General gardening topics

Best plants for a small urban garden

Last updated on April 5th, 2022

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Urban gardens are named as such because they are often small, and the only accessible areas for plant life in an otherwise crowded urban area. The plants you pick for a small, urban garden need to look good for most of the year, with flowers that remain for most of the year, in various shapes and forms. Most importantly, they need to be low maintenance. 

What overall style and design you choose is down to personal preference, but in a small space, you want to find compact plants that have a good architectural form and leave your space feeling bigger, rather than smaller. 

Remember that fences and walls are great for urban spaces because climbing plants, even miniature fruit trees, will provide structures for plants to grow on, making the most out of all the space you have available.

In urban spaces, you can pick hardy plants that attract wildlife to your space, such as birds, bees, and butterflies

That being said, below are the top plants for small urban spaces that we highly recommend. We have a nice mix, starting with the Trachelospermum jasminoides which is great for growing along walls and fences. We even include some shrubs, topiary and even a stunning tree that is perfectly suited to small gardens.

1. Trachelospermum jasminoides

The star jasmine is a vigorous and medium-sized Evergreen vine that brings to your garden dark green leaves up to 8cm in length along wiry stems. At the end of spring, you will see an abundance of sweetly fragrant flowers that are white in shade and star in shape, reaching 2.5 centimetres on average. As the flowers age, they take on a creamy hue.

If you want something that climbs, consider the Trachelospermum jasminoides. For a small space, this is a great option for growing in pots or in the ground and will happily climb along a fence or wall, although you will need to add some support for it to grow up. As an evergreen climber, this plant has beautiful green foliage all year round and scented flowers come summer. Great for placement near a small patio table and chairs. 


2. Phyllostachys aureosulcata

Phyllostachys aureosulcata

Bamboo is a contemporary plant and is perfect for urban spaces. What’s more, bamboo grows upwards so the shoots can add height and geometric variance to limited spaces. You can grow bamboo in containers and it will create a natural screen or hedge. 

Low maintenance, you won’t have to tend to them much. There are some great versions of bamboo for eye-catching colour schemes and this is one of them. Remove some of the lower leaves to highlight the bright, golden stems.

See our guide on 6 of our favourite bamboo plants for growing on containers here


3. Dicksonia antarctica

Dicksonia antarctica

If you are not interested in making a privacy screen, but instead need something to fill a shaded area, go with tree ferns. Ferns offer delightful architectural qualities. They retain their leaves throughout the winter, so you always have colour, and they do well in darker areas where other urban plants may fail.

Learn more about growing tree ferns in this guide


4. Euphorbia characias

This is an evergreen perennial, which means you can plant it and enjoy its unusual plant structure all year round. However, in spring it bears stunning, acid-yellow coloured flowers that will complement your space quite well. 

This plant is actually usually sold as a perennial but it does produce woody stems and grows more like a shrub.


5. Hydrangea quercifolia – Oakleaf Hydrangea

Hydrangea quercifolia

For smaller spaces, this is the perfect shrub and one of the many Hydrangea varieties that work well in smaller gardens. While all of these plants are good for smaller spaces, this plant is perfect for very tiny areas in your garden. It has cone-shaped flowers that appear in summer and remain there until autumn. The leaves take on the shape of oak leaves and offer beautiful autumnal colour patterns. They grow well in full sun or partial shade, perfect for multiple areas in your garden. 


6. Topiary – Buxus, Yew, Lonicera, Ilex

Topiary is fun for every space, even urban spaces. You can enjoy structure and form that matches your garden theme, and enjoy it all year round. There are many topiary cultivars, so find the one that works best for your space. The most popular is Buxus (which is pictured above) and is available in a range of shapes and sizes. Other topiaries that are worth considering are Lonicera, Taxus baccata, bay trees and even Holly.


7. Amelanchier lamarckii

The Juneberry tree blooms in April with white flowers that draw the eye so gives a splash of colour early on in the season. It thrives best in full sun or partial shade with medium watering requirements and yet very low maintenance requirements overall.

If you prefer trees, rest assured you can make one fit in your small space. This tree is small, and it has white flowers in spring, purple to black fruit in summer which the birds love to eat, and a wonderful array of leaf colours in autumn.

Tangentially, you can pick small fruit trees like miniature apples, plums, or pear trees. If you live in a warmer area of the UK, further south, you can even try growing citrus trees.

Read our article where we share 10 of the best trees for growing in small gardens.


8. Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’

For a contemporary design, go with ornamental grasses. These are great to mix and match in a border garden among flowers, and they will remain good looking over winter when the other plants have finished flowering. This particular variety is well suited to urban gardens because it is tall, but not too wide, so it won’t take up much room.

Now you know there is something for every garden design. Figure out whether you want something short and compact, tall and lush, a tree, a privacy screen, or something in between.

Welcome to my site, my name is John and I have been lucky enough to work in horticultural nurseries for over 15 years in the UK. As the founder and editor as well as researcher, I have a City & Guilds Horticultural Qualifications which I proudly display on our About us page. I now work full time on this website where I review the very best gardening products and tools and write reliable gardening guides. Behind this site is an actual real person who has worked and has experience with the types of products we review as well as years of knowledge on the topics we cover from actual experience. You can reach out to me at john@pyracantha.co.uk

1 Comment

  1. Hi there

    I am about to move house to a modern garden flat and already have a large Japanese Acer which will be central. For privacy I was thinking some bamboo plants for screening as flat is on high street and people and cars pass allthe time. The space I have is not a lot more like a postage stamp. Is it worth drawing up a plan with a designer. I want to be able to walk out my doors into a wee space to sit in the sun and just have a coffee in a tranquil space. I may be dreaming of something that is not possible. I would value your advice.

    Meg

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