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Garden Gurus - Small Garden, Big Effect!

Published in Garden Gurus Magazine - Sept 2008

Small Gardens, Big Effects! - By Staff at ACS Distance Education

Townhouses, Units, Terrace houses all have one thing in common – small garden areas. But don't let the challenge of a small area cramp your style – small gardens can be fabulous retreats with the help of a little forward planning.

The design of small garden area is crucial to meet the various needs of the owners and visitors. Use of inappropriate items of the wrong size and for the wrong purpose can destroy an otherwise ideal entertaining area.


  • Tables and chairs take up a lot of space and should be carefully selected to suit the space available.
  • A long narrow area will best utilise a narrow table, ideally placed against one side perimeter. This allows good access beside the table.
  • A small round or square table is suited to courtyards and balconies where space is limited.
  • Remember that when a person sits in a chair, they take up much more space than when the chair is empty and access around the chair is more restricted. So, don't underestimate how much room you'll need for each person sitting at the table.
  • Some small areas may be better suited to a simple bench or bar at which you can sit and eat at rather than a complete table and chair set.
  • Establish the importance and regularity of outdoor entertaining. If you rarely have people over or sit outdoors, then outdoor table and chairs may not be a wise investment.


Outdoor heaters can greatly increase the use of the area. Portable outdoor heaters are readily available from garden centres, hardware shops and barbeque shops. They include cherimas (mexican wood heaters), brassiers (metal frame block heaters) and oven-like barbeques. Modern alternatives are gas or electric outdoor heaters.


A single statue can make a wonderful statement in a small garden but it is important to remember that big is not necessarily the best. On the other hand, small statues can look fussy or simply may not be very noticeable. Choose carefully, as the wrong statue can have a strikingly negative effect.

Structural Shapes

Ornamental balls, pyramids and shapes are available for the home landscaper to brighten up or to add an architectural element to the garden.

Small Plants

  • Small growing plants and plants with small foliage are ideal in small gardens. They make the garden look slightly bigger due to their small scale. Large foliaged plants tend to dominate a small area and look too big.
  • Dwarf version plants are also better suited to small areas. For example, the compact 'Paradise' Camellias are better than other forms of Camellia in confined spaces, and it is better to use Murraya paniculata 'Min-a-Min' rather than the more common larger leaf version of the same plant.
  • Small sized plants are perfect for hedges and topiary work in small garden areas.
Hanging Baskets

Hanging baskets are ideal for growing plants in small spaces. The vertical garden achieved with hanging baskets can provide sprays of pendulous foliage and flowers and can give a small area a lush jungle feel.


Scale refers to the size of the area you are dealing with and how it relates to the other items in that space. For example in a small courtyard the scale will necessitate similar small scaled items to suit the space. In a large space, one would preferably place large sized items. In a small area it is important to place items that fit is size and scale to the rest of the garden.

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