Urban gardens are often small, so the plants that you choose need to work hard. Instead of offering fleeting flowers, they need to look good for much of the year, with long-lasting blooms, great foliage and interesting shapes and forms. They might need to be low-maintenance, too.
Discover plants that look good all year.
The look that you choose is up to you, but in a small space, it’s best to keep your planting palette quite limited. You might think that you need to fill a small space with compact plants, but in fact, plants with a strong, architectural form will have more impact and could even make the space feel bigger.
Don’t forget that walls and fences represent good opportunties to grow climbers – and even cordon and espalier fruit trees. You might want to use plants as screens, too.
In an urban garden you can take advantage of the warmer microclimate and grow a range less hardy plants which should come through the winter unscathed. And don’t forget wildlife – think about how you will attract birds, bees and other wildlife to your space.
Here are 12 great plants for urban gardens.
In a small garden, you need to think about cladding walls and fences, as well as the ground. Trachelospermum jasminoides is evergreen, with scented flowers in summer – perfect for planting near a seating area. It’s slightly tender, so is well suited to the warmer microclimates of urban gardens.
Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfennii
Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfennii is a great choice for an urban garden – it’s architectural and evergreen, so provides structure all year round. It bears striking, acid-yellow flowers, which go particularly well with tulips, in spring.
Bamboos are a great choice for urban gardens – they have a contemporary look, are low maintenance and can be used as hedges and screens. Try removing some of the lower leaves of Phyllostachys aureosulcata to show off its golden stems. Many bamboos can be particularly thuggish, so grow them in large containers to avoid them becoming garden escapees.
Tree ferns (Dicksonia antarctica) do well in shady areas such as basement stairwells and are much loved for their architectural qualities. They do well in urban areas, where they often retain their leaves over winter. To protect the crown in colder weather, cover with straw, horticultural fleece or dead fronds. Also consider shade-loving foliage plants.
In a small garden, you need plants that look good in several seasons. Hydrangea quercifolia has attractive, cone-shaped flowers that last from summer into autumn, and oak-shaped leaves that have good autumn colour. Grow in sun or partial shade.
If you’re growing veg in a small space, it’s a bonus if it looks good. Rainbow chard has brightly coloured stems. You could also try the climbing French bean, ‘Cosse Violette’, which has attractive purple flowers and pods, and ‘Tumbling Tom’ tomatoes – great for a hanging basket. Or try our space-saving salad planter.
Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’
Urban areas are less prone to frosts, which means you can leave dahlias and cannas in the ground, covered with a good layer of mulch, rather than lifting and storing them. Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ is an old favourite with a contemporary look – the red flowers are complimented by dark purple foliage.
Topiary is perfect for a small, urban garden – it gives form and structure and looks good all year round. Box is the obvious choice but can be prone to box blight and the box tree caterpillar. Yew, Ilex crenata and Lonicera nitida are good alternatives. Buy ready-grown or have a go at creating your own.
However small your garden is, you should try to fit in a tree. Amelanchier lamarckii is a lovely choice – it offers white blossom in spring followed by black berries and good autumn colour. Or go for a crab apple, which is great for wildlife. Watch our video guide to choosing trees for small gardens.
Trained fruit trees
Stepover apples take up hardly any space – use them to edge a border, patio or veg patch. You’ll enjoy blossom in spring, and fruits in late summer. Cordon and espalier fruits are space-saving, too – grow along a sunny wall or fence, or create an espalier fruit tree screen.
Hardworking perennial plants are also key to a beautiful urban garden. Hardy geraniums flower for a long time, do well in sun or shade and go well with many other plants. If you chop them back after flowering in early summer, they should reward you with a second flush. Discover 10 hardy geraniums to grow.
Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’
Ornamental grasses give a contemporary look and help to link different plants in a border. They look good for months, even when left standing over winter. Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ is tall but doesn’t take up much room, making it ideal for an urban garden.
More plants for urban gardens
Erysimum ‘Bowles’s Mauve’ – forms an evergreen clump, with flowers almost all year round
Heuchera – great for groundcover, and in pots – the leaves come in a range of colours from dark purple to dusky orange
Erigeron karvinskianus – daisy flowers for months. Spills over the edges of raised beds and pots
Acer palmatum – great for pots, with pretty foliage that is especially stunning in winter
Polystichum setiferum – an evergreen fern that’s great for a shady spot