5 Small Garden Design Ideas for Melbourne

5 Small Garden Design Ideas for Melbourne

A Small garden  can be a design challenge for even experienced landscape designers. If you are living in a Melbourne townhouse with a small backyard, and you might be thinking about what can be achieved in such a small space. Designing a garden for a small space in your Melbourne front yard or backyard can present some unique problems for the home gardener. Not least amongst these problems can be the lack of direct sunlight. Some similar design philosophies to large garden design can be followed, but there is more to it than just scaling everything down.

A fountain as a small garden focal point

A Fountain is a great focal point for a small inner city garden. The trickle of the water helps to disguise any traffic noises. The flow of the water catches the eye and has a calming effect. A fountain like this one produces even more calming background noise. It is also a great way for birds and other wildlife to get a drink after a day under the hot Melbourne sun.

Small Garden Focal Points

As with large gardens the logical first step with your tiny 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 compact 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.


Small Garden Design Focal point
A path of lawn pavers will draw your eye to the garden focal point.

A Path for a small garden

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. Small Garden Design
White Crepe Myrtle as a focal point in a courtyard. Small Garden Design.

Small 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 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.

Garden Layering for a small garden

Starting with your focal point or tallest shrub use the design concept of layering to plan out your  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.


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 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” 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.

Low maintenance small gardens

For the bottom layer of your tiered garden, a ground cover like creeping boobialla is an excellent choice for attracting birds and 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 and edging 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 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 Melbourne. 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 event tiny gardens.

Sago Palm

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

Native Rosemary

Another choice for the small  garden is the Coastal or Native Rosemary (Westringia fruticosa). This plant is native to the sandy and 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 is an ideal plant for the Melbourne small garden. Plants with fine leaves make your garden appear larger.Westringia fruticosa or native rosemary is an ideal plant for the Melbourne garden. Plants with fine leaves make your garden appear larger.

Add a splash of Colour in the small garden


Now you have planned your garden focal point, and 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 tolerant of partial shade and it can also cope with the wind, salt and sandy soils of the Melbourne. Its stunningly beautiful orange and blue flowers will stand out against the layered foliage backdrop you have created behind.

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

One trick for the small garden is to pick a colour theme from inside the home and carry this them out into the garden. This can also be part of the colour scheme for climbing plants  on a pergola or fence. The same can be applied to potted plants under the  verandah or near the door.


Window Boxes and Hanging Baskets.

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

A Pergola and garden Path to create vertical interest in your Melbourne Small Garden.

If you still have room in your  garden, a structure like a pergola could be considered and 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.

More home garden landscape gardening ideas from Red’s Landscaping.

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Hello, I’m Callum. A little bit about me? My passion ever since I was young is for the environment and the outdoor world we live in. Something we neglect in our concrete jungles and glass palaces. It’s this passion that’s been infused into every fibre of my company’s processes.

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