Whether your outdoor space is a balcony, courtyard or tiny backyard, a small garden can bring immense joy.
"The key to a successful design is great planning and clever strategies that make the most of the space you have," says landscape designer Mark Browning.
Privacy teamed with site-specific form and function often guides the design, which should also make the garden feel like an extension of your home.
We’ve rounded up expert advice on everything from greenery and shade coverage, to lighting and furniture.
Lack of space, privacy issues, exposure to wind and harsh sunlight, as well as weight and access limitations, demand savvy design solutions for the balcony gardener. First check where the sun tracks to determine if your balcony is suited to shade loving plants or sunseekers.
A south-facing balcony can be very hot in summer and cold in winter, so choose plants that can cope with these conditions and consider lightweight pots you can easily move around.
“Choose baskets that don’t block your view and create a beautiful hanging garden with trailing plants such as ivy leaf geranium, or shade-loving scindapsus and fuchsia,” says Bunnings Greenlife buyer Katy Schreuder.
Try cultivating herbs or vegetables in an upright system like Holman’s GreenWall mobile vertical garden.
Give your plants extra attention so they don’t dry out or become root bound.
Succulents are a great hardy, slow-growing, low-maintenance option and come in a variety of interesting forms. If it’s vibrant colour you’re after, consider petunia, calibrachoa and geranium, which will thrive in a protected, sunny balcony spot.
When choosing plants for your balcony, take into account the weight and positioning of pots, and also any strata by-law restrictions.
A decorative screen can help provide shade and protection from wind, while potted climbers like clematis or climbing fig soften boundaries and add a sense of seclusion.
Using colour can create a relaxing backdrop and give the illusion of a larger courtyard.
“Keeping the colour palette light will ensure a fresh, bright space when working with limited sun,” suggests landscape designer Grant Boyle.
With pavers, pick a colour in harmony with adjacent indoor areas so the spaces flow.
A hard-floored courtyard can be softened with planter boxes, slim garden beds and pots. Consider evergreen climbers like creeping fig to envelop walls with natural texture.
Rather than lots of small pots, choose one or two statement pots to display feature trees like a magnolia ‘Teddy Bear’, or dwarf citrus, which can be underplanted with cascading varieties like dichondra. Consider plants with benefits, such as kangaroo paw, which attracts birds.
Retractable folding-arm shade awnings are ideal for smaller spaces as they roll away when not needed. Alternatively, an arbour teamed with climbing varieties like wisteria, jasmine and dwarf bougainvillea can provide dappled coverage with the bonus of seasonal flowers.
Built-in seating is a great way to accommodate a crowd without clutter. If the area can’t comfortably fit both an outdoor table setting and a lounge, opt for the one you’re likely to use most and choose pieces proportional to the space.
In a tiny backyard, with too many elements, you can cramp the space and make it seem smaller than it actually is. Instead, keep it simple and promote sight lines which draw your eye to a few key areas of interest, like a feature tree or focal pot.
“A cottage garden is great for a relaxed, colourful look; or for a holiday vibe, try tropical varieties like palms and lush philodendrons – just make sure the varieties suit your conditions,” suggests Katy.
Consider tall, narrow evergreen plants and trees to help create a natural screen. Depending on the look you’re after, great options include: gracilis bamboo, coast banksia and pencil pine.
Deciduous trees allow for summer shade and better natural light during winter when the branches are bare.
Trees need to be size and species-appropriate for the site, so check the mature height of plants and look for varieties that have beautiful structural form when not in leaf.
Ask our garden experts in-store for recommendations for your area.
Similar screening elements, whether plants or structural panels, can visually elongate perimeters.
For fencing, opt for a deep colour so boundaries ‘disappear’ and green foliage pops.
Another tip to make entertaining areas feel wider is to run decking boards across the site rather than along the length. Imitate your indoor style to blur the distinction between inside and out; think complementary finishes, and coordinated pots and accessories like accent cushions.
Check out this step-by-step guide to our DIY stackable wooden planters.