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Top small garden design ideas for small spaces on a budget without grass

On paper, people would probably choose a large garden over a small one. However, I think small gardens are unsung heroes in the outdoor world. Sure, if you boast a 30-30ft garden, it is unlikely that you’ll be getting a swimming pool fitted anytime soon (you could get a garden swimming pool though), and perhaps you should consider asking a friend to host the annual summer BBQ party. But there is a lot to be said for the pros of a small garden. We’re all busy nowadays, and garden maintenance is surprisingly time consuming, not to mention expensive, so halving your garden size will consequently halve the effort and cost put into it. Furthermore, there’s something cosy and intimate about a small garden. You’ll likely know its every corner like the back of your hand, unlike large garden owners who despite having all the space in the world most probably only use about 10 percent of it.

In terms of lack of grass, I want to reassure you grassless garden owners that this is no bad thing indeed. Real grass is a real commitment. It’s as simple as that. It takes year-round watering, trimming and tending to, all so that the kids can go and scuff it up in the summer and so that the dog can use it as its personal toilet. It’s alright Scruffy, at least it wasn’t the carpet. Making the switch to grassless is a sure-fire way to ease up your gardening load, and actually brings with it a host of new gardening potentials.

I have narrowed down six of the best small garden design ideas, perfect for small spaces without grass, all while being on a budget. I will look at different opportunities for the grounding of your garden, as well as delving into some nice added features to transform your small garden into a mini oasis.

With longer and brighter days on the horizon, now is the perfect time to transform your small garden, so what are you waiting for? Pour yourself a cup of tea and peruse the top six small garden design ideas…

Cover your Grassless Patch with Wood Chippings from a wood chipper

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

Blimey – it’s even harder writing that than saying it out loud! But don’t worry, the world of wood chippings is much simpler than that infamous tongue twister.

Smoker Wood Chips
Wood Chips

You have probably visited a million pub gardens who employ the use of wood chippings over grass, not to mention kid’s play parks and gardeners using wood chippings as mulch around tree bases. It’s an extremely versatile, affordable and cheap material, and downright perfect for a small, grassless garden.

But what are wood chippings? Well, the name is in the title; they are off cuts of wood, and when used correctly they are a garden essential. You can buy them pre-packaged and pre-treated from your local garden centre, or if you’re really fancy you can chip them yourself at home, using an electric chipper (although you need a fair amount of space for this process, so perhaps not suited for us small-garden owners). Whilst their primary use is as mulch to protect soil, it is becoming more and more common for people to use wood chippings as ground material in their gardens. You can make these yourself with a garden shredder or wood chipper.

Either scatter them all over your outdoor space, or for a more designer look arrange them into a winding Wizard of Oz style pathway and “follow the damp brown mulch!” Wood chippings give any garden an earthy and natural look, all the while protecting your ground and prohibiting nasty weed growth. After all, who wants to spend their Saturday morning digging weeds out from in between the cracks in your patio? It simply is not worth the hassle. Wood chippings also provide a safe and squishy surface for any little ones playing in the garden, ensuring that no matter how many trips and tumbles they may take, there won’t be a grazed knee in sight!

They’re super cheap and super easy, so if your dream garden aesthetic is woody, natural and outdoorsy, then wood chippings are the way forward.

Turn your Garden into a Mini meadow

You may think that having a small, grassless garden means that you don’t have enough space for flower beds but trust me – you do. Nowadays, modern gardening is all about geometric shapes, minimalist design and stone instead of earth. But I think there’s still a lot to be said for a good old fashioned flower patch.

Picture this; you have a winding wood chipping path going through the middle of your garden, with a raised flower bed lining the perimeter of the space. Gorgeous, right? And it doesn’t need to take up too much space either; simply stick to small flowers, like daisies, poppies and yellow rattle. Devoting the perimeter of your garden to flower beds (especially raised ones) will elevate the space, giving the illusion of tonnes of natural growing room, whilst still leaving the middle of the garden free for other decoration.

There are hundreds of benefits to planting a mini meadow in your garden, but the most significant is the sheer beauty of it. There’s something about the muted pastels of a meadow that just makes a garden look right. Meadows are a super easy way to turn your garden into a natural beauty, giving it that untouched, effortless feel that’s pretty hard to mimic. Plus, they require minimum maintenance, giving you time to focus on other areas of your outdoor space.

Furthermore, we are all aware that bees are currently dying at an alarming rate, bad news for our food supply and the maintenance of a healthy ecosystem. Planting even a teeny tiny meadow in your garden will attract bees and give them the fuel they need to make it through another summer season. This means that meadows are good for you and good for the environment. Win, win!

Take a Trip to the Beach in the garden with a hot tub or swimming pool

We have been locked inside for a while now, and for many of us it’s been over a year since we have been on holiday, with little to no information available on when we will next be able to hop on a plane to our favourite beach destinations. But us Brits are good at keeping calm and carrying on and we always find a way to make do. So, if you have the holiday blues, why not bring the beach to your back garden?!


We recommend shingle, gravel or stone as the perfect materials for this project, as they are super cheap, so perfect for someone on a budget and nicely mimic the beach. Simply lay down a ground sheet, head to the garden centre to pick up your shingle, gravel or stone and get to laying! This is another great alternative to grass as it requires no maintenance and is the ideal weed deterrent.

Using white stone will brighten up your outdoor space and acts as a great base colour to make any outdoor plants pop. We recommend pairing your shingle with a couple of bright striped deckchairs (red and white if you want the typical British seaside style), and maybe even some parasols and a bucket and spade if you want to go all out. This tip works best on a south facing garden that turns into a sun trap, as the sun will warm up the shingle and help to reinforce the beachy feel. All you need is some sticky factor 50 and the distant sound of screeching seagulls and it will feel like the real thing.

And if you have kids with ants in their pants, why not pop in a temporary sand pit or paddling pool / Hot Tubs to transport them to the coast? Just don’t forget to lay down some kind of cover first to protect objects from the, sometimes sharp, shingle.

Plus, it’s a good idea to leave a couple of pairs of shoes by the backdoor to protect your feet! There’s nothing worse than the feeling of walking over gravel barefoot.

Fake it ’til you Make it with Artificial Grass

There’s an elephant in the room in the gardening world. Something that gardening fanatics love to hate, but secretly just love. Drumroll for…artificial grass! Sure, there are reasons that artificial grass has developed a bad name for itself. It often looks fake, I’ll give you that, and it denies you all of the benefits of real grass; the wildlife it attracts, the pleasure of watching it grow with the seasons, and of course the smell of freshly mowed grass.

However, people all around the world are waking up to the numerous benefits artificial grass carries on its back. There is minimal maintenance and clean artificial grass involved, as you will never have to cut or water it, in turn reducing the cost of your garden, as you save money on water consumption and pricey gardening equipment. Furthermore, it’s perfect for those who get a sniffly nose from spring to summer and rules out the risk of bringing impossible to wash grass stains into the house. It is also the best solution if you have pets who use your back garden as their personal toilet, as any mess can easily be picked up or hosed down. The fact that it never grows means that you’ll never experience that lump-in-the-throat feeling of just stepping in a dog poo buried in overgrown grass. Trust me, I’ve done it so that you don’t have to – it’s a shame that I enjoy sipping my morning coffee barefoot in the garden!

In terms of appearance, this small garden tip suits those with more of a manicured style when it comes to gardening. If you like your garden to look neat and tidy, year-round, then artificial grass is a great way to achieve this. There are also tonnes of nifty geometric artificial grass designs circulating on gardening blogs at the moment, so if the modern look is your thing, invest in artificial grass.

The only drawback is that it can rack up a bill if you’re not careful. It isn’t too difficult to install, but make sure that your groundwork is sorted first, as a lumpy and bumpy patch of grass really isn’t a good look. On the flip side, you will probably save the money you spend on purchasing and installing the grass on the total lack of maintenance, so it’s a double-edged coin.

Elevate your Game with Vertical Designs

If your garden is somewhat horizontally challenged, do not fear – the sky is the limit. I’m a big fan of levels when it comes to garden design. It gives the illusion of more space, turning even the tiniest garden into a stretching sanctuary.


Those who are lucky enough to have a tree in their back garden can achieve this vertical vision by making the most of their assets. Draw attention to the tree by adding decorations, big or small, to the tree. If your budget is slightly larger, you could invest in a swing, hammock, or even get the tool kit out and build a treehouse to add a whole different dimension to your outdoor space. However, if you’re on a small budget, don’t worry! You can still transform your tree with the help of fairy lights, lanterns or hanging decorations like wind chimes and glass suncatchers.

For those of you who aren’t blessed with a tree you can still build up with man made levels. If you’re not into DIY (don’t fret, not all of us are), simply call in a landscaper and get them to build you a raised decking area, perfect for early evening drinks and toasting marshmallows around a fire pit. Alternatively, for a cheaper option why don’t you enlist the help of the raised flowerbeds I mentioned earlier? Even cheaper, you could always buy a couple of tall plants to raise the game. My recommendation here would be scattering some sunflower seeds along the far edge of your garden. They can grow to a pretty impressive height and are a sure-fire way to add a touch of summer to your garden, no matter how grey the skies above are.

Time to level up, people!

Take Time to Reflect

I have saved the cheekiest cheat until last, but it’s arguably my favourite. Think about it this way – what do you do when your living room is the size of a closet? Chuck in a mirror and watch as the room doubles in size!

Mirrors also work wonderfully in outside spaces, and whilst they are more likely to scratch, rust and grow moss in the garden, this vintage look is in at the moment. My advice is to invest in one big mirror, to be placed in the biggest area of blank space in your garden, for maximum space optimisation. From there, scatter a couple of smaller mirrors all around your garden for patches of sunlight and brightness.

It’s also a good idea to place your mirrors strategically, i.e., in the sunniest patches of your garden. That way when (and if!) the sun fancies popping its head out, the mirror will catch the sunlight and chuck it back towards your house, in turn brightening up whichever rooms face the garden.

Garden mirrors also look great when you place them behind greenery or flowers. This will give your growth a fuller look, doubling the number of plants as well as giving the illusion of extra space.

Just make sure to handle your mirrors with care – we all know the consequences of breaking a mirror!

So, there you have it – six simple tips to transform your small garden on a budget. Which one was your favourite?

With the population rising and house prices closely following suit, a big garden is now harder and harder to come by. But this does not mean you need to compromise on style, features and impressive design. It’s all about thinking outside the box and being willing to compromise. With just a touch of love and attention, you can transform a drab outdoor space into the dream garden, and at a much lower cost than a large-scale project.

But before you get starting, pop your thinking hat on and maybe sketch out a couple of dream designs. When you’re working with a smaller area it’s important to think of the space as a whole and to carefully consider how each corner of your garden will operate in harmony. Plus, the good news is that you don’t have to just stick to one of these tips. Pick out your favourite ideas and see if you can make them work together.

Happy gardening!