When looking for small garden ideas, many people jump online or browse magazines to get inspiration. Then armed with an exciting array of new ideas they jump into the project enthusiastically only to realize later that those ideas won’t work with their current landscape setup and they have to abandon the project. If you have small garden ideas for your yard, it’s a good idea to ask yourself a few key questions before you get started to save yourself time, trouble and money on your next landscaping project.

When professional landscape architects take a look at a new project, the first thing they want to do is develop a conceptual plan with the homeowner. There is fancy computer software to do this but most often a simple hand-sketched drawing will do just fine. This conceptual plan will lay out what is to be done, break down the project into the specific steps to be completed and specify the order in which those steps are to be completed.

This way you begin the project with the end in mind so the process of getting to your goal of a beautiful garden is more smooth and enjoyable. Another benefit of a properly constructed conceptual plan for your small garden ideas is that once the plan is outlined, you can tackle certain steps in the plan and not the entire project at once. This can be very handy if you can’t afford to complete the full project with all of your small garden ideas at one time or if you run into a weather constraint due to the changing of seasons making it difficult to plant or excavate.

What is the first question you should ask when designing a conceptual plan around your small garden ideas?
One very important consideration in designing a small garden is the concept of location. Where your small garden is located in relation to the house has a significant impact on what you will want to plan there.

To get the best results, ask yourself which direction the garden is facing. Different plants, flowers, grasses and trees will thrive under different conditions and by knowing which direction the garden will face, you will be able to incorporate the best plant choices into your small garden design.

For a small garden that faces north, planting can be a challenge for many homes. Northern exposure tends to be difficult for a small garden because many plants have a hard time growing in this filtered light environment or will grow but not bloom and thrive.

Good plant choices for a small North-facing garden would be: shade loving plants like Rhododendrons and Camellias as well as, heuchera, autumn fern, and hydrangea. Avoid tropical plants and most grasses that thrive in direct sunlight.

For a small garden that faces South, there are many more options for including a dynamic range of yard plants that take full advantage of the increased exposure of the sun.

Good plant choices for South-facing small garden design would fit in well with: a micro climate landscape theme that can be tropical, Mediterranean or dessert in nature.

For East-facing small garden design, you will want to stick to shade plants and plants that enjoy the morning sun as opposed to the scorching afternoon sun.

Good plant choices for East-facing small garden design would be Bromelias, schefflera, and Philodendron plants.

For West-facing small garden design, you want to stick to plants that enjoy the scorching afternoon sun. Any plant that loves the sun and needs less water will be a good choice here.

Good plant choices for West-facing small gardens would be: Lavanders, Echium, or Phormium plants. Also any types of grasses, and Mellaluca will thrive in this setting.

What is the second question you should ask when designing a conceptual plan around your small garden ideas?
Another major consideration in the design of small gardens has to do with the function of the space. Is it for entertaining? Will you need room for guests, a barbecue pit, or an ample seating area? Will access be needed to the area? If you will be entertaining how many people do you want to be able to accommodate in the space? Will they be smoking? Are there views that you want to preserve, take advantage of or accentuate?

All of these function related questions should be asked and evaluated when putting together your conceptual landscape design plan.

Where can you get more help with small garden ideas?
Good resources to try if you are just starting to gather ideas for your small gardens are your local nursery, landscape architects, Horticulturists or you can pick up a copy of a good book. Here are two to get you started:

The New Western Garden Book by the publishers of Sunset Magazine. This book is a treasure trove of information with thousands of full color photographs and easy-to-follow step-by-step instructions for beginning and expert gardeners alike.

Landscape plants for California Gardens by Robert C. Perry. This book offers the most comprehensive color illustrated reference on native and ornamental species for all of California. It provides systematic coverage of climate zones, water needs, plant lists and planting palettes on more than 2,100 plants in a beautifully designed and illustrated book.

Let us know what you think, ask us a question, or simply share your own small garden ideas. We love hearing from readers.