Small Garden Design Ideas

“Small Garden” Design ideas

“Small gardens” can be a design challenge for even experiences landscape designers. If you are living in a Gold Coast townhouse with a small backyard, you might be thinking about what can be achieved in such a small space. Designing a garden for a small space in your Gold Coast front yard or backyard can present some unique problems for the home gardener not least of which can be the lack of direct sunlight. Whilst some similar design philosophies to large garden design can be followed, there is more to it than just scaling everything down.

A sculpture or stone lamp can create a focal point in your garden
A sculpture or stone lamp can create a focal point in your garden with its contrast to the foliage behind.

Garden Focal Points

As with large gardens the logical first step with your small garden is to decide on the focal point or focal points of your garden. This can be a small tree in a pot or in the ground, a piece of sculpture , a small water feature or even a rock. A great focal point for the small garden is a xanthorrhoea johnsonii. Once the focal point is decided upon, it can be made to stand out by some clearing around it and with some garden illumination.

A path of lawn pavers will draw your eye to the garden focal point. Antique slate pavers.
A path of lawn pavers will draw your eye to the garden focal point.

A path leading to the focal point will draw your eye to the feature. If your house has nearby windows, try to place the focal point where it can be seen out of the window. Consider how your garden will look from other vistas as well. Think about the views from other windows and any pathways. Less desirable views can be screened out with hedging plants or screening plants creating the illusion of depth. Walls and fences can be made more attractive with an espalier fruit tree screen or a vertical garden. If you have a views of nearby trees or parkland, work with these views to enhance the view from your own garden.

White Crepe Myrtle as a focal point in a courtyard
White Crepe Myrtle as a focal point in a courtyard

Garden Plant Selection

Select plants that attract native birds and other native fauna into your garden. This will certainly add to the interest in your small garden. Aim to create contrast and balance in your plantings making use of foliage textures and colours but avoid having too many different plants or themes. By repeating shapes colours and shapes your garden you will develop a central theme. Choose species and varieties that are low maintenance and do not grow too large. Starting with your focal point or tallest shrub use the design concept of layering to plan out your small garden plantings. Proper layering will ensure each plant in the layering scheme has adequate light and add to the illusion of depth. If you are planning a garden against a hedge or a boundary, place the taller plants at the back. Unless you are building a hedge, use trees and shrubs of varying height in the back row. This way you will create a much more interesting garden that takes your eye along different levels.

Layers and Foilage Colours
Plan the plant heights to create a layered effect. Make use of plant foliage to create colour contrasts. Make trees in neighbouring gardens part of the view.

Plants to consider for the small garden focal point include magnolia grandiflora ‘teddy bear’ and magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’ and the crepe myrtle. These can either be planted in a large pot, with colourful annuals, or in the ground.

magnolia grandiflora “little gem”
Magnolia grandiflora “little gem” Creates a focal point in a large pot.Using large leaf trees in the foreground and small leaf trees in the background will make your garden appear larger.

For the bottom layer of your tiered garden, a ground cover like creeping boobialla is an excellent choice for attracting birds and suppressing weeds.

(Myoporum parvifolium) are very effective at suppressing weeds.
Creeping Boobialla (Myoporum parvifolium) are very effective at suppressing weeds.

It is often the case with the small garden that regular maintenance tasks like mowing the lawn become a real difficulty. Two native sustainable alternatives to lawn grasses are Dichondra repens and the Native Violet Viola hederacea. This will save a lot of effort getting the lawn mower out as neither of these require regular mowing.

Dichondra repens
Dichondra repens is a low growing plant that is an alternative to grass.

Other plants to consider for the bottom layer include Lomandra hystrix , Lomandra longifolia and Lomandra seascape. these hardy grass like plants are well suited to the Gold Coast with their tolerance of coastal sea breezes and their ability to tolerate full sun and part shade as well as a variety of soils. The species of lomandra with the blue green foliage, Lomandra Seascape, will create an interesting colour contrast in your garden.

Native grasses with Blue Green Foliage like this Lomandra Seascape are ideal for small gardens.
Native grasses with Blue Green Foliage like this Lomandra Seascape are ideal for even small gardens.

For the levels or layers in-between consider using Sago Palm (Cycas revoluta), if you have enough room. It will grow in part shade or full sun and will tolerate some salt spray if you are right on the coast. Although it can eventually get to two metres tall it is very slow growing. Growing it in a pot will limit its height.

Cycads like the Cycas revoluta or Sago Palm, create an exotic look in your small garden.
Cycads like the Cycas revoluta or Sago Palm, create an exotic look in your  garden.

Another choice for the small  garden is the Coastal or Native Rosemary (Westringia fruticosa). This plant is native to the sandy coastal areas of NSW even growing down to beach level. This versatile plant can be either be grown as a tree, as a hedge, or even as a prostrate ground cover plant. For best results trim it regularly to achieve the shape you want. Other species that should be considered is the melaleuca, and the banksia robur.

Westringia fruticosa or native rosemary
Westringia fruticosa or native rosemary is an ideal plant for the Gold Coast garden. Plants with fine leaves make your garden appear larger.

Now you have planned your garden focal point, vistas and various layers, it is time to add a few extra splashes of colour. This can done with annuals in pots or by planting plants like the Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia reginae). This plant is not only tolerant of partial shade, it can also cope with the wind, salt and sandy soils of the Gold Coast. Its stunningly beautiful orange and blue flowers will stand out against the layered foliage backdrop you have created behind.

Westringia fruticosa or Bird of Paradise
Strelitzia reginae or Bird of Paradise will add a splash of colour to your small garden.

Additional colour can be added to your garden with window boxes and hanging baskets. These use very little space and can be used on balconies and patios.

Hanging baskets can be used to add colour to a small garden
Hanging baskets can be used to add colour to a small garden and to screen out unwanted views.

If you still have room in your  garden, a structure like a pergola could be considered. Another trick you can use is to to create curved garden pathways using a light coloured gravel or stone path. Using light coloured paving or fine gravels along with fine leaf plants in your garden will help to create the illusion of extra space.

For some ideas on focal points and creating curves in the garden, take a look at our Japanese Garden blog.
For some more ideas on garden design for a small garden, take a look at our blog on Vertical Gardens.
For more garden ideas take a look at our pictures from the MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FLOWER & GARDEN SHOW.
If you are looking for more gardening ideas, why not take a look at the Gold Coast Regional Botanical Gardens.
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Contact us

For help with the design  and development or your landscaping ideas, contact one of our experienced Landscape Gardeners. We can help with small garden design all the way up to  Commercial Landscape design.  Our specialities include fast growing screening plants, plant health and horticulture, garden lighting  and outdoor pool landscaping ideas.

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