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Patio Gardens: How to Maximise Small Spaces

Ever looked at your small patio or balcony and wondered how you could transform it into a green haven? Patio gardens offer various benefits such as improving air quality and providing a relaxing space to hang out.

This article aims to guide you to create your own thriving patio gardens.

Patio garden layout
Careful use of space will allow you to incorporate more plants without overcrowding the space

How to Maximise Small Spaces

Understanding Patio Gardens

A patio garden is a garden that’ss cultivated within the confines of a patio, balcony, or other small outdoor spaces. Unlike backyard gardens that often have ample ground area for planting, patio gardens make use of containers, raised beds, or small in-ground plantings.

Though they pose challenges such as limited space and less soil volume, with the right approach, these compact spaces can be transformed into verdant retreats teeming with life.

Planning Your Patio Garden

Before starting a patio garden, careful planning is important. Consider the environmental factors such as sunlight exposure, shade, and wind patterns as these greatly influence the types of plants that will thrive in your garden. Assess the available space and determine whether in-ground beds, containers, or raised beds would be most suitable.

One effective strategy is to think of your garden in layers. Different layers work together to create a diverse and interesting garden:

  • Small Trees: These provide height and shade, and can be grown in large pots or directly in the ground if space permits.
  • Caney Plants: Caney plants such as tall grasses or bamboo add texture and movement to your garden.
  • Narrow Hedges: Use narrow hedges to add structure and privacy to your garden.
  • Short Shrubs: These can fill in the middle layer of your garden, offering colour and form.
  • Strappy Plants: Strappy leaf plants like dianella or lomandra provide interesting foliage and can be used as ground cover.
  • Ground Covers: Low growing plants that spread across the soil surface, ground covers can add colour and prevent weed growth within containers.

By considering all these elements in your planning stage, you can cultivate a well-rounded and thriving patio garden, regardless of the size of your space.

Choosing Plants for Patio Gardens

When selecting plants for patio gardens, consider their growth habit, size, and specific requirements. Smaller spaces demand smaller plants that can each thrive without overcrowding their neighbours. Here is a list of plants known to flourish in compact areas, making them ideal candidates for your patio garden.

Straight and Narrow™ Syzygium australe ‘SAN01’ PBR

This variety of lilly pilly, with its narrow and compact growth habit, is perfect for tighter spaces. Reaching up to 3m high but only 60cm wide, it offers an attractive, dense foliage display year-round, requiring minimal maintenance.

Patio plant columnar lilly pilly Straight and Narrow Syzygium
Straight and Narrow lilly pilly’s habit is exactly as its name describes

Slim™ Callistemon viminalis ‘CV01’ PBR

Slim™ callistemon is a narrow-growing native shrub that grows up to 3m tall and 1.3m wide. It produces vibrant red bottlebrush flowers, attracting native birds to your garden while being a great hedge for tight planting areas.

Ozbreed, Slim™ Callistemon

Aussie Box® Westringia hybrid ‘WES08’ PBR

Aussie Box® westringia is a hardy shrub that grows to a manageable height of 40-60cm, making it ideal for small spaces. With mauve flowers and a dense growth habit, it serves as an excellent low hedge, providing both beauty and privacy.

Ozbreed, Aussie Box® Westringia

O So Fine™ Gardenia augusta ‘KEN04’ PBR

O So Fine™ gardenia is a finer leaf groundcover plant that provides masses of fragrant white flowers and lush green foliage. Its compact growth habit makes it excellent for small spaces, adding elegance and charm to your patio garden.

Ozbreed, O So Fine™ Gardenia

Quick Fence™ Viburnum odoratissimum ‘VOQ1’ PBR Intended

Quick Fence™ vi isburnum known for its fast growth and dense foliage, making it an excellent choice for a quick-growing hedge for privacy or screening purposes. It can reach up to 4m in height but can be pruned to maintain a smaller size.

Ozbreed, Quick Fence™ Viburnum

Fire Bells Correa pulchella ‘COR11’ PBR

Fire Bells correa is a dense groundcover plant that grows up to 50cm high and wide. Its beautiful bell-shaped flowers add a pop of colour to your patio garden.

Ozbreed, Fire Bells Correa

Crimson Villea Grevillea rosmarinifolia ‘H16’ PBR

Crimson Villea grevillea is a compact shrub that grows up to 1.5m high and wide. Its striking red flowers and evergreen foliage make it an eye-catching addition to any patio garden.

Ozbreed, Crimson Villea Grevillea

Little Jess™ Dianella caerulea ‘DCMP01’ PBR

Little Jess™ dianella is a compact and clumping strappy leaf plant that grows up to 40cm high and wide. Its deep green foliage and delicate blue flowers make it an ideal choice for adding texture to your patio garden.

Ozbreed, Little Jess™ Dianella

Evergreen Baby™ Lomandra labill ‘LM600’ PBR

Evergreen Baby™ lomandra, with its fine, arching leaves and compact growth habit (growing to 40cm high and wide), is a versatile and low-maintenance plant that suits various patio garden styles.

Ozbreed, Evergreen Baby™ Lomandra

Bingo Blue™ Agapanthus hybrid ‘ANDbin’ PBR

Bingo Blue™ agapanthus is a hardy perennial that forms dense clumps and produces stunning blue flowers. Growing to a height and width of 60cm, it’s an excellent choice for small spaces.

Ozbreed, Bingo Blue™ Agapanthus

Double Gold Gazania hybrid ‘GT20’ PBR

Double Gold gazania is a sterile spreading ground cover plant that brings a burst of colour to your patio garden with its vibrant yellow flowers. It only grows to 20cm high but spreads up to 60cm wide.

Keeping these factors in mind when choosing plants for your patio garden will ensure a harmonious balance between aesthetics and practicality, offering you a lush, green oasis in even the smallest of spaces.

Ozbreed, Double Gold Gazania

Patio plant Double Gold Gazania
Double Gold Gazanias are perfect for between pavers or garden edges which get plenty of sunlight

Container Gardening Techniques

Choosing Your Approach

Container gardening is a versatile method that allows you to cultivate a variety of plants in small spaces. Some popular techniques include:

  • Vertical Gardening: By growing plants upwards on a wall or structure, you can maximise your growing space and create a verdant feature that adds depth and interest. Learn more about vertical gardening and green walls in this article I wrote.
  • Hanging Baskets: These are perfect for trailing plants and can be hung at various heights to create a multi-dimensional display.
  • Growing in Pots: Traditional pots come in all shapes and sizes and can accommodate a wide range of plants.
  • Grow Bags: Lightweight and often made from fabric, grow bags are a flexible option that can be moved around as needed. However, they do dry out quickly.
  • Raised Beds: Ideal for growing ornamentals, fruits, vegetables and herbs, raised beds improve drainage and can make tending to your plants easier.
  • Trellis Systems: These provide support for climbing plants such as roses or ivy, enabling them to spread upwards and outwards.

Selecting Containers and Substrates

When it comes to choosing containers, consider the needs of your specific plants. Make sure there’s enough room for roots to grow and ensure the container has adequate drainage.

As for potting mix, opt for a high-quality mix that provides good drainage and aeration while retaining moisture. Or, even better, mix some up yourself to cater to your individual plants’ needs.

Care and Maintenance

Proper watering, fertilising, and pruning are part of successful container gardening. Over or under-watering can lead to plant stress, so always check the moisture level before watering. Regular feeding with a suitable fertiliser will help keep your plants healthy, and timely pruning encourages new growth and directs the habit of your plants.

Maximising Space in Patio Gardens

Creative Ways to Utilise Space

Maximising space in small patio gardens requires a bit of creativity. Tiered planters, stackable containers, and hanging plants are all great ways to utilise vertical space. Additionally, techniques such as companion planting and intercropping can also help you get the most out of your garden, with multiple species and colours all on show.

Enhancing Aesthetics in Patio Gardens

Principles of Design

The principles of design – including colour, texture, rhythm, contrast, line, scale, proportion, unity, repetition and focal points – can all be used to enhance the overall ambiance of your garden.

For example, using plants with contrasting colours and textures can create visual interest, while repeating certain plants or elements can bring a sense of unity to the space.

Decorative Elements

Decorative elements such as sculptures, lighting, and seating can also contribute to the aesthetic appeal of your patio garden. These elements not only add visual interest but can also make the space more functional and enjoyable.

Maintaining Your Patio Garden

Regular Maintenance

Regular maintenance is key to ensuring the success of a patio garden. This includes watering, fertilising, pruning, and pest management. It’s also important to make seasonal adjustments to your garden care routine, as plant needs can change throughout the year.

Daniel’s Wrap

Patio gardening is an excellent solution for maximising small spaces, and with the right approach, it can yield impressive results. By employing creative gardening techniques, making careful plant selections, and maintaining regular care, you can transform your patio into a lush and inviting green space.

Daniel is a writer and content creator for Ozbreed, one of Australia's leading native and exotic plant breeders.

Daniel has worked in various capacities within the horticulture industry. His roles have ranged from team leader at several companies, to creator of the Plants Grow Here podcast and Hort People job board, as well as his position on the National Council for the Australian Institute of Horticulture (AIH).

He's passionate about explaining how to care for different types of plants to ensure home gardeners and professional horticulturists alike can get the most out of the plant babies.

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