Expanding Your Small Garden: Easy Techniques for Creating the Illusion of Space.BaoHa

You might think that the easiest way to make your small garden look bigger is to fill it with lots of small plants and pots, but nothing could be further from the truth.

‘The temptation with a small garden is to go for lots of tiny things,’ says garden designer Jacquie Felix-Mitchell. ‘Instead, do the opposite and go bold.

‘Two very large planters in a courtyard, planted up with olive trees is far more imposing than lots of wee geraniums in pots.’

2. Work to a 45-degree angle

When it comes to making a small garden look bigger, one of the very best things you can do is design your outdoor space so that everything sits at a 45-degree angle.

‘Design the garden on a 45-degree angle, or meander a path through the space so as to throw the eye side to side rather than straight to the back boundary,’ says award-winning garden designer Matthew Childs.

‘It won’t just make the space feel bigger; it will make the garden layout much more interesting, too.’

3. Draw the eye upwards

A show garden from RHS Chelsea Flower Show

Drawing the eye upwards is key when it comes to making a small garden look bigger. The show gardens at RHS Chelsea Flower Show did this incredibly effectively by using plenty of Allium crisophii.

These bee-friendly garden plants, with their long stems and large showy globe-like bunches of tiny flowers, will definitely add some oomph to your outdoor space.

4. Plant some trees

Olive tree in a terracotta pot

Think a small garden means you can’t have trees? Think again: planting a tree or two can actually help to maximise your outdoor space.

‘Having a tree in a small garden space can be the feature that ties the garden together,’ says Dan Ryan, the parks and garden manager at Gatton Park. ‘I would always recommend using one or more and being brave with it because almost no garden is too small – even flats with balconies.’

He adds: ‘Many trees are happy growing in pots and that can also be used as a method to slow down the growth rate or max size. You just have to be mindful of the watering in our increasingly dry summers.’

Multi-stemmed trees, crab apple trees and olive trees are all among the best trees for small gardens.

5. Opt for a multi-functional firepit

A firepit under a tropical tree, with a garden chair sat close by (taken by Alasdair Mcintosh)

The best firepits can work in any garden no matter the size, although it’s worth considering a multi-tasking option (a firepit that acts as a coffee table when not in use, for example) if yours is on the small side.

‘No matter how small your outdoor space is, it’s a valuable asset and to fully utilise it take inspiration from the current trend of the garden being an extension of the home,’ says Matthew.

‘Your outdoor space should be as comfortable as your living room so planning out the space ergonomically so that it doesn’t feel tight or cramped is important.  The key to this is simplicity – and you can maximise your space by making elements multifunctional, too.

‘For example, a firepit could double up as a coffee table if you cover it with a wooden top.  Built-in benches and seating, too, can also be a great space saver.’

6. Play around with the perspective

gravel path winding through the garden with lawn and flowerbeds to a seated area between trees

By playing around with the perspective of your garden you can trick your eye into thinking it is bigger than it is while incorporating your budget small garden ideas. If you have a long and narrow garden, you want to make your eye travel around the space and not just down to the end. To make a narrow garden feel wider, focus on angling things off-centre so you move your eyes side to side. This can be achieved through the orientation of your paving and creating a focal point on one side.

For gardens which are wider than they are long, place a focal point at the back of the garden so your eyes are drawn downwards. To create an illusion of depth, place larger items in the foreground and smaller items in the background.

7. Use oversized paving slabs

The clever use of paving slabs can make your small garden look bigger than it is by tricking the eye and making your patio paving ideas work harder. Using larger slabs means you have fewer grout lines, giving a continuous cohesive surface which makes the floor look larger than it is.

‘Go big to trick the eye into thinking the space is bigger than it is by using large unit sizes for paving slabs,’ says Matthew.

Jo Oliver-Singh, director at The Stone & Ceramic Warehouse adds, ‘Fewer grout lines also mean easier cleaning in general, plus the slabs can withstand the harsh chemicals often found in some cleaning products.’

When considering what material to use for your paving slabs, porcelain is a great option. ‘Porcelain is the perfect material for use outside as it is virtually maintenance-free,’ says Jo.

‘It doesn’t fade in the sun or grow moss, and it is anti-slip as well as being quick and easy to install. Porcelain paving is a sound investment because it is also scratch, frost and chemical resistant.’

This will allow you to enjoy your small garden for longer because the slabs won’t need replacing and your garden will feel bigger than it is.

8. Stick to brightly coloured flowers

raised bed planted with flowers and vegetables

When planting flowers and plants in your garden, you need to be more considerate with your easy garden ideas if you have a small garden. ‘Using bright-coloured flowers will make your garden appear bigger,’ says Wendy Rea, expert florist and business manager at Direct2Florist.

‘Deep green trees or dark-coloured flowers may look beautiful in the right space, but if you’re wanting to give the illusion of a larger garden then avoid these colours as they can make the space feel more enclosed,’

It is important to not overcrowd the small space when planting your bright flowers so you don’t overwhelm the space. To add dimension to your garden, place taller plants and flowers at the back and smaller ones at the front.

‘Using a colour scheme, or general theme with your flowers can create a more cohesive look, rather than seeming overcrowded,’ adds Wendy. ‘Planting flowers in masses rather than positioned in singular pots, for example, can give the illusion of a bigger space and not look so spare or awkward.’ Flowers like tulips, fuchsias and primroses provide a beautiful sea of colour.

9. Extend greenery with window boxes

grey window box with yellow daffodils and white flowers against a blue window pane

No matter how big or small your garden is, a window box can be used to maximise the limited space and add some extra greenery to your small garden. Once you have discovered the tips for window box planting, to achieve this look you can use an actual window box, or even use a garden console table or shelf below the window if the windowsill is too narrow.

Adding greenery and colour right up to the windowsill will add the feel of more space and a bigger garden, because the foliage is extended right to the very edge of your home. As mentioned earlier for a small garden using flowers in lighter colours like pale pink and blue to fill your window box will make the space look bigger compared to darker colours.

10. Ensure the furniture isn’t too big

Using furniture that is too big for the garden instantly makes the space feel smaller than it is because it limits the area around the furniture to move around and use. Garden furniture ideas which are too large overwhelm the space and reduce the number of different zones you can create which is useful for creating the illusion of a bigger garden.

‘Similarly, having too much garden furniture in your space will also make it look small. Filling up your garden with too much furniture will make it look cluttered, and while having lots of garden furniture helps make your garden look better and provides you with more living space, it’s vital that you choose the right garden furniture for the size of your garden,’ says Rian Habergham, garden expert at Leisure Bench.

11. Layer your lighting

outdoor space with wooden table and wooden crate shelving, fairy lights on an exposed brick wall and a white candle

When thinking about your garden lighting ideas, think about it as carefully as you would for the lighting within your home. Use a range of lighting to create various pockets of light, this will make your small garden look bigger by giving the illusion of multiple zones for you to explore.

‘Work out which elements of your outdoor space you wish to highlight, both for practical and aesthetic reasons,’ says Mara Rypacek Miller, managing director at Industville Ltd. ‘Layer your exterior lighting and use multiple sources of light, including small lights to guide walkways, up-lighting for highlighting beautiful plants and trees, low lighting for ambience and wall lights and pendants in areas for eating and socialising.’

Make sure each light source can be independently controlled, so you can only light the areas of the garden you want to. Similar to inside the house, you can install dimmer switches outside to control the mood of your outdoor living space.

wooden decking with potted plants and exposed brick wall

‘In a smaller garden, decking can be a good way to maximise the usable space in your garden. Laying the decking in a diagonal pattern can create an illusion of a larger area, whilst ambient lighting around a decking area in a small garden helps brighten the space and give the appearance of a bigger garden,’ says Allan Jeffrey CCO at Ultra Decking.

If you have a garden space and you’re thinking about how to plan a small garden but you’re not particularly green-fingered. Decking is a low-maintenance option which not only looks good but opens up more options to use the space for outdoor entertaining.

Garden decking ideas made of wood work especially well in a small garden due to its rustic nature and it will blend well with the natural environment, giving the illusion of an extended space that merges with the rest of the garden, making the overall space look bigger.

13. Blur the boundaries

garden with green plants and round white table with chairs

Blurring the boundaries of where your garden ends and the next space begins is a simple way for how to make small garden look bigger. One easy way to achieve this is by using wild, cottage garden ideas. The informal planting at varying heights will make it unclear how far your boundaries truly extend.

14. Disguise exterior walls

garden with blue wall and green plants

Use garden paint ideas to allow walls to fade into the background. A simple, but effective, trick, is to paint an exterior wall in green. Your eye won’t notice this amongst the trees, grass and planting, especially if you train a climber across it.

As Matthew, advises that ‘painting fences a dark green colour, training climbing plants up them, and creating deep planting borders in front.’ This, he says, won’t just help you inject some ‘imagination and intrigue’ into your garden; it will also ‘allow boundaries to visually disappear.’

Learning how to paint a fence isn’t tricky, but make sure you do your prep work so you’re not repainting every summer.

15. Play with proportions

garden with green plants and pink flower plants in pots

Proportions can play a large role in how to make a small garden look bigger. One way of doing this is through your garden shed ideas. A narrow, smaller shed, in the same garden as large flowers, tall hedges or climbers, and big pots will disrupt the proportions of the space.

The shed will seem like a larger version further away than it is in contrast to the closer larger objects and plants.

16. Take lighting up high

Outdoor wall lights help highlight the best parts of our outdoor spaces and disguise what we need hidden. Another way in which they make an impact is by making your garden appear larger than it is.

String your festoon lights as high up on your fence or wall as you can so your garden will appear wider and taller. Up close, your fences will appear higher, and from further away it’ll look like the lights are at a normal level, and they are just further away.

‘Illuminating your outdoor space is not only practical but is sure to wow any guests that visit your home, and make the garden appear bigger. You can also consider dusk till dawn lights, which conveniently provide light without pressing a button, using photocell sensors that detect natural light levels and switch on accordingly.’ says Julian Page, head of design at BHS.

17. Paint surfaces all one colour

balcony with white walls wooden flooring and green plants

If you’re playing with things such as outdoor kitchen ideas then you’re likely to have quite a few surfaces in your garden. Walls, fences, worktops, and so on. Help these blur into one another by painting these all the same shade, as a mix of colours will seem messy and cluttered, visually closing off the space.

Enhance this effect by choosing any tiling you need in the same colour as the paint. Choose a light, cool shade to bounce around light and help the space look even larger again.

18. Trick the eye with a mural

room with painted brick walls and plant in black pot

Clever use of outdoor wall decor ideas will show how to make a small garden look bigger. One fun way of doing this is by painting a mural. Paint on an extension to your garden – or what you wish your garden looked like! As well as tricking the eye into the garden going on further than it does, you’re guaranteed year-round colour with little maintenance aside from cleaning.

‘Light and bright colours always make a space feel much larger and airier,’ says Fiona Jenkins gardening expert at MyJobQuote. So any painting you create will give the feel of more space if lighter, paler colours are used, especially those that match the colours already in your garden.

19. Add mirrors

You’ve heard the phrase smoke and mirrors? Create the illusion of extra space with simple garden mirror ideas. ‘Mirrors are great for making any space look bigger and your garden space is no different’ says the team at Gardening Express. ‘A large feature mirror will give added size, or even consider putting mirrors along the whole length of a wall to double it – just make sure no one walks into the mirror!’

Matt Jordan from The Greenhouse People recommends, ‘Place a weather-resistant mirror strategically on a side wall or fence to avoid reflecting the back of the house and encourage light in more shady corners. A garden mirror works best when it’s cleverly surrounded by foliage to keep up the illusion. Window-effect mirrors can work particularly well but with any design, always make sure to place a mirror out of direct sunlight so you don’t end up accidentally starting a fire and fix it properly in place.’

20. Plant vertically

garden with wall plants and plant in white pot

‘To create more ground space, and to make the grassy area of your garden larger, plant vertically,’ advises the team from Gardening Express. ‘This removes the need for borders around the edge of the garden, meaning these can be filled in.’

You could try planting a living wall, or using hanging baskets at different levels to add colour and depth to your space. ‘Venetian fence panels are particularly effective for this use as the gaps in between the pales allow vines to grow up in between the slats and will eventually create a green screen. Attaching plant pots or shelves to fence panels will also help maximise space that may have otherwise been overlooked,’ recommends Leigh Barnes, garden expert at Jacksons Fencing.

21. Remove bushes

garden with brick walls and gravel path stones

Take out bulky shrubs and bushes. ‘Big bushes commonly found around the outside of garden spaces can take up a lot of space,’ explains the team from Gardening Express. ‘Consider removing these and replacing with a fence, if security is needed, or grass the new space over and use planters full of colourful flowers to help increase the curb appeal.’

This doesn’t even have to be an expensive process. Clever use of free garden ideas will help you fill out your space for less.

22. Create zones

sloping roof house with brick walls and garden with green plants

Learning how to plan a small garden will help you in making the most of it. ‘Applying certain zones and differing the furniture and flooring of the area could give you the illusion of extra space,’ say the team from Gardening Express. ‘Furniture lying around the garden can make it look cluttered and therefore smaller.’

‘But with distinct zones, where your BBQ and table and chairs all look at home and will give a more organised, and larger feel.’ You could also use outdoor rugs to perfect this step.

Catharina Björkman, Scandi lifestyle expert at Contura says, ‘Start by finding the areas of the garden that catch the most sun and create ‘zoned’ areas to maximise light and warmth. This can be in the form of a table and chairs, outdoor sofas, or even sun loungers. You can effectively zone a blank or bland space – no matter the size – by creating different levels, separating areas with planters or flower beds, strategically placing furniture, or dividing between lawned, gravelled, paved or decked areas. Clearly define these spaces using seating or large pots, for example. This will give each area structure and a definite ‘extra room’ feel.’

23. Build bespoke seating with storage

room with wooden walls and plant in white pot

For a savvy furniture solution, you can’t beat a bespoke built-in design. A smart garden bench built to suit the exact measurements you require is the ideal way to make your small garden feel bigger simply by way of using the space at its full potential.

A bespoke garden bench takes functionality one step further by updating the base to become a storage compartment. Multifunctional and making the most of valuable garden space, what’s not to love for a small garden?

24. Check boundaries

garden with grass lawn and wooden garden boundary

Check the deeds to reclaim any extra space. It may be that previous occupants of the house have put a fence further into the garden than your boundaries state. By checking your house deeds, you may discover that you have more space around the edge of your fence, meaning a boundary move might be just what you need.

To make use of the boundary to give help you work out how to make a small garden look bigger. Angela Slater from Hayes Garden World says, ‘If you have a rural garden, try and incorporate the landscape into your garden by blurring the boundary with a low mixed hedge or inconspicuous fence. Or Hide the boundary fence or wall with plants growing up a trellis or tall plants which give good coverage such as bamboo.’

25. Incorporate potted plants to add interest

balcony with white tiled flooring and plant in pots

Balcony garden ideas are great examples of what you can do with even the smallest outdoor spaces. Group together plant pots in lots of different sizes and all kinds of finishes for an eclectic look. The result is a fresh and pretty display that brightens up your balcony garden, even when looking at it from the inside.

A good trick is to plant shrubs at different heights, to add depth and create the illusion that the space is more generous.

‘Pots are a small garden’s best friend, especially if you don’t have a lawn or flowerbeds,’ says Matt Jordan from The Greenhouse People. ‘Anything goes when grouping pots; mix up different heights, widths and materials to create a luscious corner.

Plants which are happy in pots include wisteriaraspberry canespeonies, palms, coleus, hydrangeas and hostas.

26. Upcycle a ladder

An upcycled wooden ladder turned into a plant shelf at RHS Chelsea Flower Show

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