1. Choose a Theme
When landscaping a small area, select a theme or style as you would for any garden, but think small scale in its development. A theme provides a single focus, which in turn allows you to enjoy the landscape as a whole instead of being distracted by out-of-place details.
Here, the theme was a tropical bistro. Large, tropical-look plants like philodendron (against the fence) and giant bird of paradise (on the left) set the stage. A casual dining set creates the sense of purpose.
2. Sweat the Details
Make sure that plants, accents, steps, walls, and paving look good up close. In a small garden, nothing escapes scrutiny.
This simple fountain used big, bold forms to make a statement that contrasts with the ruddy hues of the redwood shingles and the delicate flowers and foliage that frame it.
3. Blend the Elements
Consider how plants, hardscape, and accents will work together. With so few elements, each piece in the mosaic must fit together well.
Here, enclosing the grill with a redwood-shingled surround allows it to blend unobtrusively into the garden.
4. Blend Garden and House
Make hardscape surfaces seem less obtrusive by tying them in with the style and material of the house.
The simple, natural style of the garden is a perfect match for the natural finishes and materials used in the house. The black-painted roof structure is echoed by the trim used atop the shingled garden walls.
5. Limit the Variety of Plants
Choose plants with a range of leaf sizes, colors, and bloom periods, but keep the number of varieties to a minimum. Expanses of a single plant look much larger than the same space with three or four different plants in it.
Ideally, each chosen variety will serve several purposes. Here, star jasmine contributes fragrance and attractive foliage, as well as a trailing habit that helps soften a masonry retaining wall.
6. Think Vertically
If you can't push the garden walls outward, you can still advance upward. Vertical accents and changes in level attract the eye away from the boundaries of the garden, and make it feel more spacious.
In this example, the strong vertical giant bird of paradise plants help frame and separate a raised lounge area in one corner of the garden.
7. Soften the Corners
A sharp corner is not a regular part of nature, so anything you can do to disguise right angles helps keep your garden feeling, well, natural. Here, a white lantana draws attention to itself and way from the complex wall shape needed to coral the hillside.
8. Stage Your Plantings
It is especially important in a small garden to avoid a helter-skelter of plants. By planting large sweeps of a few plants, you enhance the feeling of space. In this case, plants with a variety of textures are carefully arranged to let the eye glide over large areas.
9. Light Up the Night
Lighting enhances any landscape, but can be particularly useful in small gardens. By limiting illumination to key features, a lightscape can cause portions of the garden to recede into a mysterious, distant background. Lighting can also provide a measure of safety, as here, where metal fixtures illuminate the stone staircase.
10. Employ Contrasts
Contrast -- in size, shape, color, or texture -- is always interesting. And with a limited range of plants to choose from, a small garden can benefit from the most careful selection of contrasting plants. Here, dainty blue campanula seem about to be eaten by the hulking philodendron above it.
11. Open Up
This small dining area gets a little boost of height by being positioned under an opening in the overhang above it. The skylight also allows extra illumination in what might otherwise be a dark corner.
12. Position the Details
Put your most detailed elements where people are most likely to see them. Here, delicate campanula and lantana blooms are positioned next to the stairway, a spot where visitors will naturally slow down and become more aware of their surroundings. This trick is also very effective with fragrant plants; placing them near entry points will ensure that they get noticed.
13. Have a Plan
By now, it should go without saying that a plan is critical to the success of a small garden. A detailed drawing to scale will ensure that you have enough space for the plants and amenities you want.
Here, it is clear that the unusual features, like the lounge area and built-in grill, could not easily have been added to the project during the later stages of construction.