The Less is More Garden – Book Review & Giveaway.

I recently asked a group of gardening friends, if they could change anything about their garden, what would it be. The first – of many comments read " Make it bigger, much bigger! So many plants, so little space…"


A common lament,  yet having a modest sized garden does not mean compromising on function, style, or beauty. Designer, author and friend Susan Morrison makes this abundantly clear in her inspiring new book "The Less is More Garden – big ideas for designing your small yard" (Timber Press, 2018). She explains the less is more philosophy as one where there is

  • Less space, more enjoyment
  • Less effort, more beauty
  • Less maintenance, more relaxation
  • Less gardening-by-the-numbers, more YOU

If you are looking for doable, practical ways to make the most of your garden you need this book. With superb photography to illustrate her points, Susan begins by walking the reader through a series of important considerations to help them determine how much space – and budget to allocate for key design components, with suggestions on how to accommodate a family's needs as children grow up, or strike a balance between creating an intimate space for two homeowners who occasionally need to host a much larger event outdoors. But that is just the start.

The Magic of Illusion

Tantalizing glimpses into the space beyond these green walls creates the illusion of greater depth while a calming, monochromatic color scheme allows the tapestry of layered textures to shine. Photo credit: Doreen Wynja

With suggestions for ways to include disappearing paths, maximizing the diagonal sight line, incorporating permeable walls (what I the call scrim effect), borrowed views, and artistic ways to use mirrors, this book offers a magicians hat worth of illusory tricks to make a small space  appear larger.

Lawn or Not?

Have you been considering what your options might be if you remove the lawn? Need to get a sense of what your garden would look like without one? Susan has you covered with ideas for strolling gardens , ecological lawn mixtures (no-mow grass alternatives) and an array of groundcovers – all beautifully photographed to help you decide.

Design Ideas To Copy


Susan's personal garden retreat – a curvaceous wall breaks up the corridor effect and helps to create distinct spaces.

I especially like the section on Design Templates where Susan has used a mix of photographs and sketches to show how she transformed her own narrow backyard into an intimate jewel box garden with a capped, serpentine sitting wall, a bubbling fountain, multiple sitting areas and a bounty of colorful plants that bring fragrance and texture to the patio.


A clever linear patio design brings plantings up close while also organizing the footprint. Photo credit: Saxon Holt.

Another design in this section that really appealed to me was the one above where contemporary geometric lines have been softened with a bounty of foliage and flowers. Breaking up an expanse of patio with promontories of plants is an ingenious way to create unique garden rooms separated by low hedges without enclosing the spaces fully.

Signature Style


Artist Keeyla Meadows is known for her bold use of color both in her artwork and her garden.

If you are concerned that with so little space there won't be room to personalize the garden to reflect YOU, the chapter "A sense of Place, Regardless of Space" should allay such fears, as Susan takes you on a tour of several very individual gardens including that of artist Keeyla Meadows shown above.

Less Maintenance

Susan and I are in total sync with this, which is interesting considering that we design in different states using different plants. Just goes to show you that the principles we use to design your low maintenance gardens are solid. Her book provides tips on selecting plants that are lower maintenance, tips for redefining what a four season garden means in a smaller space, and oodles of photos to get you thinking about your own garden plants in a new way. (And if you're interested in knowing more about selecting lower maintenance plants be sure you sign up to receive my newsletter as I'll be inviting subscribers to enjoy my new mini online course on that very subject – at a special introductory price!).

Enter to win your copy!


This is so good I'd recommend it to professional designers as well as homeowners – we all need fresh inspiration and this book has that in abundance. In fact I'd put "The Less is More Garden" right up there with Julie Moir Messervey's classic "Outside the Not So Big House" (Taunton Press, 2006), a book I constantly reach for.

If you can't wait any longer you can order your copy of The Less is More Garden here.

If you'd like to be entered to win a copy just leave a comment below telling me why you need this book! The winner will be drawn using a random number generator at 9pm PST, Tuesday January 30th

The boring small print.

The winner will have 48 hours to respond to my email notifying them that they are the winner. After that I will draw another winner.

Comments left on social media posts will not count.

Comments must appear in the comment thread (not on images) to be included in the drawing.

Entries limited to USA and Canada 


BONUS! Meet Susan at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show next month! Details here.

Disclaimer: This post contains some affiliate links

The winning name has now been drawn and the person notified – thank you to everyone who took part!


  1. Alyson Ross-Markley on January 23, 2018 at 4:00 am

    Nice review, Karen! Susan's use of foliage and color resonate with me as well! I am excited to unpack my 3 purple glass globes, now, as I begin process of creating new garden rooms. New construction = blank canvas. I am so ready!!

    • Karen Chapman on January 23, 2018 at 8:08 pm

      You will LOVE this book Alyson!

  2. Beth Shonts on January 23, 2018 at 7:04 am

    Low maintenance and small spaces are two words I'm trying the embrace as I get older. This seems to be a book that might get me on the right track.

    • Karen Chapman on January 23, 2018 at 8:09 pm

      It certainly will Beth

  3. Jamie on January 23, 2018 at 7:09 am

    Thanks for the book tip! My small urban Kansas City yard is full of potential. I’ll be looking for the book as I work on plans to design the space into a garden retreat. I look forward to pouring over the gorgeous photos and thinking through the big ideas (no lawn!).

    • Karen Chapman on January 23, 2018 at 8:09 pm

      Good for you!

  4. Karyn Kistner on January 23, 2018 at 7:44 am

    I need this book and your class on low maintenance plants. I actually have an acre but it’s flat and too big. It needs to be broken up more into rooms. I’ve done a lot but it’s not where I want it to be yet. Of course that’s what I like about gardening I guess. I can keep adding and subtracting and changing …..

    • Karen Chapman on January 23, 2018 at 8:10 pm

      Good luck in the giveaway drawing Karyn!

  5. Cathi Lamoreux on January 23, 2018 at 7:58 am

    The book is perfect for me for several reasons. One, I am starting to think about my next garden where the house and the garden will be much smaller than the one I now have. Two, my own garden is in the process of being nudged along into a less maintenance garden and one way is that I am making a series of small gardens rather than tying them all in together. Third, my daughter is asking for design help with her new-to-her small postage stamp sized garden along with a remodeled 1904 house they are getting ready to move into to. The timing is perfect!

    • Karen Chapman on January 23, 2018 at 8:10 pm

      Hope to see you at the show next month Cathi

  6. Denise on January 23, 2018 at 8:16 am

    As I age gracefully, along with my garden, I am interested in the less-is-more concept. Looking forward to less maintenance and more time living in the garden!

    • Karen Chapman on January 23, 2018 at 8:11 pm

      I SO agree

  7. J M on January 23, 2018 at 9:21 am

    I am always seeking inspiratioon for my client's gardens which are small urban spaces, so I would enjoy a fresh prespective on "Less is More". Thank you for offering the chance to enter to receive this intriguing new book.

    • Karen Chapman on January 23, 2018 at 8:11 pm

      Good luck!

  8. Mary Perez on January 23, 2018 at 10:05 am

    Looks like a wonderful book…Always searching for ideas to make my small town garden interesting, beautiful, and comfortable to live in.

    • Karen Chapman on January 23, 2018 at 8:11 pm

      This is a perfect book for you Mary

  9. Kielian DeWitt on January 23, 2018 at 10:06 am

    My gardens have always occupied huge areas of land……I mean really, big areas. My current garden is about 8 acres and I’m thinking it’s time to downsize area as well as work time. I have no experience designing a small garden which seems more daunting to me than a big one. I would thoroughly enjoy the recommendations and expertise your book would provide. I need help with my ‘big garden’ addiction!

    • Karen Chapman on January 23, 2018 at 8:12 pm

      I can understand Kielan. This book will get you on the right track

  10. Susan on January 23, 2018 at 10:32 am

    After ten years gardening in my small yard in attempts to create interest, I need inspiration to develop less work, more beautiful spaces.

    • Karen Chapman on January 23, 2018 at 8:12 pm

      Lots of inspiration for you here Susan

  11. karen on January 23, 2018 at 12:28 pm

    If this lovely looking book can teach me discipline through restraint (we all know the challenges of resisting the "just one more plant syndrome") I would cherish a copy. May we all cooperate beautifully with nature.

    • Karen Chapman on January 23, 2018 at 8:13 pm

      Good luck Karen!

  12. Linda Todd on January 23, 2018 at 6:26 pm

    I am so excited to hear about this new book and it looks like it is beautiful with great ideas. I have a very small backyard and hoping to do some plantings and hardscape this year after waiting for 2 years. Can hardly wait to dig into this new book. Thanks

    • Karen Chapman on January 23, 2018 at 8:13 pm

      Hi Linda! Lots of ideas for you in here – good luck

  13. Susie Johnson on January 23, 2018 at 10:01 pm

    As I'm getting older, I'm finding I'm attracted to simplifying my lifestyle, including my garden. That means smaller and fewer garden beds, mixed with containers and garden art. I think I can gain helpful ideas from this book to achieve my goal.

    • Karen Chapman on January 23, 2018 at 10:23 pm

      I think so too Susie – good luck!

  14. Kim Halyak on January 24, 2018 at 6:41 am

    I'd love to win this book and share it with our neighbors who live in tiny shotgun houses with long, narrow gardens. They want to create jewel box gardens but don't know where to start.

    • Karen Chapman on January 24, 2018 at 11:35 am

      What a lovely idea!

  15. Paulette Hummer on January 24, 2018 at 10:35 am

    My husband wants to eliminate grass mowing and pictures in this book might inspire me to go along with it.

    • Karen Chapman on January 24, 2018 at 11:36 am

      If you haven't consider what a lawn-free space might look like, this will both reassure you and excite you.

  16. Hildegarde on January 24, 2018 at 4:53 pm

    I too have a passion for gardening that is now an obsession, having gardened our acre plus property for 25 years, I'd like ideas on making my beds around the terrace and house more serene with greens and whites!

    • Karen Chapman on January 24, 2018 at 6:38 pm

      That sounds wonderful Hildegarde – good luck

  17. Craig on January 24, 2018 at 6:33 pm

    Just reading the phrase “low maintenance” makes me want this book! I have a lot of space but even with a lot of room, being smart and methodical about garden design and layout is important.
    Thank you for the opportunity to win this book!

    • Karen Chapman on January 24, 2018 at 6:39 pm

      I hear you!! Smart choices are key – good luck Craig

  18. Marcy on January 24, 2018 at 10:29 pm

    Looks like a beautiful book! I am also a plant aholic! I am a professional gardener and looking for ideas for my own neglected garden, and always for my clients too. Thanks for the opportunity to win your book!

    • Karen Chapman on January 24, 2018 at 10:31 pm

      Thanks for joining in!

  19. Abbey on January 24, 2018 at 10:30 pm

    I like helping friends design their yards and most are average to small sized. This book sounds like it would give me more inspiration and ideas to pass along.

    • Karen Chapman on January 24, 2018 at 10:32 pm

      We all need ideas and this book is full of them. Good luck Abbey

  20. Beverly Lambert on January 25, 2018 at 11:03 am

    I am a plant collector and am looking for a way to have more in less space. This book looks like a beauty. I don't really believe in low maintenance gardens myself – whats the point – but I could be more efficient.

    • Karen Chapman on January 25, 2018 at 11:05 am

      Good luck Beverly

  21. Laurrie on January 25, 2018 at 4:22 pm

    This is so timely. I just moved from an intensively gardened half acre woodland garden in Connecticut with lawns and borders surrounded by forest to a small enclosed courtyard in Santa Fe New Mexico with gravel and stonework and little space. No lawn. Where to start? I love our new home in the southwest and I'm learning so much about new plants, but the space I have to garden in is intimate and constrained. It has great structures, though, with adobe walls, stone patio, wood fences and a deck. Surprisingly, my little area has lots of shade — established pines and a cottonwood and aspens tucked into the corners. So much possibility and so many challenges for such a small area.

    • Karen Chapman on January 25, 2018 at 6:07 pm

      It sounds wonderful Laurrie – congratulations and good luck!

  22. Carla C on January 26, 2018 at 6:53 am

    I need this book because I have an average sized yard and I'm not sure what to plant where. Thanks for the chance.

    • Karen Chapman on January 26, 2018 at 10:51 am

      Thanks for joining in Carla

  23. Lynn on January 27, 2018 at 7:51 am

    The title says it all, and I'm striving to do more with less in and outside the house. We will have a brand new yard scraped by construction and it already feels overwhelming. Guidance please on how to enjoy a beautiful space and not be working on it nonstop! Thank you.

    • Karen Chapman on January 27, 2018 at 9:19 am

      How exciting to have a blank slate!

  24. Jean on January 29, 2018 at 1:53 pm

    Wow, it sounds great! I've been yearning for a smaller yard and may get a chance to move to one in a year or so. This would be a great help!

    • Karen Chapman on January 29, 2018 at 2:51 pm

      How exciting Jean! Thanks for entering to win

  25. Patricia Ruff on January 30, 2018 at 10:46 am

    I just built an extra bookshelf, so I can expand my garden book collection 😉. Designing small spaces is right up my alley, although my own blank canvas garden is quite large, I know this will give lots of ideas! Thank you for highlighting other professionals in the industry you do so often! Hoping to meet Susan at the show

    • Karen Chapman on January 30, 2018 at 10:47 am

      You'll enjoy her talk Patricia! Good luck in the giveaway!

  26. Kathy on January 30, 2018 at 11:30 am


    • Karen Chapman on January 30, 2018 at 1:24 pm

      She's a superb speaker and writer! See you there

  27. Shirley Fox on January 30, 2018 at 12:03 pm

    At first I thought this book might not work for my larger garden but I treat is as a series of smaller garden spaces with different requirements. The ideas shown in your review work well either way and I'd love a copy for help solving some of the issues I'm currently working now.

    • Karen Chapman on January 30, 2018 at 1:25 pm

      I too have a large garden Shirley – 5 acres. But each border is a "small garden" in a sense. I got a lot out of the book and I know I will refer to it a lot when designing for clients.

  28. Carolyn on January 30, 2018 at 12:51 pm

    Hope this would help me to figure out how to make my garden flow. I always end up using the same design over and over. Want some variety from one section to another.

    • Karen Chapman on January 30, 2018 at 1:26 pm

      You've succeeded in the first step – identifying the problem. Well done! I'm sure you'll get lots of ideas. As a tip, I repeat a key color or plant to help with the sense of cohesion but vary how I achieve that

  29. Cath Clawson on January 30, 2018 at 1:36 pm

    My current garden is quite wooded and I’d love to be able to add some blooming plants to achieve some balance. I know I need some guidance to do this properly! My previous garden was mainly perennials and I am missing them in my new space. Without guidance, I could easily go overboard! Wait . . is there such a thing as “overboard” when it comes to plants?

    • Karen Chapman on January 30, 2018 at 8:34 pm

      Sounds like you need this book – fast!!

  30. Gail on January 30, 2018 at 1:39 pm

    I need this book to inspire me to go with my signature style. I fall short of it and need some help.

    • Karen Chapman on January 30, 2018 at 8:35 pm

      Good luck Gail

  31. David Egbert on January 30, 2018 at 2:33 pm

    I just moved and my new garden space is the smallest I've ever had. But I have a big laundry list of what I want out of the space. Here in far Northern California, outdoor living will be a big priority so I need to squeeze in an outdoor cooking area, seating, room for potted plants, a little nursery for starting seeds plus space to experiment with plant combinations. All the while, I need to reserve prime space for growing fruits, vegetables, and cut flowers for the table.

    • Karen Chapman on January 30, 2018 at 8:35 pm

      This book will help your – good luck!