Landscaping small spaces can be tough, but there are lots of options and ideas available to those willing to be minimalistic – and a little choosy.
If you live in an urban area, you aren’t always afforded the same spacious luxuries enjoyed by those in the suburbs. If you have a yard, it’s likely very small – possibly just a patio! Fortunately, some trends (new and old) in landscaping are built around the principles of minimalism: maximizing the space you have using as little as possible.
If your yard or patio doesn’t allow for much green space or functionality, there are a few things you can do to change that.
Landscaping Small Spaces: Some Design Basics
Remember: a landscape doesn’t have to be massive to be functional!
When designing for a small space, it’s important to balance the key principles of utilitarianism and practicality. In other words: what is the least you can do in order to achieve your goals? For example: are you seeking privacy from your neighbours? Install narrow trees, shrubs, or wooden barriers. Are you hoping to use the small yard as a play space for children? Install a small turf or moss lawn, but carefully consider how it interacts with the other features you plan to install.
Balance is important in any landscape, but it’s especially key in a small area. Consider these three key features of garden design and how best to apply them to a small space while still meeting your design goals:
- Texture and colour. How can you apply a sensible variety of textures and colours to your small space in a way that doesn’t make it seem overstuffed?
- Height. In a small space, it’s especially important to consider how the height of your plants and features provide function and aesthetics.
- Focal points. Any good landscape design features a focal point or two, but in a small space, it’s even more important to prudently consider the placement and frequency of these focal points. A focal point can be a small patio, a statue, a water feature, a table, a pergola or arbor… the list goes on.
Keep all these tenets in mind as you continue reading.
Landscaping Small Spaces: What Can You Do?
Here are a few ideas for ways to creatively use your small outdoor spaces:
1) Go Vertical
Limited horizontal space? Go vertical!
We exist in three dimensions – there’s no reason your garden should only occupy two. Install plants that grow thin and tall. Add sensibly apportioned statues or boulders as a focal point. Build arbors and trellises and clad them in climbing plants. Make a green wall. Build shelves or structures to house potted plants.
Once you free yourself from the notion that gardens must primarily exist horizontally, there’s no end to the possibilities.
2) Get creative with potted plants
Keeping plants in pots can be a hugely helpful when landscaping small spaces. For starters, planters can generally be rearranged as needed. They can also be put on shelves or risers to help you make more use of vertical space and improve privacy. Moreover, keeping your plants off the ground can allow you to play around with different aggregates, mulches, pathways, colours, and textures at ground level. It’s a nice, clean look that can prevent your garden from feeling overcrowded.
3) Add a water feature
A water feature doesn’t have to be a massive pool, pond, or fountain. A small gurgler, pot fountain, oven a waterfall can function as an excellent visual and aural focal point for a small garden, adding sense of mild tranquility to your space — especially when surrounded by the right textures and colours.
4) Add a feature tree
Only room for one tree? Better make it a good one! Conifers such as small pines, cypress, or spruce make excellent focal points for a garden because they contrast texturally and vertically with most leafy shrubs and flowering perennials. A small deciduous or evergreen tree would also work well, but ultimately, it’s up to you!
5) Ditch the lawn
Many would argue that lawns are antiquated, unimaginative features that have no place in a modern landscape. They’re functional for play areas, sure, but they’re also high-maintenance water guzzlers. So, if you don’t use it, is there really a need to keep it? Shunning traditional notions of design and getting rid of your lawn to make room for something else might be exactly what your small space needs.
6) Frame the lawn
On the flip side, if you want to keep your lawn, consider framing it in with garden edging, barriers, or walling. To prevent your small space from feeling crammed, creating a distinct separation between your turf and your gardens is key for a clean look, which can help improve the overall flow of the space.
Adding biodiversity works for a garden of any size. Add colourful pollinator plants. Add edible plants and vegetables. Make a small pond to attract insects and small critters. Embrace growth.
8) Add a veggie garden
Adding veggie garden boxes is a great way to beautify and organize your landscape in a functional way. Or, better yet, do a little research and simply add vegetables to your existing garden. There are no rules saying that your edible plants can’t simply be mixed in with your ornamentals, yet most people tend to isolate their vegetables in their own boxes.
9) A side yard is as good a place as any other
Side yards are often viewed by homeowners as impractical areas, meant only to function as pathways between the more-popular front and back yards. Pathway or not, there’s so much you can do to beautify your tiny side yards, including building slab or flagstone pathways, adding wooden features, building planters, adding shade-tolerant plants and perennials, and adding rock/aggregates.
10) Pathways and flagstone
On that note, there’s no reason that pathways need to be thin when landscaping small spaces. Turn your whole yard into a flagstone surface! You can plant thyme or moss between the stones and watch it spread. Add planters, plants, and other focal points to hugely improve your outdoor space.
11) Patios or decks: think beyond just squares and rectangles
A patio or a deck is great. Really. Build one if that’s what you need!
But if your space is small, try to think outside the box (literally!) and realize that there’s no reason it must be built as a rectangle – or built at all. Your whole yard can function as a patio of sorts, complete with plants, boulders, and focal points scattered throughout. Add some chairs, a table, a barbecue or a firepit, then kick back and embrace the fact that modern design principles transcend traditional notions of spatial separation and seamlessly combine natural features with hardscapes.
12) Pergolas, Structures, and Common Areas
If you’d like to turn your small yard into sheltered common area, there are plenty of things you can build to make that happen! Add a table and chairs, walling around your gardens, pergolas, arbors, and more.
13) Research worldly design ideas
Look outward for inspiration! Japanese gardens often employ minimalistic, natural concepts. English gardens tend to be ornate and symmetrical, but sensibly apportioned. Chinese gardens are known for their use of water and rocks, designed in perfect balance. You don’t need to have a huge space to make your yard a place of transportive tranquility.
No matter what ideas and design principles you decide to employ when decorating your space, remember the principles of texture and colour, height, and focal points. And, perhaps most importantly, be prepared to make sacrifices. If you don’t want your landscape to be overcrowded, overly colourful, and overly-textured, you’ll have to make some hard decisions.
As is often the case, less is more.
How Can We Help?
We have a team of accredited designers and installers ready to go! We’d love to take a look at your small space and discuss ideas with you on how to make it function perfectly for you.
Get in touch for a consultation!