Small Yard Landscaping in Grand Style

Even with a small yard, you can enjoy the beauty and outdoor living benefits by planning your landscape design wisely.

You don’t have to settle for minimal landscaping style if you have a smaller yard; even if all you have is a small urban courtyard area, you can make it a place to relax and escape the day to day hustle and bustle.

Today’s homes tend to have smaller yards; a result of ever tighter zoning and urban planning restrictions.

As the world’s population continues to grow, we need to maximize the efficiency and use of our resources; smaller lot sizes help to leverage the cost of infrastructure like city streets, electric, gas, sewage and other utilities, as well as helping retain as much agricultural land as possible outside major metros.

The downside of smaller yards is less space for gardens, patios and landscaping. The upside is that you can still give your small yard great style and appeal without spending your kids’ college education funds!

In this article we will explore techniques and illusions that help define a small yard and give it a larger feel; whether you are landscaping a small courtyard area, an enclosed back yard or the small front yard area common to many homes these days, you will find plenty of landscaping ideas, pictures and tips.

Landscaping to Scale

When planning your small yard landscaping project, its useful to begin with some drawings; since you don’t have a lot of space, the scale of landscaping elements such as patios, walkways, plant and tree sizes, patio furniture, etc. must all be taken into account carefully. Scaling things down helps to maximize the amount of usable space you will have in your newly landscaped yard.

By using an inexpensive landscape design software tool, you can try many designs before settling on the one you like best. If budget allows, you may also want to invest a couple hundred dollars to consult with a landscape architect or designer.

Planning for Space Efficiency

As with designing a small home or room, planning the landscape design for your smaller yard demands efficient space utilization. If the yard is big enough, you can divide it into two or more “outdoor” rooms to create multiple areas with different looks.

Often the shape and dimensions of an outdoor area will help determine how things should be broken up; if you have a rectangular shaped yard then breaking it up into two smaller spaces may work. But if you have a corner lot or other irregularly shaped yard then you can really get creative by making little niches, corner spaces and side yards into unique garden “vignettes” that act as an outdoor floor plan!

If your yard is very tiny, it may be best to design a singular space, tying together all the design elements to create a cohesive theme throughout. But, even if you are landscaping a larger yard or garden, breaking it up into smaller areas keeps the project from becoming an overwhelming and budget-busting effort!

Landscaping features such as lighting and a small fountain will add interest, color and movement to your small garden or yard.

Choosing a Small Yard Theme

Designing any space begins with selection of the design elements and “theme” which will give the space a cohesive design. Colors, textures, patterns, materials and other design elements can be repeated to help pull everything together in your small yard landscape design.

For example, you might decide to use a wrought iron fence with decorative finials to enclose and frame a small yard or garden area. This design cue can then be echoed in the design of your outdoor furniture by selecting a color and design that matches the look of the fence.

Choose a theme for your small yard; here a spanish style home looks natural with a Mediterranean style garden in the courtyard area.Some gardens will use a formal theme such as an English Garden, with sculpted shrubs, straight rows and carefully arranged plantings, while others such as a tropical or desert cactus garden may be more informal, naturally flowing and organic in design.

Plan your small yard so that nature provides splendid colors at various times of the year; a miniature Japanese Maple tree will blossom pink or white in the spring and provide a lush green, yellow-green or purplish foliage in the summer. Finally, in the fall the leaves will change to deep red, orange or yellow, giving the yard a whole new look as the seasons change!

A few popular small yard landscape design themes include:

Japanese Tea Garden or Asian Garden – Use a small water feature (see Koi Ponds article for more ideas) to set the tone in your Asian style landscape design. A small wood bridge or Asian-style lantern may be used to create a focal point. Plantings typically include many varieties of Maple, Juniper and other small trees and shrubs that are carefully trimmed and sculpted (see Bonsai Trees Article for more details).

Formal English Garden – In a formal landscape design such as an English Garden, nature is given a more orderly form; plants are often placed in straight rows to give symmetry. A curved brick walkway may adorn the garden space and a picket fence will lend it a more formal feeling. English cottage garden style is also a good small yard landscape design option.

Southwest Desert Cactus and Rock Garden – If you live in the dry, warm climate of the Southwest, you know the importance of water conservation. Planting the wrong type of garden in a desert climate can end up in dead plants and disaster, so go with the plants and trees that grow naturally in a desert environment. A small water feature such as a fountain or waterfall and tiny pond help keep things feeling cooler.

Tropical Garden or Oasis Theme – For a lush landscape, you might try planting palm trees and the colorful flowering plants found in tropical climates. Be careful if you live in a climate that is not well suited to these plant varieties however; persistently severe cold or dry, hot weather may not favor the tropical garden in some locales.

Woodland Style Garden – The natural beauty of some forested areas lends itself well to the Woodland style. Low maintenance and naturally green, this style of garden works very well if you live in the Northwest, Northeast or a mountainous area. Smaller varieties of many trees are available to keep things to scale in the smaller yard and you can plan a woodland garden around existing trees. Plant low shrubs or vine plants that like shade under trees.

Mediterranean Style Garden – A small structure such as a pergola will look good in a smaller Mediterranean style garden or yard; plant grape, climbing roses or other vines with foliage to give your small yard or patio additional shade from the heat of the summer sun. You have a plethora of annual and perennial flowering plants from which to choose. Colors like the blue of the Mediterranean Sea, the green of country hillsides and terracotta orange pavers will give your small landscape design a Tuscan, Spanish, Greek or other Mediterranean style.

Planning for Small Yard Privacy

Plan your small yard to take advantage of views from inside looking out through doors and windows and to enhance privacy.Privacy is usually paramount in your smaller yard or garden area, since neighboring yards and homes are so close. Many urban or suburban homes, townhouses and garden homes or condos have enclosed back yards. Depending on your local codes and homeowners’ association codes and covenants, the type and height of fencing or walls is often restricted so be sure you understand what is permitted.

If you have a 6 or 8 foot wood fence, stucco or other masonry walls then privacy may already be adequate. All you would need in this case is a couple of larger trees placed strategically to enhance privacy. Pergolas and wood patio covers can also add privacy and provide cool shade for eating and outdoor kitchen areas.

Shading Your Small Yard

Provisions for adequate shade is an important feature in any good landscape design. Two main approaches are used to provide shade; trees and structures. Planting trees that grow quickly is one good way to create shade in your yard; but be careful to choose tree varieties that will not grow large enough that they take over a small yard.

A retractable patio awning, patio umbrellas, pergolas and similar structures add form and provide functional shade in the small yard. Place shade trees and structures to provide shade throughout the day and as the sun’s position changes with the seasons.

Tree, Shrub and Plant Varieties for Small Yards

Use planting beds such as this bed of tulips to create borders in your small garden.As previously mentioned, many types of trees, shrubs and plants are available in miniature or diminutive varieties. Remember to plan ahead as to how your small landscape design will look as planting mature; scale is especially important in the small yard or garden.

By using smaller species, you’ll be able to plant a greater number and variety of flora in a small space. This assures you have good foliage and flowers and blossoms to provide color and natural beauty throughout the year.

Trimming and shaping plants can be a fun part of growing and maintaining a small garden; the more formal and orderly look of Asian and English garden styles are well-suited to keeping plants neatly trimmed in a small space.

Irrigating and Drainage Needs

Another advantage of the small yard is that you have less to irrigate so installing an automated irrigation system with timers, sprinklers, drip systems and other conveniences will be relatively easy compared to irrigating a very large yard or garden area!

Drainage should always be considered; you want water to drain away from your house, but if it all drains into the nearby neighbor’s yard you could have problems on your hands. French drains or other types of drainage systems may be needed to ensure your small yard drains adequately and does not flood during the rainy season.

Water Features for Small Outdoor Spaces

If you have the space, a water feature will add interest and movement to your small yard landscape design. Install a spa or Jacuzzi if you like to take a dip but don’t have room for a swimming pool.

Ponds, waterfall features and fountains are all great ways to add the soothing sound and cooling element of water in your landscape. The size and style of water features should be dictated according to the type of garden and placement of the water feature as a focal point in the garden.

If you do add a water feature to your design, remember it will require maintenance and cleaning; many a water feature has been included in a landscape design only to become a stagnant pool that attracts mosquitoes and algae!

Container Gardens Fit Small Yards

You can still run with the big dogs! A container garden is perfect for the small yard.Another great way to add plants in a small yard is to use containers. This gives you greater flexibility in terms of drainage and the ability to move and rotate plants as they bloom or need more or less sunlight, protection from frost, etc. throughout the year.

Growing plants and vegetables in containers is a versatile way to plan a small outdoor area. You can rearrange things to make space when entertaining outdoors, hang plants to add a more vertical feeling to the yard and transplant things to planting beds when needed.

Patio and Deck Furniture Ideas

No small yard will be complete without comfortable seating and outdoor furniture. Knowing how you like to use your yard most often will help guide your selection. Since you have a relatively small space and do not need a huge quantity of patio tables, chairs, umbrellas and other accoutrement, you might want to splurge a bit.

Remember to plan comfortable seating in your yard; here a bench provides a quiet place to sit and relax outdoors!Choose chairs that are comfortable and can be easily rearranged; put a comfy reading chair in your favorite corner of the garden to read a book on those lazy afternoons and or move it close to a patio table when you entertain guests and need additional seating.

A bench or swing could make a great focal point in your small yard or garden space. If you live in Florida or another area prone to flying, biting insects, you might also want to enclose part or all of your outdoor living space.

Landscape Lighting Adds Depth and Visual Impact

Don’t forget to plan some landscape lighting in your small yard. Lighting will make your outdoor living space functional at night and adds color and dimension to the design.

You can spend a little or a lot on landscape lighting these days. Be sure to plan for functional ambient lighting as well as more decorative accent lighting. Add a couple of 100 volt outdoor lights under a gable on the side of the home to light a patio or outdoor eating area. Solar powered or low voltage lights in the yard are best to provide accent lighting. Hanging lanterns or lights mounted on posts can help add drama and depth.

Take advantage of views from inside the home to create vignettes highlighted by up or down lights that accent features outside. This can help open up a small home at night by giving the illusion that the interior extends into the outdoor living area.

Small Yard Landscaping Tips

  • Think small; remember that trees and plants grow so you don’t want to use plants and trees that dominate a small yard.
  • Plan everything in advance; even if you are on a tight budget avoid putting in a few features without an overall plan. You can always start with hardscaping, irrigation and fencing and then add more trees, shrubs and plants over time, but you don’t want to start planting things willy nilly without a good plan!
  • Use pavers set in a diagonal pattern to give the illusion of larger size to a small yard.
  • Remember to think vertically; by hanging plants, using creeping vines and planting taller trees with less dense foliage you can better maximize usable growing space in a small yard or garden.
  • Use rock or stone masonry to create walls, borders and walkways to help break your small garden up and give it form; whether you create natural shapes and forms or borders that are more formal and ordered will largely determine the theme and overall feel of your small yard.
  • Talk with other homeowners, look at a variety of other small yards and visit local nurseries and home centers to get ideas for your small yard landscape design; considering the full range of possibilities first will help ensure you are pleased with the completed design of your landscape in the long term!

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