8 ways to make a small garden look big

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In a small garden, where space is at a premium, you’ll want to do what you can to create the illusion of more space. You’ll want to make  a small garden look big as possible and avoid things that make it look smaller.

Luckily there a few tricks that will help you do this while making your small garden feel even more inviting.

small garden courtyardSource

1. Use color correctly

Different colors have different effects on how you see things. Warm colors (reds, yellows and oranges) for instance, pop out at you, making you feel like you are closer to what you are looking at. Cool colors (blues, greens and purples) tend to recede  and make you feel like you are further from the object.

The trick in a small garden is to use plants with warm colors towards the front of the garden bed and plants with lighter or cooler colors toward the back. The cooler colors will make you feel like the garden extends further than it does, thus make a small garden look big.

The opposite goes for dark vs light or pale colors. Dark colors recede, giving the illusion of depth. While light colors give the illusion of less depth, making you feel you are closer. This doesn’t only have to do with plants, you can paint a far wall a dark color or place a dark object towards the back, it will trick you into thinking it is further back and the garden will seem bigger than it is.

2. Scale down furniture

One easy mistake to avoid is to get outdoor furniture suitable for the size of the garden. Just like in an indoor room, if the furniture is too bulky or large for the space it will overwhelm the room and make it look much smaller. You also don’t want to go to the other extreme by using furniture that is too small. This in turn will also make the garden look smaller and doll-like.

A good trick is to use furniture that doesn’t cut your field of vision. You want to be able to see under and over the piece, or maybe even through it. To achieve this you can use seating that has legs, isn’t too bulky and is perhaps made of a woven see through material.  This will make a small garden look big because of all the visual space it creates.

small garden furnitureSource

3. Create reflections

One of the best ways to instantly double the size of your small garden is by using mirrors. A well placed mirror will reflect light and the garden, creating the appearance of more space. A great way to trick the visitor in to thinking your garden is bigger, is by making the mirror blend into the background. This can be done by using a large full length mirror and by concealing the edges with plants or other material. Although using a smaller mirror would also work.

 make a small garden look big with an outdoor mirrorSource

Using water, like in a small reflective pool also creates depth by reflecting light and the surroundings. A great trick is to combine the two, by having a strip of water run into the mirror. This will make a small garden look big by creating the illusion of a long canal that runs on forever.


There are a couple of things to keep in mind before installing a mirror in it’s permanent location. First, use a mirror that is meant for the outdoors or else it will not weather very well. Unless if a shabby more rustic look is what you are going for. Secondly, if possible try to place your mirror facing away from the path of the sun. If not you will get blinded every time you look directly at it. Or worse yet, you will have a beam of light pointed directly at your house or neighbors.

Update: One of my lovely readers pointed out in the comments below that mirrors can be dangerous to birds. The may fly into them and get injured or die. Perhaps placing decals on the mirrors or making the mirror less reflective by aging or antiquing it may help.

For more tips, check out an article on this very topic by the Empress of Dirt; Mirrors In the Garden.

4. Smaller and fewer paving materials

When paving your small garden, it’s best to use a smaller materials. For example, use smaller stone tiles that are in proportion with the space. Also use smaller stone gravel. Don’t go to the extreme though, using very small materials will create a dollhouse effect making the garden look smaller.

Too many or too few materials will also have the same effect. Using only one flooring material will make the garden space look boring while using too many will create chaos and a cluttered look.

A good balance is, depending on the size of your garden, to use a few materials of different sizes and textures that are in proportion to the space.

5. Create depth with lighting

An easy and practical way to make your small garden look bigger is by using outdoor lighting correctly. You want to achieve a balance between too little or too much light. Insufficient outdoor lighting, will make the space less inviting and will not let you see where you are going. On the other hand using too much lighting, will let you see every inch of the garden making it seem smaller.

The correct balance of light will light up the area sufficiently while creating areas of shadow and depth. These shadows make it seem like there is something more beyond, you can’t tell how far back the garden extends. Use different types of lights, for example; up lights to light trees from below, down lights to light a seating area and ground lights to light a path.

small garden outdoor lightingSource

6. Plant size

Just because you have a small garden doesn’t mean you have to use only small plants. Actually using tiny plants will make your garden look smaller. Using a mix of plant sizes not only creates interest but also a cozy space. Be careful not to use too many plants though, this will overwhelm the space giving it a cluttered look.

Using trees in a small garden will draw the eye up creating the illusion of height and space. But before selecting a tree make sure to check the mature size, and choose one that is appropriate for your space. This way it will fit in perfectly and will not overcrowd the garden.

small garden plantsSource

Another way to create height is by planting vertically. For example, by having a climbing vine on a wall or trellis or even by creating a living wall.

7. Create a path

Paths are not only functional but also help to make a small garden look big. You can accomplish this by creating a curvy path where you don’t see the end. It will appear to keep going around the corner, making the garden look like it continues on.

small garden pathSource

8. Leave some space

In a small garden it may be tempting to get every idea in there and fill it with everything you want. But by having fewer objects and more visible ground, the space will seem more inviting and less cluttered.

A good way to clear up some space, is by placing pots in groups in one or two areas vs having each pot scattered throughout the garden.

small garden containersSource

You don’t have to incorporate every trick. Using a few or maybe even just one will take you in the right direction. They will make your small garden look and feel bigger than it actually is.


8 ways to make a small garden look big — 10 Comments

  1. Great tips for my mothers retirement unit courtyard. She is used to overlooking a large park.

  2. Using mirrors can be deadly to birds, they will fly right into one. Those large mirrors in the pics are death traps. Even if the bird can fly away, they will usually die from the head trauma or get killed by another animal, cat, dog, etc. You can buy clings that look like hawk that will deter the birds a bit, but they don’t always work. All your other tips are lovely.

  3. If you use an old window with mullions spaced closely together, and replace the glass with mirror, birds will see the mullions as obstacles and won’t fly into them. Also you can buy artificial “leading” which comes in a tube or premade strips. You apply it to appear like the lead lines in a leaded glass window. Supposedly, both ideas work well to keep birds away.