How to green any outside space

🕑 6 minute read

Simple small garden ideas

We love our gardens. They don’t just add value to our quality of life, they can improve the worth of our homes too. In 2020, the AA reported that people are willing to pay 5% more for a house with a back garden.

Though we might love the idea of a sprawling English country garden, in reality, many of us have smaller plots or balconies.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t make the best of them. And if you’re in the process of selling your home, or considering it, this could be the ideal time to improve your outdoor space and add value to your house.

We collaborated with Elizabeth Waddington, a Garden Designer at Horiculture.co.uk to understand how to make the most of a small outdoor space. Horticulture is a UK-based online gardening magazine, with a mission to provide handy tips and inspire readers to experiment in their garden.

7 Easy small garden ideas

Whether green-fingered or not, these tips will make anyone proud of their small garden or balcony. And they might plant a few other ideas in their heads too…

Use different materials

Mix and match a variety of distinctive materials to make your small space look good. Decorative stones, chippings and patio slabs can create expensive-looking areas for less.

“Wood can look wonderful if it is well maintained. Choosing reclaimed wood can give you the rich tone and patina that comes with age,” Waddington explained.

Get creative with planters

You can’t go wrong by hanging planters from a wall or fence. Mix up traditional shop-bought planters and hang them in old tins to create a rustic look.

“Natural wood or bamboo planters can look great against a wooden fence or wall without detracting or distracting from the beauty of your plants,” Waddington said. “Other natural materials like coconut shells, or woven wicker planters can also look wonderful and give your small space garden a more organic look.”

Foldable furniture

“Small spaces should always be multifunctional. A small space can do a lot, as long as there is flexibility in the design,” Waddington explained.

While six-seater sofas are probably a no-go, you can still relax and make guests feel at home thanks to foldable furniture. “Using folding furniture is one way to make sure that you can use the space in a range of ways and are not necessarily stuck with one particular layout,” she added.

Mirrored wall

“Using mirrors against a wall or fence can give the illusion that the garden extends beyond that boundary,” Waddington stated.

“But it is important to think about what that mirror reflects. Make sure you place mirrors where they reflect dense and lush planting – which provides the illusion of a forest or jungle-like area extending further,” she added.

Add a small decking area

Use light to your advantage. With light, pale decking, you can make your area seem larger and it can look cool contrasted with a dark shed, for example.

Lay boards width-ways and you can exaggerate the size of your space. If your garden is on a slope, you could even have decking on different levels.

Remove your shed

Do you really need that old shed gathering cobwebs and taking up room? If your shed is in bad condition or not serving a real purpose, it might be time to take it down.

Get a professional in when dismantling the shed – demolition can be dangerous, so this is the safest option.

Neutral or light colours

Probably the most cost effective and simple small garden idea is a new coat of paint.

“Light and neutral colours providing a backdrop for your planting schemes bounce light into a space,” Waddington explained.

“For shadier spaces or courtyard gardens, simple white can work well,” she added. “And colour can be brought in through the plants that you grow. Muted greys, greens and blues can also help boundaries recede and make sure the attention is focused on your planting. Cool colours are perceived as further away.”

Plants and flowers for a small garden

Flowering plants

Some of the most common varieties include fuchsia, daffodils, roses, orchids, peonies and daisies.

If you’re growing from seed, once they’ve sprouted, make sure they get enough (but not too much) water. While flowering, make sure to deadhead i.e. remove any dead flowers.

Ivy

An evergreen ‘climbing’ plant that clings to surfaces such as walls, fences and other trees can give your home character.

It’s shade tolerant and stays green all year. But beware – not only is ivy mildly poisonous, it can also spread its roots into your walls. Take a semi-ripe cutting of ivy in the summer. Plant the stems in a pot full of soil and cover until you start to see growth.

Succulents

These chunky plants store water in their big stems and petal-like leaves. They look dazzling, are easy to care for and, best of all, stay green and vibrant all year-round.

Aloe vera, stonecrops and painted ladies are some of the most popular. As they originate from arid deserts, succulents thrive on small sips of water and huge amounts of sunlight.

Cacti

Cacti stay green all year round and some types even produce fruits and flowers. All cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti – so the same rules apply to cacti as succulents.

Plant them in free-draining soil, feed them small amounts of water (and no water at all in the winter) and make sure they get as much sunlight as possible.

Herbs

What could be more convenient than adding a pinch of something homegrown to your cooking? Basil, rosemary, thyme, mint, coriander, dill, chives and parsley all tend to stay green year-round.

A spot of soil, some water and food once a month is all herbs need to grow big and bushy. Some types, for instance mint, also prefer to have their own pots. Herbs like lots of sun, but also a bit of shelter.

Balcony garden ideas

If you haven’t got a garden, you’re not alone. One-in-eight households in Britain has no access to a private or shared garden, according to the Office for National Statistics.

But you may have a balcony. If so, we have lots of ideas on how to turn that small, elevated space into a micro-garden you can nurture.

Create an urban garden

Recent years have seen a growing trend for urban gardens – creating green spaces in the smallest of city places.

Why not join in? Lettuce and rocket is great for beginners. Mini berry vines and small citrus trees in stone pots look natural and classy. Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and zucchini planted in tubs will add to your urban garden and you can then use them in the kitchen.

Artificial grass

Make your neighbours green with envy with your very own natural looking patch of artificial grass.

It’ll add a welcomed touch of colour in spaces that are often in need of livening up. And, of course, the beauty of artificial grass is that you don’t need to mow or water it. If you’re renting, make sure your get permission from your landlord or letting agent before installing artificial grass.

Ladder painter

When space around you is limited, why not go up in the world? A vertical ladder planter is an ingenious solution. “Trailing plants look great on ladder planters,” Waddington said. “As well as ornamentals, make the most of a small space by growing food producing plants. I recommend nasturtiums, tumbling tomatoes, peas and trailing strawberries.”

Hanging flowers

One of the most effective decorative ideas for a balcony garden are hanging baskets of flowers. But you need to consider that you want them to contain plants that grow outwards rather than upwards. Fuchsias, petunias and verbena are some of the most popular.

Add lighting

Balconies can sometimes be dark at the best of times. Brightening them up with colourful flowers is great in daylight, but you needn’t rush indoors when the sun goes down. Large gardens are decked out with lights, so why not do the same with your balcony? Hang string lights up, place candles inside glass jars, or deck out with lovely fairy lights.

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