Landscaping Tips for Small-Space Cottage Gardens

A Southern California couple created a sanctuary in their small yard. They share their tips for transforming a small landscape.

Use Vertical Space

Don and Alyce Quakenbush group attractive containers on a plant stand to make use of vertical growing space in their small Southern California garden. The effect has a big impact without taking up a lot of ground.

Here's a tip: You can do the same thing by displaying your favorite collections on vertical surfaces such as walls or fences.

Watch for Obstructions

In their small yard (the lot is only 45 x 150 feet), Don and Alyce didn't want to obstruct their views. Instead of a large fountain, they opted for a waterfall on the back side of a pond. A small planter and neatly trimmed hedge to keep the backyard open visually. The sound of trickling water can be enjoyed throughout the backyard.

Here's a tip: Look for ways to keep your yard open -- but still use screens effectively to block unattractive views.

Underscore Transition

Because the backyard has a slight slope, Don and Alyce put in a set of steps. These steps also subtly underscore the transition from one section of the backyard to another. Vines add greenery and potted flowers provide color in rooms without occupying precious space.

Here's a tip: Raising a patio or deck even a step above the ground will help it make it feel more distinctive and larger.

Provide a View

Don and Alyce learned how the best outdoor living areas offer a place to sit and provide a view. The view can be outward along an axis toward a focal point, such as this view to the gate and arbor, or it can be directed into the room itself toward a landscape feature or distinctive plant.

Here's a tip: A single tree or piece of garden art can become a stunning focal point if you frame it well. For example, place a columnar shrub on each side of a fountain to frame the view.

Provide a Sense of Place

Don and Alyce discovered that creating a garden room is easy: Just add a bench. Enhance the feeling with a nice backdrop such as a hedge, walls, or fence and the sense of place grows stronger.

Here's a tip: Pay close attention to the style of your bench or garden seating. Ensure it matches the overall feel or theme of your landscape.

Match Decor with Plants

Don and Alyce have a good eye for detail. The pink-and-white gingham pillows on their bench share the same hues as the hydrangea blooms. Small details such as this help a garden look cohesive.

Here's a tip: Look for a wide range of outdoor-friendly fabrics and pillows to soften your garden furniture. Many newer items are just as attractive as their indoor counterparts.

Use Backgrounds

Don and Alyce utilized their white-painted chimney as a perfect backdrop for a piece of garden art. Meanwhile, old wooden shutters draw attention to a table arrangement of garden collectibles.

Here's a tip: If your house is a dark color like this one, use brightly colored flowers and foliage to help your plantings stand out better. If your home is a lighter color, then use darker-colored foliage or flowers.

Furnish Effectively

Small gardens may only be able to hold one piece of furniture -- so make the most of it. This wrought-iron tiled table brings handcrafted beauty to the dining area, and the tile complements the blue color scheme that graces the home's doors and awnings.

Here's a tip: Customize your furniture to suit your style. Most types of garden furniture can be painted, enhanced with outdoor-friendly fabrics, or otherwise dressed up.

Accessorize Garden Rooms

Don and Alyce reinforced the cottage-garden theme with antique shutters and a charming table set with garden collectibles. Their artfully arranged tabletop decor further establishes and conveys a sense of place.

Here's a tip: Look for interesting or unusual pieces of garden art that suit your style. Antiques stores or flea markets are great places to look for cottage or country pieces.

Coordinate Garden Art

Here, Don and Alyce combined a simple wicker basket, antique pail, and pair of vintage watering cans. The items share a common casual theme. The effect is pleasingly consistent rather than spotty and awkward.

Here's a tip: Garden art doesn't need to be fancy or expensive -- here, just a few inexpensive pieces create as much of an impact as any statue or sculpture.

Play with Color

Don and Alyce painted their door a bright shade of blue to help accent their garden. It creates a great focal point all year -- no matter what's in bloom.

Here's a tip: If it seems like your garden is mostly green, look for other ways -- such as painting doors or walls -- to provide a punch of color.

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