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Small Space Gardening

By Kathi Thistlethwaite, Colorado Master Gardener

The techniques used in a small garden are the same for a large garden, with an additional consideration: scale. For example, large-leaf hostas in a small shade garden would not work as well as a small-leaf variety. Light, water, soil condition and fertilization for a particular plant need to be part of the landscape as well. Incorporate design elements such as layering plants according to height. The tallest are placed in the back, medium height varieties in front of the tall plants and finally lining the front of the garden with shorter plants.

Layering plant size adds harmony and interest to this small space. Photo:

Color is also an important element in small space gardening. For guidance consult a color wheel. For example, do you want to go for high-contrast color? Use a complementary scheme—it includes hues that are directly across from each other on the wheel. Branch out into color with an analogous scheme, which consists of two to six colors that sit next to each other on the wheel.


Make use of space efficiently with elements like vertical and container gardening. Vertical gardening, such as with vining plants like Black-eyed Susan and Morning glory will climb up an obelisk or a fence. Use containers in tight spots, patios or even on fencing. Most herbs grow well in containers, as do micro varieties of tomatoes, small pumpkins and peppers. Pots and planters can be filled with one plant variety and grouped to create interest, or one container can be planted with several different plants in various colors, heights and textures to form a display of its own.

Tips for containers:

  • Since the entire root system of the plant is above ground, it tends to dry out more easily. Keeping containers well hydrated is important.
  • Using a good quality potting soil rather than garden soil will help ensure proper drainage.
  • Before adding potting soil, line the bottom of clay pots with round coffee filters to allow good drainage, at the same time preventing soil loss during watering.
Containers combined with vertical gardening methods are used in Kathi’s 20×15 small space. Photo: Kathi Thistlethwaite

The small space gardener can easily find design inspiration. Search the Internet. Let your creativity soar as you think of places for the variety of plants to include in your small space garden. Good Gardening (Bon Jardinage)!

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