Small is beautiful


With an increasing value being placed on outdoor spaces, Ronan O’Dowd of Acheson & Glover shares his top tips on how to make the most of a small garden

The Covid-19 pandemic brought a new appreciation for our outdoor space, as we sought solace in getting outside and enjoying our gardens. They were no longer the lonely location of a sporadic BBQ on those rare sightings of sun but instead, with travel restricted, they became our own private sanctuary.

Small gardens have their own advantages; they are low-maintenance and also provide great opportunities to be creative, with even the smallest additions having a dramatic effect. They can be daunting, but with the right design and applying some tips and tricks, it doesn’t have to be limiting.

Whether you have a petite patio, tiny terrace or a small garden, you can transform the tiniest plot into the ultimate outdoor retreat.

The first thing to do is think about what you need from your garden and then how you can include those elements. Do you want to create a space for sitting outside on sunny days? Or perhaps you would like to use it to become more selfsufficient with vegetable plots and lots of plants, or your aim may be to have your city plot looking like a country garden.

Once you have an idea of what you want from your garden you can then start to plan.


Shine a spotlight on your garden with the addition of levels to add perspective. Adding a sunken area or ledges will open up the space and give you extra room. You can also create extra surface area for pots by putting up some shelves – giving more room at ground level. Be mindful of the weight though as not all fences will be able to hold them – we recommend mounting shelves onto brick where possible. Adding a mirror panel is a great way to add light into a garden and will also give the illusion of space.


Introducing hardscape elements is a practical way to increase space. Adding curves and circles as well as different laying patterns in a range of colours and heights will add depth, interest, and colour to your garden.


Use vertical wall space to create a living wall, allowing even the smallest of spaces to flourish. Edible gardening has grown in popularity – irrespective of whether you find yourself in an urban enclave or a country garden so why not add some herbs to your wall as well as herbaceous perennials, grasses and small shrubs.

Window pots are also great if you are short of space or you can try and grow your own vegetable patch, which not only looks great but can also be of practical use for daily life. A wide range of brick and walling products can be used to complete the look.


Where possible, use reflective and lightcoloured materials to make your outdoor space feel larger. This also applies to plants – light, bright colours will give the feeling of a bigger garden. We all know that white gives the illusion of space – so why not paint your brick wall white? If this isn’t for you, another way to brighten up your garden is by using surfaces that reflect light such as sparkly granite or glass tables.


Like colour, texture is another great way to create the illusion of depth and distance. If you have a shallow, sloping garden, position fine leaves in the background and coarse ones in front, this gives the impression that the space is deeper than it is.


If you like to keep things organised, then draw inspiration from formal gardens and design a classic layout with a central point and symmetrical borders, creating a space that feels elegant and spacious. You could also give a new look to a border with tidy edging such as our bullnose kerb setts to retain your planting.


No matter what our best intentions are, sometimes the unpredictable weather prohibits us from getting the most out of the garden. Considering the lighting of your garden will ensure a great view from the inside – even on those cold, dark, winter nights! Try and ensure the lighting is sharp to highlight plants and create shadows as well as adding depth to your garden.


Small gardens don’t always have room for large sculptures, but you can still create focal points. A small water feature offset by large stones and rocks makes for an addition to your garden.

A small garden doesn’t mean you have to curb your ambitions. No matter what size of outdoor space you have, it is possible to grow a wide range of plants and create a charming outdoor space that you can enjoy throughout the year.

Ronan O’Dowd is landscape designer at Acheson & Glover