Types of Small Gardens

Balcony Gardens   With a little imagination, a balcony can become the most striking part of your home, drawing your attention from the interior of the house, and creating a feel of extra space.

A balcony is an outside area attached to an inside room of a house, apartment, flat or other building. It is usually only accessible from inside the building. Balconies are usually built in multi-story buildings, to provide a small outdoor living area for units or apartments which are above ground level. Balconies are a transition zone linking the outdoors with the interior of a house. Balconies can come in all sizes, from tiny apartment verandas of only a couple of square metres to areas the size of a large room. Landscaping a balcony is like landscaping any other type of garden; in that planning is the key.


Landscaping A Balcony

Consider possible uses for the balcony. Your selection will depend on the amount of space available, and it's outlook. It might be for sunbaking, for outdoor living, for outdoor entertaining, for eating outside, for growing cut flowers, herbs or vegetables to use inside, for aesthetics (to make the building look good from outside, or to provide a feature to look at from inside.

The wall of the building backing the balcony.  Consider the style of the wall, if it's attractive - then landscape to complement it and show it off; if it's unattractive - then landscape to hide the wall, or do something, such as painting to improve the appearance of the wall.

Are there side walls? These will help to further "contain" the balcony. This can have a variety of effects, such as blocking off neighbouring units, restricting good views or blocking out bad ones or reducing the overall feeling of extra space that more open verandas provide. It may also reduce wind (which can be both beneficial, making the area more pleasant, or can reduce the cooling effect that the wind provides on hot days). 

What type of balustrade or fence surrounds the balcony? If it's unattractive then hide it with plants in pots. If you have children, however, who like climbing then avoid placing objects, such as garden furniture or plant containers which children can climb, near the fences or balustrade.

What type of windows or doors lead or look out onto the balcony? Remember the view from inside. It is important to avoid placing objects, such as outdoor furniture, barbeques, or plant containers where they will create obstructions or reduce access.

Surfaces might be dressed up by paving, or by painting to create different effects.

Getting more use of available space. This can be achieved by using window boxes hanging on the outside of the balustrade, or hanging baskets from the eaves, or hanging from a pergola above the balcony...etc.

If space allows, you can consider a BBQ, outdoor furniture, feeders or baths to attract birds, or small statuary.


The Balcony Environment

Often balconies are exposed places which can be inhospitable to many types of plants. Wind in particular may be a problem, and depending on the aspect, a balcony may be either a sun trap, becoming too hot at times; or continually in the shade, starved of light and warmth particularly in winter. Balconies may be protected by large trees growing nearby, or shaded by adjacent tall buildings. Large structures may also create wind tunnels effects, complicating the task of successful gardening.

There are plenty of hardy plants, however, which will grow well in even the harshest conditions.


Plants For Balconies

With the right attention, you can grow most things on a veranda. Select plants to suit the space available. Large trees and shrubs that require frequent pruning may be inappropriate. What will you do with the prunings?

If you plan on spending a lot of time gardening in a small area, you might consider lots of container plants: miniature fruit trees, cut flowers producing shrubs, topiaries, or even an espalier can even be grown in a tub.

Some plants can have a high maintenance requirement if kept on a balcony. In particular avoid the use of plants that have a tendency to drop leaves, twigs, or fleshy fruits and berries. Decomposing plant parts can be slippery, and are a chore to pick up on a regular basis. Rampant growers should also be avoided as they soon take over what space you have, often choking out other plants.




 A court or courtyard garden is a garden space that is enclosed by walls or buildings on three or four sides, or a confined yard that is generally surrounded by houses, and with an opening off a street. Courtyards can be as small as a few square metres, such as the space between a house and garage, or between a house and a side fence. They can also be quite large, such as those found surrounded by large city buildings, or surrounded by classrooms and walkways in a school. Courtyard gardens are common in inner city areas, where homes are generally packed close together, and with limited garden space, such as terrace houses.

Courtyards are usually open to the sky, but can also be partially covered, such as by a pergola, or completely covered by transparent coverings, such as glass, or polycarbonate. Some houses are designed to have a courtyard enclosed or surrounded by the house, enabling it to be seen from different angles, and so that it appears to be part of the house. Courtyards are an ideal use of a small space that may not be big enough for use as a work or living area - simply turn the area into a decorative feature.

Larger courtyards may have areas of lawn, but smaller ones are generally unsuitable for lawns, with paving, and mulched areas being more common.


Characteristics Of Courtyard Gardens

The protected nature of courtyards, provided by the surrounding fences or walls has both advantages and disadvantages. Courtyards provide protection from climate extremes, particularly wind, from excessive noise or bad views. They can also be very private.

Protection from strong winds may lead to poor ventilation - this can be a problem for some plants, particularly those that are subject to attack by fungal diseases. Large areas of paved surfaces and concrete or brick walls may lead to heat build up in the garden. This can be an advantage in cooler months, but can be a real problem in warmer times. Reflected heat and glare can also be a problem damaging tender plants, or making the area too glary to use on bright days. Poor light can also be a problem if the courtyard is surrounded on one or more sides by tall buildings, or overhanging trees that block out the light for part, or even all of the day.

Water & Drainage

The protected nature of courtyards, especially if they are partially or completely covered, means that plants in the garden may not get sufficient natural rainfall, particularly those plants that are close to walls or fences. Supplementary watering is normally essential. For small courtyards hand watering with a hose or watering can may be sufficient, but for those with larger courtyards, and those who don't want to spend a lot of time watering, then installing a watering system is the answer.

Water can also be made a feature of courtyard gardens, through the use of small ponds, birdbaths, or even small fountains. The water evaporating from these will help create a humid environment that will benefit some types of plants (e.g. ferns).

Drainage can be a major problem in courtyard gardens, particularly if you have water features in the garden. There is usually a high percentage of paved areas, as well as enclosing structures (e.g. fences & walls), and often no natural surface drainage (slope). Provision of good drainage is therefore essential.

Some Design Ideas

The type of paving material chosen will have a major effect on the overall appearance of the courtyard. Glazed pavers and concrete slabs can create a formal effect, while bricks and stone will often give a softer, more informal look. Pavers can be chosen to match tiles, other surfacing, used within the house, so that courtyard blends into the house.

Spaces or gaps can be left in paved areas to create planting spaces.

A feeling of space can be created by the use of painted landscape or garden scenes on walls.

The feeling of space can be further expanded by having the garden merge into the house. Glassed entry areas and the use of indoor plants can help achieve this.

Lighting can be installed enabling you to use the courtyard at night, and to highlight particular plants or features. Any cables should be hidden from plain view as much as possible, but be careful that they are not placed in a position where anyone is likely to dig.

Removable shade cloth panels can be used over parts of a courtyard to provide summer shade.

Secateurs are an important tool for maintaining courtyard gardens. One or two plants let lose can quickly outgrow the available space.

"Stepped" or irregular shaped walls, as well as irregular shaped garden beds, can be used to reduce the 'box-like' effect that can be associated courtyards surrounded by straight fences or walls.

Keep the design simple by avoiding the temptation of using too many different types of materials or plants. If you use a lot of different colours and textures, the space can seem more confused and appear smaller.



Shade is common in small gardens, and it has both benefits and disadvantages for plants and people. Even the family pets need and appreciate a little shade in the hot Australian summer. With the prevalence of skin cancer, shade is particularly important, not only to keep us cool in hot weather, but also to provide protection from this serious disease. Many small gardens will be naturally shaded due to the presence of surrounding structures such as fences or buildings.

Shade protects plants from both extreme temperature and excessive light. Some plants love shade, however many don't. Careful plant selection is important to make the most of your shady areas.


Creating Shade

You may desire to create more shaded areas. This can be readily done by such means as:

Installing a shade house or covering existing structures with some shade material.

Temporary covers made from canvas, shade cloth or similar materials can be strung up on poles or between established buildings and/or trees to create shade during warmer months, and then removed during cooler times.

Building a pergola. These can be made shadier by training a plant (eg. laburnum) over the pergola. If you use deciduous climbers you can get the benefits of summer shade, and increased light during winter when leaves have fallen.

Growing suitable shade trees. These should not have invasive root systems that might damage drains, footpaths, foundations, etc. Deciduous types can be used to create summer shade, while letting through increased light in winter, however cleaning up the fallen leaves can be real chore.


Shade Density

Shade can be light or heavy. Deciduous plants provide no shade in winter but lots in summer. More upright trees with an open or high canopy may allow light to penetrate more into a small garden. If you want to minimise shade, choose taller trees with a less spreading habit, and less dense foliage.



(i.e.. don’t spread much, so can fit into narrow spaces)

Calocedrus decurrens

Carpinus Betululus Fastigata

Cupressus sempervirens

Juniperus chinensis “Mountbatten”

Juniperus scopulorum “Skyrocket”

Hymenosporum flavum

Pinus strobus “Fastigata”

Pittosporum phylleraeoides

Populus nigra “Italica”

Sophora japonica “Princeton Upright”

Taxodium distichum

If you choose to use shade cloth, it's easy to control the degree of shade, because such products usually come with the amount of shade stated. 50% or 70% shade cloths are common. If the garden is shaded heavily, you will need to be more careful in your choice of shrubs to grow below that shade.


Shade Tolerant Shrubs

Abelia grandiflora

Andromeda polifolia

Berberis spp. (evergreen species but deciduous types)

Buxus spp

Cornus alba, florida, mas

Coylus spp.

Daphne mezereum

Euonymus europeus

Fuchsia varieties

Hydrangea macrophylla, quercifolia

Kalmia spp.

Kerria japonica

Lonicera nitida

Mahonia spp.

Nandina domestica 'Nana'

Pieris spp.

Rhododendron spp.

Viburnum spp (many but not all)


Other Things To Consider

Plants growing in shaded areas need less watering than those exposed to the sun. The plant uses less water in the shade. The ground remains cooler in shaded areas. In cool climates over watering can cause problems. Some problems are slime/algae growth on pathways and on pot surfaces, fungal diseases can easily spread, especially damping off and root rot.



Achieving a successful outcome for your garden will depend a great deal on choosing the right plants. Good plant selection and placement will also have a significant effect on the amount of maintenance you will be required to carry out.

What should you consider when deciding which plants to grow?

Which plants grow well in your climate? Could you make simple modifications to the garden to improve the conditions (eg. provide shade), increasing the range of plants grown?

Which plants prefer the types of soil or growing media you have in your garden. Can you improve the soil/growing media or import some into the garden to improve the range of plants that could be grown.

What use/s do you require plants for? This could include such things as providing shade, to provide fruit, for attractive foliage or flowers, to attract birds, fragrance, etc.

How big will a particular plant grow. both height and width? Consider the long term!

How quickly do particular plants grow? Could they be used to provide a quick “fill”, and then be pulled out and either replaced, or the space left for other established plants to fill in?

How hardy are the plants you are considering? Are they drought tolerant, frost hardy, tolerant of waterlogged soils, good coastal plants, pollution tolerant, etc.

What are the maintenance requirements? Do the plants require pruning, staking, regular watering and feeding? Are they deciduous resulting in lots of leaves that may need clearing?

Are the plants safe? Some plants cause allergies, some have thorns or spines, others drop branches.

How invasive are particular plants? Do they have invasive roots, do they sucker, are they rampant creepers, do they self seed freely? Such plants can quickly take over a small garden.

How prone are the particular plants to pest & diseases?

How costly are the plants, and are they readily available to buy? Are there cheaper alternatives?


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