Space Constraint: Small Space Gardening

Small space garden at the entryway of a house that includes small trees, shrubs, and a variety of decorative pots filled with colorful flowers lining the stairs and a small porch
My Garden Life
May 29, 2023
Table of Contents

Whether you have a small patio or balcony or just a few square feet of outdoor area, there are plenty of creative solutions for gardening in limited spaces. From container gardens and vertical planters to making plant selections based on their size selecting plants that thrive in tight quarters, let’s explore ideas for making your own unique small garden oasis.

Planning Your Small Garden

When every square inch counts, it’s important to make a plan. Here are a few ideas for designing a layout that makes efficient use of space in your small garden.

Adding an Eye-Catching Focal Point

When designing a small garden, it’s important to choose the right featured element that will draw attention without taking up too much of the limited available space.

A central planter filled with colorful flowers or plants, an eye-catching sculpture, or even a large feature such as an arbor or bench can be great options for adding interest and drama to your petite garden design.

A single variegated hosta in a decorative ceramic pot creates a dramatic focal point for a small courtyard garden.

Adding Structure and Height

After you’ve selected an eye-catching focal point, consider which other elements you’d like to add to your design to develop a variety of heights and textures.

Features like living walls, trellises, and planters are great for adding structure and height when you have a limited amount of ground-level space to work with. These features create boundaries and help to define different areas within your space.

A brick home using a variety of elements to  add plantings to a paved small space, including a raised planter box, trellis, and ceramic flower pots.

Designing Pathways and Walkways

Pathways are not only functional but also provide visual interest when thoughtfully incorporated into a garden design. In small gardens, pathways should be kept narrow and winding in order to use space efficiently.

Gravel paths lined with stones or other edging materials make attractive use of limited space while still providing easy access throughout the garden.

Walkways also create inviting entry points leading from one area of the yard to another while helping keep foot traffic off of fragile flower beds.

A small pathway made of flagstone winds through a small perennial garden mulched with shredded bark.

Container Gardening

Container gardening involves growing plants in enclosed containers, such as pots, rather than in the ground. Growing in pots is an easy and rewarding way to add vibrant color and life to spaces where ground planting is impossible or impractical, such as paved areas or small yards, balconies, and patios.

An impressive use of pots and plastic tubs to create a small space vegetable garden. Different sized containers create various planting levels and a trellis is used to grow bean vines vertically.

Containers such as pots or trays are easy to move, allowing for frequent changes to garden layouts in small areas.

When you grow plants in containers, you have greater control over soil conditions. As a result, it’s easy to grow plants in containers even when local soil and climate conditions aren’t ideal. Your plants are also less vulnerable to weeds and pests.

This gardening style can be tailored to fit whatever amount of space is available, providing the opportunity to be inventive and flexible with your design.

Vertical Gardening

Vertical gardening refers to the use of vertical support systems, such as trellises or walls, to grow plants. With a vertical garden, you can maximize the use of available space while creating an eye-catching display that adds interest and beauty to your outdoor area.

A white wooden garden structure combining a lattice trellis supported by a rectangular wooden raised bed. Vegetable plants are growing in the raised boxes and in planters hooked to the the trellis.

Benefits of Growing Plants Vertically

  • Easier trimming and harvesting (less bending and back strain)
  • Efficient use of water and soil
  • Maximizing the use of limited space and limited sun exposure

Types of Vertical Gardens

There are several types of vertical arrangements that can be used in small spaces.

One interesting vertical gardening option is a living wall. This may be the wall of a house or shed, or a standalone structure designed specifically for holding plants. A living wall may be covered in vegetation that climbs from the ground or descends from the top of the wall. Or, the wall may covered in a protective waterproof membrane and adorned with rows of soil-filled pockets for growing plants.

A living wall takes advantage of vertical space in a small garden. Herbs such as cilantro, thyme, parsley and sage grow in pouch planters attached to a wall.

Another option is a trellis system. A trellis is a vertical framework of wooden or metal bars. Climbing plants like ivy or sweet peas can grow vertically through the frame by weaving new growth between the bars.

A wooden trellis attached to a brick wall supports runner bean plants with marigolds planted along the base.

You could also opt for window boxes filled with colorful flowers cascading down from above or even create an entire garden bed suspended from the ceiling or roof of a patio or balcony.

A row of urban brick houses each with a window box filled with colorful flowers. Window boxes are a great way to create a small growing space where there was none before.

Hanging baskets full of trailing annuals like petunias or begonias will give your garden a unique and colorful aesthetic as they sway gently in the breeze.

A basket of mixed calibrachoa flowers hangs from a shepherd's hook, bringing life to a small space that is otherwise just pavement and rock mulch.

Picking Plants for a Small Garden

Shade-Loving Plants for Small Spaces

If your small garden area receives limited sunlight, choose plants that tolerate shade. Be sure to check the mature plant size on the plant tag when you’re shopping for plants. Many perennial plant families include varieties that range from dwarf to tall. Choose plants that remain small to conserve garden space.

Some of the best shade-tolerant plants include:

Ferns

Ferns are a classic choice for shaded gardens and come in many varieties and sizes, from short groundcover ferns to larger tree ferns. Check the tag when purchasing ferns to see if your selection is a perennial that will return every year, or a tropical to enjoy through the summer season.

Two baskets of lush ferns hang from the roof near the doorway of a stone house.

Hostas

Hostas are a popular perennial plant for shady locations. Hostas exhibit striking foliage colors and textures that range from bright green to dark blue or even green and yellow variegated leaves.

Two blue ceramic pots with lush hosta plants bring life to a gravel covered corner of of a small fenced space.

Astilbes

Astilbes do double duty by providing a long season of colorful feathery flower stems and gorgeous, decorative foliage, even when plants are not in bloom. Look for dwarf species such as Astilbe x crispa ‘Perkeo’ or Astilbe simplicifolia hybrids. Astilbe is a perennial that will die back in the winter and regrow in spring.

Close up of the fluffy red flower spikes and attractive deeply cut foliage of an astible plant.

Impatiens

One of the most popular plants for adding pops of color to shady spaces, Impatiens are flowering annuals that bloom all summer long and are sized right for pots, hanging baskets, or edging a small garden space.

A dense planting of pink impatiens fill a small corner raised planter made from landscaping blocks.

Begonias

Begonias bring lush foliage along with delicate flowers. Choose small Begonia semperflorens for ground or container plantings or the big and bold Begonia boliviensis for a beautiful hanging basket with a tropical feel.

An aged terra cotta pot filled with pink fibrous begonias adds a spot of color to a paved small space.

Coral bells

Years of intensive hybridization efforts have resulted in an array of coral bell (Heuchera species) colors. These compact perennial plants, with their decorative scalloped leaves, are perfect for adding year-round, carefree color and interest to small garden spaces.

Rectangular planter filled with different coral bell plants with various colored leaves, from rusty red to lime green with red veining, placed on the ledge of a block wall.

Sun-Loving Plants for Small Spaces

If your small garden space gets plenty of sunshine, then you can grow sun-loving plants such as:

Lavender

Lavender plants are terrific for adding fragrance to small spaces. Grow a pot on a table or plant several in a flower bed. Even when not in bloom, lavender plants perfume the air. Lavender tolerates full sun if given regular watering during dry spells or periods of extreme heat.

Three pots of flowering lavender plants lined up along the edge of a small patio garden.

Shasta Daisy ‘Snow Lady’

Daisy’s cheerful white and yellow flowers are an eternal garden favorite. Dwarf hybrids, like ‘Snow Lady’, mean that even gardeners with limited space can still enjoy their charm. Daisies are easy to care for perennial plants that will attract pollinators like bees and butterflies.

Perennial plant for a small garden-Shasta daisy 'Snow Lady' close up featuring flowers with white petals and yellow centers.

Roses

Roses require a little extra maintenance, but add a touch of classic beauty wherever they’re grown. Look for miniature rose varieties for growing in pots or tight spaces, and climbing varieties for a trellis or arbor. Roses go dormant in the winter and return in the spring.

A miniature yellow rose in a ceramic pot is perfect for growing on a gravel patch in the small space between a house and a driveway.

Marigolds

Marigolds are annual plants that bring splashes of sunshine, with their vibrant shades of yellow, orange, or red. Use tall African marigolds to create a garden focal point, or choose the shorter, French marigolds, for pots or garden edging.

Orange French marigolds make a vibrant display planted in a rectangular planter on a small terrrace.

Calibrachoa

Calibrachoa plants, also known as “million bells”, are annual flowers that look like a miniature version of petunias. They produce trumpet-shaped flowers and with lots of vibrant colors and blends to choose from. Even a single pot or hanging basket of calibrachoa will attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

Calibrachoa is an excellent annual flower for small garden spaces. Close up of purple, orange, red, and white calibrachoa flowers.

Clematis

An easy-to-grow perennial vine, clematis is a perfect choice for growing on a trellis and creates a stunning display of flowers over a long season. Clematis are available in a wide range of colors, from deep velvety purple, to red, pink, white, and bicolor varieties.

Close up of the lavender-blue flowers of Clematis 'Olympia' growing in a pot in a small space garden.

Getting Creative in Your Small Garden

Gardening in small spaces challenges you to get creative with new ways to get the most out of a compact growing area. With the right plant choices combined with some innovative ways to optimize all the space you have available, you can enjoy a colorful, relaxing outdoor retreat that is every bit as satisfying as a big garden.

Small-space gardening isn’t only about aesthetics; you can also grow food in tight quarters. Interested in growing veggies and herbs in your tiny garden space? Try Gardening in Grow Bags.

Potato plant growing in polythene grow bag on terrace.

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