How to Make a Small Garden Appear Large

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
How to Make a Small Garden Appear Large

Some of the most delightful gardens I’ve visited have big personalities but occupy a small space. 

One thing they have in common is the way the gardeners skillfully combine a variety of plants of various types, sizes, shapes and colors to create dramatic effects.

I still remember years ago visiting the garden of Sabrina and Freeland Tanner in California. Although they have an acre of property, their lot is very narrow. A technique they employ that makes the garden seem large is to divide it into different areas, connected by a series of paths. They also use structures like arbors, both formal and informal, to frame views, and low hedges to contain different groups of plants with contrasting foliage and textures.   

rustic arbor with clematis[1]

Vines and roses are used to take maximum advantage of vertical space and draw the eye upward. A path that terminates at a lovely bench, tucked away in a corner, offers an inviting place to pause and reflect. Another path leads to small area of lawn surrounded by a hedge that frames a mixed planting of shrubs, trees and perennials.  Everywhere you look is a pleasing scene.  

Chairs and garden Tanner garden

In Austin, Texas, Lucinda Hutson has a tiny garden chocked full of plants. One of the things she did was to eliminate turf and reduce the size of her driveway.

Small garden space with features

By creating a series of rooms, the garden offers a visual feast in a small area.

Lucinda Hutson garage

Her use of bright colors (the purple garage, now used for storage) as well as accents, including  the unusual wall of small chairs, all add to its charm.  

Wall of chairs Lucinda Hutson Austin

When I visited a number of years ago in October, she was growing large Brugmansia (trumpet flowers) the size of small trees, to frame her front door.     

Lucinda Hutson front garden

In Atlanta, garden designer Paula Refi, had to redesign her pie-shaped sloping lot when she lost two mature trees. Overnight, what had been a shady oasis became a full sun challenge. By adding raised beds, she has more space to grow her favorite plants and add height to the garden.

Paula Refi's garden terraced backyard in August-1

Her garage turned out to be an asset too.  She added a Victorian mantle, a window sash with mirrored glass and a stone hearth.  The result is her own take on the “outdoor living room” and a sense of spaciousness.

Victorian mantle against garage wall

If you have a small garden, here are a few ideas for ways to make it seem larger than it is.  Pair delicate plants with big bold leaved types including those with large flowers and interesting fruits, including plants for every season.   Use oversized containers with combinations of plants or place containers on top of columns or walls.  Pergolas, arbors and garden structures also add height and provide additional ways to display plants like vines and roses.   Adding a mirror against a wall, fence or existing building is another way to create the illusion of a bigger space.  Use colorful accents that complement the plants and add richness to the scene.