Believe it or not, my favourite outdoor spaces to design are the small ones. I love creating prefect vignettes where all the details work together in a visual snapshot.
For me, success in a small garden design is when you can see everything at once without having to move or walk around. Large expanses are amazing, but small courtyards and little front yards are my jam.
Over the years, I have created a lot of small-space gardens for homeowners as houses continue to get bigger and lots start to get smaller. This was especially true in urban centres but it now applies to many suburbs as builders continue to build giant homes right beside each other.
Here are my key points when planning a small space.
Start with the purpose of the space
What are you really going to use it for? Too often we try and make our small yards do everything. A small yard should only have one or two purposes, like a spot for reading or a place for the kids. When we try and pack a small space with a dining table, lounge chairs and children’s play structures, it quickly begins to feel claustrophobic. I know you want everything (who doesn’t) but really synthesize your needs down to that one use for your space and plan from there.
Be bold in your design decisions
Small spaces benefit from strong lines, big stone slabs and even bright colours. Don’t think that making a bold statement will overwhelm a small courtyard. The opposite is true. Bold statements define a space and help to give it visual purpose. I love going with a large structure like a pergola over a small yard to create the perfect outdoor room. I even will use oversized paving stones to create a large patio and to reduce the amount of joint lines in the space.
Be selective with your plant choices
A jungle in a small yard is very difficult to make look visually balanced. More than in any other yard, right plant-right place is extremely important in a small space. Choose plants that provide a long season of interest. The longer they ‘entertain,’ the less other plants you need to add to your gardens.
Also, go with plants that have a vase shape, meaning they are narrow at the bottom and wider up top. These plants will fill your area without crowding each other in the bed.
Many design books and experts say that less is more in a small garden, but I totally disagree. A small space can have lots of impact if done properly. Just make sure to edit yourself when choosing your elements. One or two purposes, one large design decision, and a couple of great plant selections is all you need to have a perfect little backyard space.