City gardens tend to be smaller than the average plot. Fortunately, there's no shortage of plants that will work well in a limited space. There are even plenty of beautiful trees for small gardens.


The plants we've chosen won't outgrow their plot. They might be used to provide screening for privacy, to filter pollution from a busy road or even to deter intruders.

Many city gardens benefit from the shelter of buildings and boundaries close by. These can create a mild microclimate, allowing you to grow beautiful exotic species that might not thrive on a more open site.

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Discover 21 of the best plants to grow in city gardens, below.

Plants for shade

Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost' AGM
  • Wood spurge (Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae) – fabulous acid-yellow bracts in spring and glossy evergreen foliage, and makes great ground cover in dry shade. Perfect for underplanting trees and shrubs
  • Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost' (pictured) – this deciduous perennial has heart-shaped leaves dusted with white. Dainty sprays of blue flowers rise above the foliage in spring
  • Sarcococca confusa – a great choice if you're after an evergreen shrub. Small white flowers appear from December to March and throw out a powerful scent

Blocking out noise

Miscanthus sinensis
  • Fargesia murielae 'Simba' – a well-behaved, clump-forming bamboo reaching 2m. It rustles gently in the wind and its new leaves are a fresh green
  • Yew – a yew hedge will muffle noise and can be sited anywhere, including tricky shade
  • Miscanthus sinensis (pictured) – reaches 3m tall and forms dense plants that catch the wind help block noise. Grow individually, in small groups or as an informal hedge

Creating privacy

Pittosporum tennuifolium
  • Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) – its large, textured, evergreen leaves and spreading canopy make it ideal if you're overlooked. In a warm summer it bears scented flowers and orange fruits
  • Pittosporum tenuifolium (pictured) one of many great pittosporums, this evergreen has a columnar growth habit so is ideal for blocking out an overlooking window
  • Cotoneaster lacteus – can be clipped into a formal hedge or left as an informal screen. It has strongly veined leaves, white summer flowers and lots of berries for birds in autumn and winter

Deterring intruders

Ilex aquifolium 'Silver Milkmaid'
  • Pyracantha 'Orange Glow' – forms a thorny, impenetrable hedge with white flowers in June, followed by bright orange-red berries, and it will do well on a north- or east-facing boundary
  • Holly (pictured) – use holly to protect a vulnerable corner. It will grow anywhere and can be clipped into neat shapes, and many varieties produce berries. Slow-growing, so consider buying a large plant
  • Rosa rugosahas bright pinky-purple, scented flowers with prominent yellow stamens and large hips. Very thorny, so let it grow to full size against a wall or fence to deter intruders

Combat pollution

Best winter-flowering plants - Mahonia 'Winter Sun'
  • Elaeagnus x ebbingeithis tough evergreen shrub can be left to grow loose, clipped or made into a very pollution-tolerant hedge. Has the bonus of creamy-white, scented autumn blooms
  • Osmanthus delavayi – an evergreen shrub with small, serrated leaves and highly fragrant spring flowers. Can be clipped into a neater shape after flowering
  • Mahonia 'Winter Sun' (pictured) – will grow in almost any setting and soil. Has large, architectural leaves and spikes of scented, cheery yellow flowers in late winter, great for masking pollution smells

Year-round interest

Acer griseum
  • Paperbark maple (Acer griseum, pictured) – this lovely maple has cinnamon-coloured, peeling bark that adds interest throughout winter and foliage that turns brilliant shades of orange and scarlet in autumn
  • Blueberries – tasty blueberries are ideal edible crops for city gardens. They produce pretty, bell-shaped flowers and fruit and have fabulous autumn colour. Grow in acidic soil in the ground or containers
  • Phlomis russeliana – the spent flowerheads look fabulous punctuating planting and look magical when covered in frost. Pale-yellow, hooded flowers above heart-shaped leaves from late spring to early autumn

Roofs and balconies

Erigeron karvinskianus
  • Escallonia 'Apple Blossom' – has dark green, glossy foliage with pinky-white flowers in summer and copes well with strong winds. Can be trimmed back, shaped or used as a windbreak
  • Hebe rakaiensis – clusters of large white flowers in early and midsummer and glossy green leaves. It's a tough, rounded, evergreen shrub that forms a neat hummock and grows well in containers
  • Fleabane (Erigeron karvinskianus, pictured) – hard to beat for non-stop flowers. This low-growing versatile perennial will grow away in a container and cope with just about anything

Watch what you plant

Some very vigorous plants can quickly smother a small garden. So before you buy a plant, spend a few minutes researching its habit, height, spread, soil and light conditions to be sure it will suit your plot.