Garden designer warns against this small yard mistake – and what to do instead

Garden designer Kate Gould explains why going bigger is always better in a small yard

Small yard with bold pieces and furnishings
(Image credit: Helen Fickling photography)

Tiny yard? We all have them, generation rent or not. While it's an easy mistake to want to downsize all manner of outdoor furniture, choose only dwarf varieties of plants, or take a quiet approach when styling your space, award-winning garden designer Kate Gould advises otherwise. 

Kate Gould launched her garden design company Kate Gould Gardens in 1998. Since then she has won 5 gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show, and become one of London's most sought-after garden designers.

Kate's RHS Chelsea garden for 2022 is all about creating a sanctuary-like space in a small garden plot, ideal not only to grow plants in but also as a natural extension of our homes. 

Yellow and blue garden lanterns on wooden outdoor table in front of climbing plants

(Image credit: Helen Fickling photography)

Knowing how to make a small yard look bigger is all about getting creative and while you may be inclined to nod to a minimalist look or approach, Kate warns that this is a mistake and you should always go bigger. 

'A bold approach works for small spaces. If you put lots of small things in a compact area it will feel smaller. Go big, go bold (even if it feels scary and wrong) and the end result will be so much better for it.'

Kate Gould's small yard design tips

'You will be amazed by how much you can fit into a small space with careful planning,' says Kate. 'Don’t be daunted by a small garden’s lack of acreage. Instead, be enthused by the challenge of fitting a quart into a pint pot and be aware that by greening up your own urban space you are contributing to a much greater picture.'

If you're not sure where to start, here are Kate's top tips for going big in a small space.

1. Include large, architectural plants for drama

Small yard with bold pieces and furnishings

(Image credit: Helen Fickling photography)

'For small spaces, large architectural plants undeniably add drama; leaves, stems, and form combined together making a strong statement. They work on all scales, from large country estates to tiny town gardens,' says Kate. 

'Their ability to transform a space, however, often simply by a single presence, is highlighted in small gardens, where their leaves add interest and shadow during the day and create nothing short of 'ooomph' at night, especially when paired with lighting.'

2. Declutter and build-in boundaries

Patio yard space with built in seating and yellow cushions

(Image credit: Helen Fickling photography)

'Successful small gardens must contain all the components that make modern interaction with the garden possible – and that doesn’t necessarily mean the plants,' Kate explains. 

'Living an ‘inside-outside’ lifestyle requires hard surfaces for dining and lounging, space for children to play safely, areas for quiet relaxation as well as those for entertaining. Shoehorning all of these requirements into a small space without it feeling cluttered is possible.'

'Try building in furniture around the perimeter of the space rather than using stand-alone elements in the center. This will allow you to create integrated storage solutions for cushions and small gardening tools on the boundaries while keeping the center of the space open and more flexible.'

3. Supersize plant pots

Decked backyard area with grey outdoor sofa, yellow cushions and large planters filled with grasses

(Image credit: Helen Fickling photography)

If you're an avid container gardener, rethink cramming tonnes of small pots into an empty corner.

'Supersize your pots and troughs. Use one large planter rather than a group of pots to create impact,' says Kate. 'This will ensure that the space remains uncluttered but still has drama. One planter is less to water and maintain, too. 

4. Incorporate mirrors

White hydrangeas in box planter in front of outdoor mriror

(Image credit: Helen Fickling photography)

'Mirror-polished stainless-steel and mirrors have the ability to bounce light around and also create illusions of space. They should be sited with planting surrounding them.'

Camille Dubuis-Welch
Camille Dubuis-Welch

Camille is Deputy Editor of Realhomes.com and joined in January 2020. Her love of interior design stemmed from a childhood spent dreaming up weird and wonderful ways to renovate her grandma’s house in France – a greenhouse roof was involved – and it was spending time around very good-looking house plants and in a hardworking kitchen garden that gave her a green thumb. When Camille isn’t sipping coffee and/or writing, she is seeking out cool new Facebook Marketplace finds or tapping into her other creative outlets: painting and clay throwing. She currently rents in North London with her French cat and two others, and hopes to one day renovate the most sustainable house of dreams, somewhere marvellously sunny with a wild, lavish garden and chickens, of course.

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