Outdoor Design Tips


Rooftop gardens are the ultimate way to transform an urban area into a relaxing green space. If you have been thinking about utilising your rooftop, chances are these questions have crossed your mind.

Image via  Inside Out .  Design:  William Dangar  Photography: Chris Warner 

Image via Inside Out.  Design: William Dangar Photography: Chris Warner 

1. How can I use my rooftop as a liveable space?

While rooftops present certain challenges, they also give you the opportunity to create an outdoor area for relaxing, entertaining and gardening. To turn a rooftop into a liveable space, the biggest issue you need to address is a lack of protection from the sun and wind, as too much exposure to the elements will really undermine your enjoyment of a space.

The most effective way to overcome these issues is to create protected nocks within the large area. You can do this using built shade structures, small trees or hardy hedge varieties. This layer of protection will ensure that both you and your plants will be comfortable year round.

2. Can I have a grassed area on my rooftop?

Lawn is a wonderful addition to a rooftop garden, especially if you have children or pets. Given that rooftops are hot and windy spaces, artificial lawn is the most practical solution for this type of garden. It doesn’t require any maintenance and there are some fantastic options now available.

Artificial lawn can get hot in the sun, so have some kind of shade available such as a portable outdoor umbrella that you can pull out on hot days.

With an open grassed space, glass balustrades and low-set planting scheme, this rooftop garden in Sydney designed by Secret Gardens allows occupants to relax and appreciate the view. 

Image via  Secret Gardens

Image via Secret Gardens

3. How can I introduce shade into a rooftop garden?

Fixed structures are the most realistic shade option for a rooftop garden. This is due to the sheer amount of wind that rooftops are exposed to. Ensure your shade structure is strong and fixed to the wall and floor.

Options for shade include pergolas or open structures that can be used for growing climbers. Only use an umbrella or a retractable awning if you have the discipline to put them away before heading indoors. Supplementary sources of shade include small trees and green walls.

In the planning phase, study the direction of the sun so you can position your shade structure and plants in a place where they will be most effective. If you’ve ever sat underneath a pergola that’s casting shade away from the sitting area, you will understand the importance of getting this right.

4. What plants can I grow on a rooftop?

Plants provide you with an escape from the surrounding urban environment, but you will need to choose hardy varieties. Plants suited to the sunny, windy conditions include:

  • Cypress varieties

  •  Indian hawthorn 'snow maiden’ and ‘oriental pearl'

  • Crassula varieties

  • Kalanchoe varieties

  • Westringias

  • Dragon trees

  • Aloe trees

  • Succulents

Cypress are ideal for using as a hedge to offer protection from the wind, while the remaining plants are suited to large pots, planters or a garden bed.

In this rooftop, raised garden beds have been planted with hardy plants and trees that are used for privacy and a supplementary source of shade. 

Image via  Dezeen . Photography  Ross Honeysett

Image via Dezeen. Photography Ross Honeysett

5. Am I able to have a garden bed?

Yes, it is possible to grow your own garden in the sky! If you want grow your plants in a raised garden bed rather than pots, you will need to ensure that you have the right drainage in place and choose well-draining soil.

Where you place your garden is also important. If it isn’t sheltered in some way from the elements, choose hardy plants varieties.

6. How can I grow my own herbs and vegetables?

There are a number of ways you can turn your rooftop into a kitchen garden. You can build a raised garden or grow produce in pots or planters. Edibles require protection from the elements, so you will need to position them near some form of shelter. If you are using planters to grow your produce, a good idea is to put them on wheels so you can move them around.

This structure acts as a windbreak and source of shelter for the plants. Image via Pinterest.

7. How can I improve the aesthetic of a tiled or waterproof membrane floor?

The reality of creating a rooftop garden is that you will need to use industrial materials for waterproofing, but that doesn’t mean you need to live with this look. Use an outdoor rug as a simple way add personality or place floating deck platforms over the tiles.

8. I don’t want to carry cushions and other items back and forth between my home and the rooftop. What’s a solution for this?

To ensure you get maximum use from your rooftop garden, it’s a good idea to eliminate any barriers that will prevent you from heading outdoors, such as the issue of where to keep your outdoor items. The simplest soΩlution for this is to build bench seating into your space with storage underneath. That way you can keep items like cushions, barbecue tools and insect spray in one spot.

Bench seating is a great solution for a rooftop, as it’s durable and doesn’t take up as much space as individual chairs or an outdoor lounge.

9. What safety considerations do I need to make?

The primary safety consideration for a rooftop garden is its balustrades. If you want to make the most of your view, use glass balustrades to ensure the space still feels open. High balustrades also have a secondary benefit of protecting your plants from the wind. Check with your local council for guidelines on the legal height of balustrades in your state.

Discover more small-space garden design ideas by downloading your copy of Small Spaces, Big Ideas.


What’s the secret to getting the most out of your landscaping? Start planning early. During a build or renovation, landscaping is often an afterthought, but this limits what you can do with your outdoor space and can also increase the cost of elements such as drainage and fixed structures, which are far easier to install during construction.

When building or renovating your home, there is a lot to think about and it makes sense that you may want to put landscaping on the back-burner. But while there is a lot we can achieve after a build or renovation, you will get the best design results when your landscaping is integrated into your initial planning. By consulting a professional landscaper before finalising your building plans, we can help you realise the full potential of your outdoor area and offer suggestions on how to maximise your use of the space.

Landscape design involves a number of practical considerations that must be accounted for, including:

  • Drainage

  • Access for construction

  • Aspect of the outdoor area

  • Creating flow between indoor and outdoor spaces

The process is often far more complex than you may have anticipated, but with good planning you can achieve outdoor bliss. The nature of these requirements also means that when your landscaping is integrated with the construction process, your budget will go further.

From indoor courtyards to striking entrance gardens and enhanced natural views, these seven spaces show you what’s possible when you plan your indoor and outdoor spaces in unison. 

1. Form and function

Concrete House by  Auhaus Architecture . Image via  desire to inspire .

Concrete House by Auhaus Architecture. Image via desire to inspire.

Every garden has requirements such as drainage, soil quality and access to taps and power points. It is far easier to have these issues addressed during construction rather than calling in tradespeople again when you are ready to install your outdoor area. This is especially important in small spaces such as this one, where restricted access can be a costly challenge to address after a building project is complete.

2. Indoor/outdoor connection

Image via  Decorfacil

Image via Decorfacil

Integrated indoor/outdoor living is a great way to enjoy your leisure time at home and fully reap the benefits of increased contact with nature. To achieve a space such as this, planning must be done before construction, as courtyards can pose the greatest logistical challenges in terms of access (especially if you are planning a feature such as the plunge pool pictured above).

In this space, the indoor area integrates seamlessly with the outdoor space, with details such as level flooring, material selection and the open kitchen all adding to the cohesive flow between the two spaces. At the planning stage, order materials for indoor and outdoor spaces at the same time. This is cheaper and will ensure there are no discrepancies in colour and patterning, as your materials such as tiles will be coming from the same batch.

3. Natural lighting and views

Image via  archiproducts

Image via archiproducts

This home is a clever example of what can be achieved even when outdoor space is limited. By planning the vertical garden at the same time as the rest of the home, the designers were able to integrate floor-to-ceiling windows into the kitchen to maximise natural light and provide an eye-catching view out to the garden. So even though the overall outdoor area is limited, the occupants are still making the most of the space. On a practical level, allowing more natural light into the home will reduce the lighting costs for the home, while vertical gardens such as this one are great for absorbing noise from the city or neighbours.

4. Rooftop gardens

Image and design by  Marco Carini

Image and design by Marco Carini

A habitable rooftop garden or green roof needs to be designed in the planning stage of a build or renovation, as these spaces have a number of extra considerations including structural support and waterproofing. You will also need to understand how much weight your rooftop can accommodate and if your plans need to be submitted to council, it is easiest to have this done at the same time as the rest of your building approvals. 

5. Internal courtyards

Image and design by  William Dangar

Image and design by William Dangar

Have you considered an internal courtyard? When outdoor space is limited, an internal courtyard becomes a relaxing central living hub. They are also an ideal solution for allowing more natural light into your home and increasing your exposure to nature. To get the planning of an internal courtyard right, you need to consider any overhead voids, planting and drainage. These spaces add value and impact, and can also make your home more energy efficient by allowing more natural light inside. 

6. Entrance gardens

This striking entrance is a great example of a challenging outdoor space. Not only do entrance gardens have practical elements such as driveways and paths that need to be considered, but this landscape design also had to overcome the challenges of an uneven site. When a space needs to be built up, it’s not always possible to incorporate a lot of greenery and this home is a great example of alternatives such as water features, which still foster a sense of connection with the outdoors.

7. Plunge pools and water features

Image via  My Pool Guide

Image via My Pool Guide

Even in a small space, it is possible to enjoy your own private pool. Accessing small spaces to install a plunge pool and the necessary drainage can be difficult and should be planned prior to construction. In this space, the pool has been cleverly raised, which limits excavation costs and makes installation easier. Similar considerations should be made for ponds or large water features.

Explore 45 pages of garden design ideas by downloading your free ebook, Small Spaces, Big Ideas.

We believe in giving credit where credit is due, so if at any time you see work that is improperly recognised, please send us a quick note & we’ll gladly update the information. Thanks for inspiring us!


Taking art outside is one of the most exciting ways to add character to an outdoor space. Outdoor art can range from large installations to more subtle pieces, and there are many ways to incorporate it into a garden, courtyard or balcony.

Image via  Living Green

Image via Living Green

When choosing outdoor art, there are two things to consider: balance within the outdoor area and your own taste. Art is a very personal decision and there is no right or wrong when it comes to selecting a piece. With that said, you should consider the size and scale of a piece and where it will go in a garden. A well-chosen piece of art captures attention without detracting from other elements in the space.

In the image above, the rusted metal has an earthy feel that works well with the aesthetic of the space, and its scale complements the height of the trees and smaller plants. The shape is also important, as a piece with harsh lines or angles would have created too much contrast with the organic shapes of the path and planting scheme.

Whether large or small, a piece of art becomes a natural focal point in the garden, so your first step should be to identify where you want to position it. Then consider the following:

  • Look for pieces that will reference the colours or forms of your home or nearby architecture.

  • Ensure the piece is in proportion with the surrounding plants or built surfaces.

  • Consider how the shape of the art will contrast with the rest of the garden.

One thing to consider is that outdoor art doesn’t have to be art in the traditional sense. Using natural materials such as the basalt obelisk below is a great way to create form and function that is in sync with the flow of the space. Wendy Whiteley’s Secret Garden in Sydney is a great example of outdoor art positioned so that it feels like part of the natural landscape.

Image via The Small Garden

Image via The Small Garden

Less is more

Both of these pieces are subtle, yet they have the right amount of impact for their respective settings. The soft curve and colouration of the empty urn is an ideal complement to an unstructured planting scheme, while the form of the rock sculpture lends itself to a more structured style of design. The use of a white sculpture in front of a white wall is an interesting choice that carries on the more formal aesthetic of this space.

In both of these gardens, the surrounding plants frame the art and each piece of art is the right height and scale for its immediate setting. When positioning art in planted settings like these, choose evergreen plants to maintain year-round impact. Plants like grasses are ideal for complementing art that has movement to it, while more structured plants like hedges will bring form to a structured garden or more traditional piece of art.


Small space outdoor art

In small spaces such as balconies and rooftops, there are ways to integrate without sacrificing functional living space. Wall art is a simple addition for these spaces, but there are also other ways you can transform common garden elements into artistic features.

This small courtyard is another great example of less in more. The large potted tree adds height and scale to the space, which contrasts well with the metallic vessel and stools. The stools are not only functional, but they also become sculptural pieces when not in use. In spaces like this where there is a direct connection to an indoor space, positioning the art so that it is visible from inside is a great way to get more enjoyment from it.

Image via  Architizer

Image via Architizer

On this rooftop in New York, the designers have cleverly transformed the built surface into a sculptural feature. This is a great solution for small outdoor areas, where you may not have the floor or wall to accommodate a piece of art. Likewise, this retaining wall is another clever example of how you can transform built surfaces into sculptural focal points.

Image via  Archello

Image via Archello

This is a simple idea for a small space that transforms a potted plant into an artistic element come nightfall. If you spend a lot of time in your space during the evening, lighting an existing feature is a simple way to make a statement. This works best when the feature has a unique or striking form. If you do invest in outdoor art, lighting is something to think about when you install it, so that you can continue to enjoy it after dark.


Positioning art

Image via  Amazon

Image via Amazon

When positioning a piece of art, place it in a spot where it won’t be competing for attention. Generally speaking, art should be allowed to stand on its own and if you do have multiple pieces, try to scatter them around the garden so they can be ‘discovered’ and admired individually. With this said, repetition does work well for pieces that are visually similar, such as the water features above or a series of sculptures that form a collection.

This tactic works in both small and large outdoor areas and is especially effective in spaces such as entrance gardens, where the art pieces can be arranged to lead people towards the building.  

We believe in giving credit where credit is due, so if at any time you see work that is improperly recognised, please send us a quick note & we’ll gladly update the information. Thanks for inspiring us!


Have you ever wondered if you could be doing more with your balcony or if it has the right furnishings? Recently we have noticed that homeowners have the same questions on their mind, so we have launched a new blog series where we share answers to the questions we are most commonly asked. To get you inspired to embrace your outdoor space, we are starting with balconies.

Image + design  Terrasses Des Oliviers

Image + design Terrasses Des Oliviers

1. Help … what should I do with my balcony?

Let’s start this one with what you shouldn’t do with your balcony, and that is to use it only as a place for hanging laundry! Your balcony should enhance your lifestyle and ways to use it include lounging and entertaining, or as a balcony garden. There are a few things to consider with this question, so we have broken the answer down into individual tips.

Shift your mindset

The best way to see the potential of your balcony is to reframe your thinking. We often meet people who can only see what they can’t do with their balcony rather than what’s possible. In most situations, however, you can achieve your goals, just on a smaller scale. For example, if you want to grow your own produce, it may not be possible to have a veggie patch, but you can have a raised herb garden and even some potted citrus trees. Start small, focus on the opportunities and you will feel less overwhelmed.

Ask the right questions

The question to ask yourself is this: ‘What do I actually want to use my outdoor space for?’ It is important to think about this carefully – unlike other outdoor areas, it is more than likely that your balcony will only be able to serve a single purpose.

It often happens that people put a barbecue outside because that’s what they think they are supposed to use their balcony for. But if you only use that barbecue a couple of times each summer, you will probably find you will get far more use out of your balcony if you were to put an outdoor sofa there instead and use it as a space for relaxing.

As you are defining the purpose of the balcony, sketch the shape of your space on a notepad and work out how each part of the space will be used – this will help you to understand what’s achievable.

Get the planning right

Another reason that homeowners neglect their balconies is that they are put off by a lack of shelter, shade or privacy. Look at the size and aspect of your space and start to consider how you can address these issues (with respect to any body corporate regulations that may apply to your building). Thinking about these issues will make the space more liveable year round.

If you want to cultivate your own garden, you will need to be mindful that balconies are often exposed to more elements, such as wind and heat. Understanding which plants will tolerate these conditions will ensure the success of your balcony garden. When space is limited, you can integrate greenery by using hanging planters or installing a vertical garden. Not sure what to plant? Our list of top balcony plants features hardy plants that like being potted and don’t mind the heat and wind.

Less is more

Showing restraint is the key to creating a functional space. Cluttering a balcony will make it feel smaller and could inhibit the flow of movement between indoor and outdoor areas. This comes down to the furniture you choose – look for slimline pieces that will fit comfortably in the space.

When considering the decor, consider taking cues from your interiors to ensure there is continuity between the spaces. A sense of cohesiveness is an important part of feeling comfortable when you move between your indoor and outdoor spaces.

2. Will spending money on my outdoor space add value to my home?

In a nutshell – yes. But investing in your outdoor area won’t just add value to your property, it will also improve your health and lifestyle.

When you purchase a property, you are paying for every square metre, so it makes sense to utilise the balcony space you have. Doing so creates an outdoor room that maximises the liveability of your home, in turn elevating your lifestyle.

There is a growing body of research showing the positive connections between plants and people. When we have more contact with plants and the outdoors, stress lowers and this has a positive impact on both physical and mental health. So by investing in your outdoor space, you are making a commitment to improving your lifestyle as a whole. 

Image Design + Image  Anthony Wyer  

Image Design + Image Anthony Wyer 

3. Should I invest in new outdoor furniture?

Whether to purchase new furniture or use what you have depends upon a number of factors. We understand that investing in furniture can be a significant expense, but if your furniture is too large for the space, it can be one of the reasons why you may not use your balcony as often as you would like.

This is generally the case for people who are downsizing from a larger home into an apartment. In these situations, it is often best to start again and invest in the best quality outdoor furniture that your budget will allow. Look for lightweight pieces, UV-resistant outdoor fabrics and furnishings that suit the scale of the space you have.

This is a good opportunity to rethink how you use your balcony. If you don’t have space for a full dining setting, for example, you may choose to purchase bar seating or a small outdoor lounge instead. Or you may even decide to build-in furnishings such as bench seating with storage, as this is a great way to maximise space.

When it comes to pots, once again quality is important. Heavy are generally not suitable on a balcony, as they retain more heat. Look for lightweight pots and use good quality soil and agents like Wettasoil so your plants don’t go thirsty. If you have large plants, put them on wheels so you can move them around to suit seasonal conditions.

Image + design  The Small Garden

Image + design The Small Garden

Have a question for us?

Over the coming months we will be sharing more advice on courtyards, rooftops and plant selection – so if there’s something you would like to ask us, we’d love to hear from you! Email info@thesmallgarden.com.au or tag us on Instagram

We believe in giving credit where credit is due, so if at any time you see work that is improperly recognised, please send us a quick note & we’ll gladly update the information. Thanks for inspiring us!


Set the tone for your home or business with an inviting entrance garden. No matter your style or how much space you have, there are plenty of ways to infuse greenery into every entrance space.

It’s amazing the difference an entrance garden makes to a building. Whether it’s a home, apartment block, retail space or standalone business, the welcoming touch of greenery makes the setting more appealing to both you and your visitors. Even a low-maintenance garden or a potted plant can have a dramatic impact.

Why entrance gardens matter

Entrance gardens at home are a calming welcome, especially at the end of the day. And in residential settings such as apartments, it's often the case that the entrance garden is the only greenery in the building. Financially, the advantage of a well-maintained entrance garden is enhanced street appeal. We all know that first impressions count and this is especially important if you want to sell, attract tenants or add value to a property.

For businesses, the impact of an entrance garden goes beyond aesthetics. Research has found that consumers will go out of their way to shop at stores with greenery. In professional environments, the presence of plants has been linked with lower stress levels and improved productivity.

Be inspired to inject more greenery into your space with these entrance garden ideas.  

1. Use a statement feature

Images L to R via  Glamour Drops , Designer: Sue Carr x Paul Bangay and  The Small Garden

Images L to R via Glamour Drops, Designer: Sue Carr x Paul Bangay and The Small Garden

As entrance gardens are typically small, a single focal point is sufficient and can be used to add depth and impact. In these spaces, simple greenery and hedging adds presence to the sculptural elements without being overwhelming or distracting. The use of lighting underneath the urn is a fantastic way to enhance its impact, while the creeping fig on the wall behind it softens the entrance and is a space-saving way to add more plant life to the entry. In the Queenslander home, the presence of a plant beside the front door ensures there is continuity between the front garden and entry to the home.  

2. Reference the building’s architecture

This garden perfectly complements the architecture of the home. Large offset in situ concrete pads give prominence to this front entrance and bring the architectural lines of the house into the garden. Like the gardens above, the restraint shown with planting ensures the entry isn’t overwhelming, and the use of the cloud tree makes the perfect statement. When planning an entrance garden, choose a single feature plant or sculpture and surround it with smaller mass-planted plants.

3. Offset white walls with greenery

Image via  Estilos Deco  Photographer: Mark Roper, Stylist: Glen Proebstel

Image via Estilos Deco Photographer: Mark Roper, Stylist: Glen Proebstel

Plants are the ideal way to bring an all-white space to life. The choice of plants and pots in this space creates a boho feel that sets the tone to the home (though you could also use a more structured approach if you want to set a more formal tone). The plants are all low maintenance and their height adds further scale to the space. Details including the pot and white rocks in the garden bed show attention to detail and create continuity throughout the small space.

4. Create an unstructured look  

Image via  Gardenista , Designer: Mark Tessier Landscape Architecture, Photographer: Art Gray

Image via Gardenista, Designer: Mark Tessier Landscape Architecture, Photographer: Art Gray

With an off-form concrete path and use of grasses and water, this entrance sets a relaxing and highly inviting tone. The size of the path ensures the space doesn’t feel overgrown, and the raised water ponds are calming additions that add height. Like many of the gardens we have featured here, the planting is simple but effective. Using grasses in a space like this is a great way to enhance the calming effect of the trees.

5. Add definition with pots and coloured doors

Images L to R via The Small Garden and  Away in Style , Designer: Stuart Membery

Images L to R via The Small Garden and Away in Style, Designer: Stuart Membery

When planning an entrance garden, consider how you can add impact with existing features such as doors. In these two spaces, two symmetrical pots frame coloured doors. This draws attention to a key feature of the entrance while also softening the space with greenery. The pots have also been carefully chosen to complement the overall aesthetic of the entrance and the building’s architecture. The great thing about the simplicity of these entrances is that they are low maintenance. This scheme is also a great idea for businesses with limited entry space and/or time for upkeep.

6. Use screens and plants for privacy

In small spaces such as apartments and townhouses, the entrance to the home is often your only piece of outdoor space. In this outdoor area, screens and plants have been used to create privacy and bring structure to the space. The bamboo adds a sense of lusciousness and is ideal for this small space, as it grows vertically and doesn’t become too bushy. The timber slats still allow breeze and light to filter through, while the use of different paving styles adds texture and interest.

7. Integrate steps into the design

Images L to R via  Dwell  Designer: Tary Arterburn of Studio Outside, Photographer: Arien Kennedy and  HomeDSGN  Designer: Tim Davies Landscaping

Images L to R via Dwell Designer: Tary Arterburn of Studio Outside, Photographer: Arien Kennedy and HomeDSGN Designer: Tim Davies Landscaping

These gardens are two very different styles, but they are both elegant solutions for dealing with the raised entry of the homes. The floating platforms on the right become a sculptural point of focus that is softened by the plants. Additional focal points are kept to minimum in this space and the lighting not only adds ambience at night, but is also an important safety consideration for steps and uneven surfaces. In the space on the left, the large rush plants disguise the raised area behind them and soften the hard surfaces. The earthy tones are subtle and the ideal complement to the greenery.

Practical considerations for entrance gardens

To ensure your garden is functional as well as inviting, ask yourself the following questions in the planning process:

  • What style of architecture is my building or home and what style of garden will complement this?

  • Are there other gardens on the property and how can the entrance make reference to these?

  • How much time can I dedicate to looking after the garden?

  • Where do elements such as paths and steps need to go?

  • What other practical considerations need to be thought through? This will ensure your plan accommodates elements such as storage, bins, taps, lighting, watering systems, etc.

Get even more garden design ideas in our free ebook, Small Spaces, Big Ideas.

We believe in giving credit where credit is due, so if at any time you see work that is improperly recognised, please send us a quick note & we’ll gladly update the information. Thanks for inspiring us!