privacy, the options are endless.

a raised bed that is a focal point in this small garden
A Tilly plan in Virginia with raised beds

Trellis Garden

If you have fun features in your yard, like a trellis, grow vines up them and add a small garden at the base. This is a great whimsical look that will add atmosphere to your outdoor space and takes no floor room at all!

a small space with a trellis and flowering vines and diy garden ideas fire pit area over gravel
A small backyard with a trellis, plunge pool and fire pit area

Try Hanging Baskets

In another version of vertical gardens, if you are lacking in floor space, try hanging baskets from a porch or the side of your home.

small garden ideas, hang baskets
A Colorado backyard

Tree Base Flower Bed

Add a small garden around your tree base to enjoy. Perhaps this shady area is the perfect spot for a garden, blanket and your favorite book!

Garden ideas put flowers at the base of your trees
A Colorado Tilly design

Mailbox Flower Bed

A quick way to add charm to your curb appeal is to create a small garden around your mailbox. Pick your favorite flowers and add joy to this tiny space.

small gardens at the base of a mailbox
A Illinois Tilly plan with a garden around the mailbox

Add Accessories

While this may not be for every gardener, adding accessories such as a water feature, bird house, garden gnome or piece of artwork can liven up your space while adding personality to it. Just remember the scale in a smaller space so what you add doesn't overwhelm your yard.

a bird bath in a small garden
A Tilly design with a bird bath

Butterfly Puddling Station

When adding an accessory, consider one that helps local animals such as a butterfly puddling station! These act both as a water feature and an inviting space for backyard butterflies to gather.

In most areas of the country, puddling activity is most common midday, also consider giving these delicate creatures some shade too!

a butterfly puddling station is a fun diy garden ideas in a certified wildlife habitat yard
Butterfly puddling station in a Tilly x NWF Certified Wildlife Habitat yard

Start an Herb Garden

We've covered pollinator gardens but what about the family? Planting a tiny garden of herbs gives a whole new meaning to dining al fresco. Get the whole family involved by having them help tend to the garden and select fresh herbs for dinner!

herb small gardens in a backyard outdoor living space
A raised hreb garden space

How to Start a Garden

Starting a small garden in your outdoor space can seem overwhelming, but it doesn't have to be. Break your work into simple steps and remember that it's okay if things don't turn out exactly how you want. You can always rearrange plants, add to your garden and change things up. Sometimes the hardest part is just getting started.

Here's a brief overview of how to do just that - whether it's in a raised bed, in the ground, in a large yard or a tiny plot!

  1. First, decide where you want to add your garden and prep your soil by turning it over. To do this, dig and shake up the top few inches of soil. You can add fertilizer to this to add nutrients. Loosening the soil will aerate it, clear it of weeds and improve the drainage.
  2. Next up, plan! Research what is native to your area, what is low maintenance and choose plants you like. Then look into the plants' you like sun and shade requirements so you can place them where they will thrive. Remember to select some evergreens and multi-seasonal flowers so that you have something blooming at different times.
  3. Now it's time to focus on the garden design, while remembering layering and the other design tips mentioned above.
  4. Dig and plant! The planting part is messy so make sure you are dressed and have the proper tools.
  5. Water to establish your small garden! Even native plants or drought tolerant plants need water to get established initially.
  6. Enjoy the beauty of your labor! Remember that gardens take some time to grow and mature. As the saying about plants goes, the first year they sleep, the next year they creep, the third year they leap.

small garden ideas
A small Tilly backyard

Ready to get started? The professional design team at Tilly is always here to help.

Read more about: Landscape Design Tips, Gardening Tips