Spring is on its way, bringing perennials back to life, pointing out gaps in borders, beds and rockeries and sending us all into garden planning mode. Should we add a water feature? Plant an orchard or dig a vegetable patch?
If your garden space is limited, any small backyard ideas you bring to life will be that much more obvious than if they are buried in a large backyard. And for that reason, small backyard owners must follow design rules and restraint to avoid overcrowding their plots.
We asked garden experts about the five biggest mistakes small backyard owners make and how avoiding them can make a small garden look bigger.
5 mistakes small backyard owners can avoid
Small backyards have to work twice as hard to be everything you want them to be: practical, productive, beautiful and filled with entertaining space. Here’s what to do—and what not to do—according to the experts.
1. Not planning a small backyard properly
The biggest trap small backyard owners fall into is not making a plan when considering small backyard landscaping ideas.
“Planning is key,” says garden designer Joanna VonBergen of Gingham Gardens (opens in new tab). ‘If you can’t afford a landscape designer, or if you prefer to do a DIY project, it’s important to do your homework. Sit down with some graph paper and map out your garden space. Make a list of the things you want to bring: Do you want places to sit or entertain? Do you need a small area for children or pets? Or do you just want plants with solar lighting or a small water feature?’
2. Not considering plant sizes carefully
It sounds obvious, but choose plants that will grow to an appropriate size, such as the best trees for a small garden, for your small but perfectly formed kingdom.
“Choose plants that won’t get too big for your space,” says gardener Charlotte Bailey on specialist plant care website Oh So Garden (opens in new tab). ‘It is a good idea to do some research before making plant choices. Read the tags and know how big a plant gets or how fast it grows. Go to the nursery with a plan and your notes and be ready to ask questions.’
We love to personalize our gardens, but exercise restraint.
“Ideally, less is always more, but items you’ve brought home from your travels, as well as candles and lanterns, always add a really personal touch,” says RHS Chelsea 2022 gardener Kate Gould, whose garden ‘Out of the Shadows’ ‘ is inspired by getting out of the pandemic.
“Whether they’re statement pieces or just a small reminder of a happy occasion, much-loved items can easily fit into a small garden. Updating these accessories is also an easy way to ring in the changes.’
4. Not being reckless with overcrowded planting areas
Plants for free are a tempting prospect, but not when they displace a smaller space.
‘One of the biggest reasons for overcrowding on a small plot is that seedlings are not thinned out,’ says Robin Antill, director at Fritidsbygninger (opens in new tab). ‘If you’re like me, the thought of removing a perfectly suitable plant from your backyard makes you feel bad. Don’t be alarmed. Some early seedlings are tasty and can be added to a spring salad. Other non-edible seedlings are used as compost around vegetable plants to add nutrients and help prevent weeds.’
5. Does not train companion planting
Learning about companion planting – which plants work best together – is the key to a harmonious and uncluttered space.
‘The biggest mistake beginners make with small gardens? Trying to cram many different types of plants into a confined space results in messy, crowded and lackluster growth,’ says gardener Charlotte Bailey. ‘To really maximize the small space, focus on companion planting techniques instead. Many vegetables and even flowers can peacefully coexist and share the vital nutrients for the growth of stars.’