How to Choose The Right Plants To Add Depth And Color To A Small Garden

How to Choose The Right Plants To Add Depth And Color To A Small Garden

Small gardens present both a challenge and an opportunity for homeowners and gardeners.

While the limited space requires thoughtful planning, it also offers the chance to be highly creative.

With a strategic blueprint, you can turn your small space into a lush, multi-dimensional haven.

The key to making a small garden look both expansive and colorful lies in understanding design principles and plant selection.

In this guide, you’ll learn all about the best plants to choose for your small garden to add plenty of color and depth.

Understanding The Space

Before you buy any plants, you need to have a good understanding of the size and shape of your garden, as well as other key factors, for a clear vision of what you’re working with.

Bear the following in mind:

Light Assessment: Record light patterns over several days, noticing where and when the sun hits the garden.

Soil Test: Test kits are readily available, providing insights into pH levels and nutrient content – this will help you understand the types of plants that will do well in your garden.

Climate: Knowing your USDA zone is essential, but also consider microclimates created by walls or higher ground.

Hone In On Focal Points

Now you know what you’re working with, you can begin to plan your dream garden.

Every garden, no matter the size, needs a focal point—an area that immediately draws the eye. This could be an interesting tree, a stately container overflowing with flowers, an arbor, or a decorative feature like a bench or fountain.

Choosing a point in the garden designed to draw the eye gives your garden depth. It also provides an anchor around which to design and arrange the rest of your garden.

For a small space, opt for a focal point that has vertical height, such as a slender ornamental tree, tall perennials, or an obelisk wrapped in climbing vines.

The verticality draws the eye up, making the garden feel larger.

Incorporate Plants Of Different Heights And Textures

One top tip for making a compact-sized garden appear bigger than it is is to incorporate plants of different heights, sizes, and leaf textures.

You can mix tall backdrop plants, medium-height shrubs and perennials, and low-growing groundcovers for maximum results.

You may be thinking that this involves a lot of plants, but you can achieve this look in a small space by selecting plants that grow vertically so they don’t take up a lot of room.

For example, narrow evergreen or flowering shrubs, wispy ornamental grasses, palms, and perennials like salvia and veronica take up little space while adding height.

Leaf textures also help create depth. Combine plants with bold, broad leaves like hostas, astilbes, and ligularia with fine-textured plants such as grasses, ferns, and leafy herbs. The contrast makes the space more dynamic.

Add Volume With Color

Abundant, strategic use of color is key for a small garden that feels full and expansive.

First, determine a color palette so your plant choices complement each other.

Limit it to 3-5 colors and stick to a theme, like cool blues and lavenders or warm reds, oranges, and yellows.

Next, plant densely and repetitively with your chosen colors to add visual volume.

Group at least 3 plants of the same variety together in a few key areas instead of dotting single specimens sporadically. This gives the eye an area to fixate on and avoids a spotty, chaotic look.

Go for plants in your color scheme that bloom continuously, like daylilies, Salvias, Verbena, Nepeta, Sunpatiens, and Calibrachoa so you always have a mass of color.

It’s particularly impactful to create a burst of flowers right up front, which will then draw viewers into your small garden.

Place flowering pots or a bank of colorful blooms along the edge closest to your viewing point. This fool-the-eye technique makes your garden appear much larger than it is.

Extend Boundaries Creatively

The boundaries of your garden can constrict a small space, so find creative ways to extend them with plants.

Train vines like clematis, jasmine, and passionflower onto fences, walls, or arbors to soften hard edges.

Espalier fruit trees or vines into living fences or screens to block unsightly views. Let low shrubs like hedges or azaleas spill over edges into lawns or pathways to blur the lines.

You can also borrow views from outside your garden to visually expand the boundaries. Frame and spotlight choice vistas with strategic plant placements.

Try framing a neighboring flower bed with two small trees or lining up a focal point statue with an architectural view down the road. The peeks of what lay beyond make your own garden seem more open and expansive.

Maximize Every Inch

Find ways to squeeze more plants into vertical spaces as well as unused ground areas in your petite garden. For example:

  • Use wall-mounted planters and hanging baskets on fences or porches to add flowers overhead
  • Plant window boxes or railing planters to flank outside steps and entryways
  • Tuck narrow plants into spots along the edges of paths or patios
  • Underplant small ornamental trees with low-growing perennials, bulbs or groundcovers
  • Add a living herb spiral, succulent wall garden, or vertical pallet garden on a blank wall
  • Use decorative pots and containers wherever space allows

Garden In Layers

Layering plants means arranging them so the tallest plants go in the back, descending to medium, and then the short plants in front. This creates a tiered effect that makes a small space feel more expansive.

Here’s one combination for visual layers in a tiny backyard:

  • Back: slender trees underplanted with shrubs (dogwoods, Japanese maples, azaleas)
  • Middle: perennials, ornamental grasses, small shrubs (lavender, salvia, spirea, grasses)
  • Front: low-growing perennials, groundcovers, edge plants (sedums, thyme, heuchera, ivy)

The layered look immediately adds organized depth versus a random, chaotic feel. And it’s pleasing to the eye to have multiple levels to look at rather than a flat plane of plants.

Use Strategic Garden Elements

Certain elements can make a compact garden feel larger by adding the illusion of expanded space.

Arbors, trellises, latticework, and garden mirrors all make boundaries recede visually.

Clever changes in ground materials or textures also effectively transition you in and out of spaces.

For example:

  • Light-colored pea gravel or bluestone instead of dark mulch opens up edges
  • Flagstone set into turf lets your garden path seamlessly merge into the lawn
  • Pavers spaced apart with plantings in between break up solid surfaces

Play with these elements and watch your small garden transform into a bigger, beautiful vision!

In Summary

Follow these tips when selecting and arranging plants to craft an intimate outdoor space that can still pack a punch.

Vary heights, textures, and colors for layered dimensions. Extend boundaries with vines, living fences, or borrowed views. And multiply planting space by going vertical wherever you can.

With a bit of creativity and strategic plant choices, a petite garden can overflow with outsized visual appeal and color.

For more top gardening tips, pop over to Venus Gardening.