A Bushel of Small-Space Ideas

If you have a small yard, let it out a few notches with some of these space enhancers.


Expand the View

+ enlarge image The right fencing adds to a garden's beauty.
  • Hide a bad view strategically with a trellis or tree, but don't block off everything. And remember one view you can always have: the sky. Keep an open space so you can see it.
  • Low fences, 2 or 3 feet high, can help you create spaces within the garden. Even a short fence creates wonderment about what's on the other side. Any yard will seem larger if you can see beyond it, so keep the fencing low.
  • Eliminate some deck railings if your deck is less than 3 feet high, or choose a railing element, such as narrower slats or coated wire, with less visual weight.
  • Prune trees high, or choose small-leaf species, such as locust, honey locust, or Japanese maple that produce light, filtered shade.
  • Choose an open design, such as widely spaced slats, if you need a border fence.
  • Mask a solid fence with a vine, or try the ultimate theater-prop technique: Paint a scene to make it look like the landscape you don't have.
  • Mix the geometry of angles, circles, and lines into structures, paths, borders, and fence lines to create fresh perspectives at every step.

    Trim your maintenance time with our fresh tips.
+ enlarge image A mix of materials and colorswill keep visitors intrigued.
  • Don't flow the landscape design end-to-end from front to back. Work back and forth across the grain, either straight across, diagonally, or meandering, to add rhythm and interest.
  • Change materials or patterns.
  • Define several garden rooms or areas.
  • Use a theme to carry the design through the layout. For example, several cone-shape conifers placed strategically throughout the landscape can at once unite the scheme and create a sense of space. You can also set a theme with color or structure repetition.
  • Draw attention to corners, such as a path that bends out of sight. Even if there's not much around the bend, it creates the impression that there is.
  • Use color. Red draws closer; blue fades away.
  • Create a sense of volume with a few large building materials, such as pavers or beams. A large, clean pattern creates more openness than a small, concentrated, busy pattern.

Encourage Lingering

+ enlarge image Get the attention of garden guestswith attractive displays.
  • If you can slow people down in viewing or touring the garden, it will feel bigger to them.
  • Use curving paths.
  • Add garden sculpture (a sundial, a cascading birdbath) or an intriguing plant (a topiary, a twisted witch hazel) to make people stop to look.
  • Add motion, such as a wind chime or ornamental grasses.
  • Limit the lawn. Detail -- textured stones, woodwork, and plants -- draws interest and slows down the viewer.
  • Use smooth, loose gravel for paths. Though safe, it requires careful -- and slower -- walking.

Adjust Heights

+ enlarge image A variety of levels add visual depth.
  • Going up or down creates the impression of entering a new place, even if you're not. It also slows you down.
  • Try a multilevel deck, a patio that steps into the yard, or a berm or bridge in the landscape instead of a flat path.
  • Build raised beds. They bring plant material higher, allow material to drape casually down, and, like a bookcase, create a display area.
    Learn how to build a raised bed.
  • Hang window boxes to add some garden space head and shoulders above the rest.
    Get window box inspiration.
  • Try a wall planter or a hanging basket where a window box won't work.

Build Up

Take a cue from big cities: When things get too crowded at ground level, build up.

+ enlarge image Tall plants and structures can help make a garden seem bigger.
  • Use covered benches or trellises to put interesting architecture or vines overhead.
  • Choose trees with foliage, fruit, bark, or branching habits that inspire you to look up.
  • Try vines. Grow them on strings into trees, on freestanding trellises, up fences, or on tepees.
  • Feed the birds. They create an instant sense of freedom or space and will pull your attention into the trees or the sky.
  • Install a weather vane. Whether on a low post or stump or higher on a shed or rooftop, it helps you notice the wind and sky.
  • Choose vertical fence designs.
  • Plant some tall poles or pillars. Mount a birdhouse on top, or hang planters on them.

Make Space for Reflection

No matter how small your landscape, there's always room to daydream.

+ enlarge image Running water is a soothing sound.
  • Water, even a small pond, can conjure escapes. Still water reflects the sky and adds depth and dimension. If stocked with fish, the pond creates another point of interest.
    Get water garden ideas.
  • Place a conversation centerpiece in the gathering area, such as a fireplace, a nifty piece of garden art, or even a sculpture made by you or your kids.
  • Set a gazing globe where you can see it and the distorted reflection of the landscape.
  • Use some running water in the landscape. A waterfall is pleasant to watch and listen to. If you hide the source of the trickling, it creates an impression that there's more landscape out there.
  • Create one or two focal points (a birdbath, artwork, or attractive plant) for each seating area.
  • Attract wildlife to make the space more entertaining. Lure squirrels and birds by feeding them, furnishing water or a birdbath, and providing cover.

Use Every Inch

When there's not much yard to be had, make sure you have all of it. Don't ignore a dark corner, a hard-to-reach place, or any other underused area.

+ enlarge image Add color and greenery to asmall corner with potted plants.
  • Use the front yard. Don't corral everything in back. Garden in front, or create a sheltered bench, patio, courtyard, or another getaway.
    Learn our front yard landscaping secrets.
  • Plant along the side of the house. Trellis some vines, plant some containers, and use a path.
  • Grow a vine on a trellis around the garage door or on a garden structure.
  • Create a compost bin or a stall to store the wheelbarrow in the wasted area behind a shed.
  • Use containers to fill any dead spot or to brighten the smallest empty corners.
  • Bring the garden inside, or blur the edges of house and garden. Install a greenhouse window or sunroom, or plant and landscape up to your doors, perhaps framing them with an arbor.

Small Space Yard Tips

+ enlarge image Choose a variety of plant sizes andheights.
  • Layer plantings. Create a lot of action in a small space by planting big bulbs under small bulbs. Grow perennials and annuals on top, and let a vine or shrub stand above the entire vignette.
  • Blend vegetables and ornamentals. A produce garden by itself may eat up too much space. You may have to forsake some sprawlers, such as pumpkins or cucumbers.
  • Plant in clusters rather than rows if you prefer a vegetable bed. Grow in containers, or grow vertically, such as pole beans instead of bush beans.
  • Think mini, such as alpine plants and succulents.
  • Look for key words such as dwarf, horizontalis, nana, compacta, and columnus when choosing plant varieties.
  • Try a Japanese garden, ideal for small spaces, with gravel, stones, a focal point, and small plants such as Japanese maples, hollies, Andromeda, yews, and Asian azaleas.
  • Espalier small trees into space-smart shapes.
  • Trim hedges thin, about a foot or two. Don't, however, cut down to the old-wood cores.
  • A common mistake is to fill a small space with plants that are small. Instead, if you don't have much room, you'd better make sure every plant is one you really want.

More Space-Enhancing Ideas

+ enlarge image Setting off a variety of activity areasmakes a space seem bigger.
  • Create small vignettes in flower beds. Move plants around to find the best combinations. Set a basin of water on the ground and let an attractive plant, such as a bleeding-heart or rose, dangle over it. Blend shades of green.
  • Leave some strategic open spaces. A wide, roomy path speaks for itself.
  • Try to create several seating areas, if only a single bench or chair, for a selection of views. Consider views from the house to the far end of the lot, and the opposite.
  • Paint cumbersome structures a neutral color to downplay them.
  • Carve a niche out of a hedge to display statuary, rather than setting the statue in front.
  • Stay simple. Work with your natural surroundings and the flow of your property.
+ enlarge image Lighting adds function and focus.
  • Use lighting to highlight the best features and to draw the eye to the far end of the property.
  • Save space with built-ins, such as deck rails that double as seating, built-in cook centers, and hideaway storage under benches.
  • Choose small-scale or folding furniture. A patio table big enough for eight people stays big enough for eight people even when no one's there.
  • Select airy furniture. Glass-top or wrought-iron tables seem smaller than a solid version.
  • Do what you enjoy. If the space has personality and you like it, it won't seem so small.
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