Urban Gardens

Living in a space-challenged urban environment shouldn't stop you from enjoying fresh air. Check out these great ideas from some amazing city landscapes.

Surround Yourself with Bloom

At first glance, you'd never know that this welcoming dining area is located on a tiny bit of land behind a city row house. Yet, by surrounding the deck with planters brimming with roses, perennials, annuals, flowering shrubs, and trees, the owners created an expansive park-like atmosphere. Plus, the plants help scrub toxins out of the urban atmosphere.

Ditch the Lawn

Because nearby buildings often block the sun from urban backyards, it doesn’t make sense to try growing even a postage-stamp size lawn. Instead of continuously trying to raise turf grass, replace it with attractive paving materials. Here, a thin, tired lawn was removed in favor of a bluestone patio that also provides dig-proof flooring for the family dog.

Consider the View From Above

If you live in a multi-level condo or apartment, consider the view from above as you design your patio or landscape. Here, the homeowners color-coordinated plantings around their deck with flowers growing in window boxes on the home's upper level.

Roll Out the Welcome Mat

Worn throw rugs get a new lease on life rolled out along this ribbon of space wedged between two buildings. Two strings of cheerful flags were also stretched across the space to fool the eye into thinking it's wider than it actually is. Bright pillows and pots of flowering plants add extra color.


Stay in Scale

Less is more when it comes to decorating an urban backyard. Look for small-scale furniture that won’t cramp your style when guests arrive. Here, for example, the homeowners opted for a tall, narrow table with barstools instead of a traditional dining set. A built-in wooden bench along one wall provides overflow seating and doesn’t block the traffic flow.

Screen the View

Privacy comes at a premium in an urban setting. That's why it's a good idea to include tall, narrow shrubs and trees in your plan. In this rooftop garden, a long, narrow planter holds a forest of quick-growing bamboo that provides much-needed privacy and acts a windbreak when the weather gets gusty. Other options would include arborvitae, privet, or even sweet corn.

Mix it Up

Give small spaces a visual boost by changing up your paving materials. Here, for example, this rooftop garden looks wider than it really is because the owner used 3x3-foot sections of wood decking set at right angles to one another. If all the sections had been lined up perfectly it would look more like a bowling alley then a relaxing retreat.

Dress Up a Drive

If the lion’s share of your outdoor space is swallowed up by an unattractive driveway, why not dress it up a little so you can also use it for outdoor living? In this space-challenged backyard, a section of the driveway was replaced with eye-catching concrete steppers mixed with squares of black river rock. The car can still drive over the driveway, but now it’s handsome enough for family get-togethers.

Grow a Wall

Any open space can become an intimate retreat when you add a wall of planters and trellises to enclose the space. Here, for example, a rough, exposed, concrete slab was quickly transformed into a cozy corner with a trio of pretty planters with attached trellises. Upright yews provide color and interest during the fall and winter, but by summer each trellis is encrusted with blooming annual vines.

Light it Up

Urban spaces can be bright (thanks to lighting from nearby buildings), but it’s still important to incorporate lighting in an urban-garden plan. That way, you can enjoy your space after work or in the late fall and early spring when the days are shorter. Here, a pair of 3-way outdoor lamps can be adjusted to illuminate the entire area or just to set a romantic mood.

Escape the Sun

The summer sun can be blazing, especially in urban gardens where shade is scarce. Install an overhead arbor, pergola, or awning to help protect your corner of the world from the hot sun. Here, a freestanding cedar pergola provides just enough protection to allow the family to use the dining area even when temperatures soar.


Keep it Cool

Recent studies have proven that a moving fan works better for keeping mosquitoes at bay than a spray repellent. Overhead fans are an obvious choice, but if you don't have a ceiling to attach one to, try adding an extension from a fence or screen. That's what these homeowners did when pesky insects used to make it impossible to use their patio.


Rely on Succulents

Rooftop and other urban locations can be a tough place for plants to live. That’s why you should rely on succulents when you design your outdoor space. Grown in pots, planters, or rooftop mats, succulents tolerate hot, dry conditions and require little or no care. On this elevated deck a tapestry of succulents and drought-resistant herbs create a living carpet of low-maintenance color.

Get Comfortable

You’ll use your outdoor space more often if you select comfortable furniture where you can relax for hours. Too often, people pick style over function, and they end up with pretty, but uncomfortable seating. On this Seattle roof garden, the homeowners opted for black iron furniture with thick, weatherproof cushions. The furniture is also heavy enough that it doesn’t blow over during high winds.

Size Up Your Side Yard

Urban neighborhoods often have empty lots where older homes have been removed. Instead of letting the space become trash-filled and weedy, why not claim the space and turn it into a garden retreat. Here, the narrow lot between two houses became a neighborhood jewel with beds overflowing with flowers and trees. A white picket fence and collection of pots beckons pedestrians to come in for a closer look.

Carve Out Some Space

Having a severely sloping backyard doesn’t mean you can’t carve out some outdoor living space. Here, a hilly urban lot was terraced with a series of stones to create a level area for a handsome deck and pergola. Roses and perennials are planted on the hillside to soften the view.

Keep it Simple

There's a fine line between cozy and cramped when you are working in a small urban space. In fact, the simpler your design the better, keeping furniture and accessories to a bare minimum. In this tight alley, a few chairs, tables and a teak bench are more than enough to make a private, uncluttered getaway.

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