5 Ways to Design a Small Urban Garden

Succulents on a table

Having a small, urban garden doesn't mean you can't have some greenery. These six simple tips will allow you to brighten up your urban garden with foliage, and design items, no matter its size.

1. DIY Planters

DIY planter in tires.

An easy and cost-effective way to add color to a small space is by making your own planter. These are great for decorating tiny patios, backyards, or balconies. You have control over the size and how many you want to create, and you’ll save tons by making your own.

Annuals like geraniums, petunias, and impatiens tend to be the cheapest option for color in the summer months, but they typically only last one season. Most garden centers will sell these flowers for a few dollars and start to discount them halfway through the summer. Feel free to swap petals for herbs or try companion planting by mixing different species together that help each other flourish such as basil and tomatoes. Fill your container with potting mix (not regular soil) and form a crater in the middle, deep enough so plant roots can establish. Arrange the plants the way you like and simply fill in around them with the potting mix. Make sure to water right away.

2. Tiny Herb Gardens

You can find small herbs for a few bucks a piece or try starting them from seeds to save money (although they take 2-3 weeks to sprout). You can pop them into just about any size container and have fun DIY-ing your own. Soup cans with tiny holes at the bottom for drainage make inexpensive and trendy looking herb containers. If you have old cinder blocks or bricks lying around you can repurpose them by geometrically stacking or placing them together in a group to make your own cute little mini-herb garden. Fill the space in between the brick or cement with dirt and drop the herbs inside. These plants enjoy lots of sun and will need to be well-watered but can be brought back inside during cooler seasons for year-long enjoyment.

3. Succulents


Succulents are unique-looking plants perfect for areas that get lots of sun. They don't need to be watered daily. They would rather get a big drink and then be left alone to dry out. This makes them ideal for apartment balconies or second-story patios where you don’t have access to water sources. They need well-drained soil and prefer living in containers filled with rocks or gravel which can be a part of their design appeal. Hens and chicks are a variety that will happily live on top of rocks and spread themselves out as a ground cover.

Burro’s tail or other members of the stonecrop family have interesting shapes and contours that can be potted or added to planters to give them character. Aloe, mini cacti, and jade plants offer a distinct contrast to flowers. Succulents are not only low-maintenance, but they can also be an economical and chic way to adorn urban outdoor areas.

4. Repurposed Items

Plants in a window box

Consider what a little TLC could do for items you have lying around in the garage, basement, or other storage areas. Rustoleum paint is your friend. Anything metal that has a bit of rust on it can be sprayed a bright color. Take the glass out of old picture frames, add a new coat of paint, and hang them on bare brick walls to add color and perspective to a blank space. Old ladders can be used as shelves, pot stands, or wall art on their own. Consider hanging them sideways for shallow shelf space where herbs can grow. They can also act as wonderful trellises for vines like clematis or English ivy to grow, giving your space more privacy. Wooden skids can be used as furniture bases for throw pillows and blankets or hung on its side with attached small pots or planters to create a mini living wall.

You can also use items others throw out. It may feel uncomfortable at first but remember, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Plus, it keeps things out of the landfill: old chairs, tables, crates, and other used furniture can have new life as DIY planters. Benches or chairs can act as plant stands, and scrap wood can be made into planter boxes or trellises. Old shelves are easily restored into trendy plant bases and antiquated dressers can be used as vogue outdoor storage, their drawers re-purposed into plant holders.

5. Functional Design

If garbage hunting isn’t your thing, you can still create an urban oasis with a little planning. Check for sales at department stores off-season for high priced items and look for furniture that can double as seating and storage. Use an outdoor rug to signify a sitting space for small patio furniture items. If space is tight, choose pieces that are sleek and functional like fold-up chairs, retractable umbrellas, and hanging baskets instead of planters. If you want a mini-garden, try growing up instead of across, making use of trellis systems for edibles like cucumbers, beans, and tomatoes that can climb or cascade down walls. Create succinct walkways and paths with a few well-placed patio stones rather than a full section. A beautiful majesty palm tree can separate two spaces nicely and adds character to corners with little sunlight.

Adding beautiful foliage and decor to your urban outdoor area doesn’t have to be difficult. Small plants can make big statements, and creative planters can be conversation starters. Partner up plants, herbs and flowers with different materials like wood, cement, and metal to create a fresh and interesting look or do some bargain shopping to get the design you want.