Big Ideas For Optimizing Small Space Gardens

November 9, 2021 by


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Here’s your dilemma: You’d love an outdoor living space and garden but have a postage-stamp-sized patch of patio, balcony, porch or terrace with no earth in which to plant anything. It’s time to expand your thinking as small spaces can provide some big opportunities.


Here’s how to design an outdoor room and garden using containers and multipurpose pieces to optimize your limited footprint:

Plant a Container Garden

Optimize the space by growing in containers. Container gardening saves space and offers several advantages including helping to control pests and manage soil issues, and gardens at raised heights are more easily accessible. Placed close to the kitchen, veggies and culinary herbs will be at arm’s length for easy access.


Use Self-Watering Planters

No spigot, so problem. It’s inconvenient that you can’t attach a hose, but you can opt for a self-watering planter with a reservoir that you fill using a watering can. Some self-watering planters will allow you to go weeks without watering them.

crescent-garden-trudrip-system-planterCrescent Garden TruDrip System. 

The best ones include an easy-to-read water level indicator so there’s no need to guess when the plant needs watering. The reservoir irrigates the plant roots when they need it they need it, reducing the chances of overwatering. They’re great for forgetful or novice gardeners and for those times when you just can’t be home to water. In addition, they are environmentally friendly as they conserve water and produce less fertilizer run-off.

Go With Lightweight Containers

Use easy-to-move lightweight planters–especially good for renters as they’re easy to transport when moving–are also great for bringing indoors for overwintering plants.

Use Rolling Plant Caddies

Place a rolling planter caddy under some of your containers so you can chase the sun or easily move them out of the way when needed.

over-balcony-railing-table-urbangardenswebvia Amazon.

Make Use of a Patio or Balcony Railing

Put those patio or balcony railings to work. When there’s no room for a table, install an over-the-railing one that folds down when not in use. For added visual interest and even more space conservation, choose balcony railing planters that slip over the railing without screws or brackets.

crescebt-garden-ella-balconby-railing-plantersCrescent Garden Ella Rail Planters.

Grow Vertically

Make use of available vertical surfaces such as walls, fences and railings to grow a vertical garden. Vertical gardens can also transform a boring bare wall into a functional living painting.

Wall-mounted flexible felt textile or rigid recycled plastic pocket planters are great for shallow-rooted annuals that can thrive in containers 6-8 inches deep. For DIYers, an internet search will turn up a myriad of ideas for upcycling wood pallets to use as wall planters.

As they take up very little ground space, climbing plants are a great solution for small gardens. Place a container next to a wall-mounted trellis or insert a support directly into the planter. It’s possible even in very small spaces to grow climbing flowering plants like clematis and ornamental sweet potato vines, as well as edibles such as small melons, cucumbers and runner beans.

Simple freestanding solutions include a ladder garden or lean-to: place pots on the steps of a wooden ladder then lean it against a flat surface. Easy peasy.

Hang Planters

Install hooks on a balcony or porch ceiling or wall to hang planters. Fill them with dripping ferns and they can also create a bit of privacy from the neighbors. No need for staking tomatoes if you grow small-sized varieties such as cherries from upside-down planters or bags. Make sure you locate them in a spot with 6-8 hours of sun.

crescent-garden-lightweight-container-garden-plantersCrescent Garden lightweight planters.

Add Height With Tall Planters

Lots of small planters and little plants can create visual chaos and make a space seem smaller and more crowded. Consider a few tall containers that add height to create the illusion of a larger space. Group pots of the same style in complementary shapes to create cohesiveness and visual order.

Tall rectangular planters can also work as dividers for open patio areas and at the same time offer some privacy screening.

This London terrace has tall containers that help provide privacy.

Garden In Raised Containers

Grow ornamentals, vegetables and herbs off the ground in a raised planter that’s both ergonomically comfortable and accessible for anyone. Taller planters make it easy for kids to help in the garden.

Crescent Garden Nest raised container garden.

Plant Dwarf Varieties

Dwarf varieties of shrubs and trees are perfect for container gardens.


Think Double Duty Plants

Mix plants that are both ornamental and edible such as ornamental kale and herbs.

Optimize Space With Multifunctional and Modular Furniture

Save space by incorporating multifunctional items such as an ottoman that doubles as storage, an illuminated table, stool, or ice bucket that multitasks as lighting.

LED-outdoor-lighted-tablevia Frontgate.

Furniture that includes a storage feature saves a lot of space. Placing cushions atop a storage bench is a great way to combine seating with a spot to stash garden tools and other items when not in use. Mount recycled wooden crates on a wall to use as shelving for storage or for placing potted plants.


Include Folding and Stacking Pieces

It’s a no-brainer to save space with folding and stackable pieces that can also be extra seating for guests.

Don’t Forget Corners

Fill these often disused spots with modular sectional seating pieces, triangular corner shelving or an angled corner planter.

Use Compact Accessories

Consider a folding watering can and collapsible bucket that takes up very little room when not in use.

Multitask With Fire Table

Optimize space with a smokeless, bio-ethanol fire pit table that’s both a fire feature and a usable surface for dining or cocktails.

wall-hose-hangervia Anthropologie.

Hang Hose On Wall

A wall-mounted hose (holder) is not only practical but some decorative ones can add design interest.


Create a Focal Point

Drawing the eye to a particular focal point will create visual order. Consider a small fountain, garden ornament, or particularly bold plant, and make sure to place it off-center.

Add a Mirror

A mirror can visually increase the size of a space–just be sure that it’s angled to reflect a pleasing view. Hang an oversized one or create a gallery grouping of different framed mirrors.

Keep it simple. Streamline colors, shapes and sizes and combine with bold textures. Use multifunctional and modular pieces whenever possible and low maintenance options like self-watering planters along with weatherproof and all-season materials. Sometimes less really is more and smaller is just big enough.

Unless otherwise noted, all images by Robin Plaskoff Horton, Urban Gardens.


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