Make the Most of Small Yards

Photo: beglib/MorguefileGot a yard the size of a postage stamp? I used to live in a house where the deck space was bigger than the garden, which was barely big enough for a cat to turn around in (granted, I have a big cat). That didn't stop me from creating an amazing garden that got tons of compliments -- and looked way better than the neighbor's spacious garden. The trick to making the most of a small space indoors or outdoors is getting creative with your design and placement, and not being afraid to live your dreams, even if you have to modify them a bit.

One of the biggest mistakes with a small garden is to plunge into it without planning, resulting in a hodge-podge of looks, plants, and furniture. The result can be cluttered, cramped, and chaotic: think of being in grandma's living room with 60 years of furniture styles on display, surrounded by towering piles of old magazines, newspapers, and a collection of ornamental Scottie dogs. You don't want that look for your garden!

So start by planning. If necessary, take out old landscaping, even though it might be a scary thought: you want clean, clear ground to start with. Taking out old plants also provides a chance to work lots of fertilizer into the soil and lay down weed barriers so your garden will be healthier and easier to maintain. Measure out the dimensions of your yard and create a detailed drawing with fixed features like your house, deck, and limits on your lot like walls, driveway, and so forth. This will give you a clear idea of the space you have to work with.

Christopher Cohan at This Old House recommends creating an ornamental border, especially along the street side, as this will create a clearly defined space and add some privacy. Keep your border clear and simple, with plants in similar colors and heights. Too much variation can make your border feel chaotic, and not in a good way. Establish pathways to key parts of the house and yard, and make sure the materials are appropriate to the setting, whether you're hiring a concrete contractor to install a basic concrete walk for a midcentury modern home or laying stepping stones for a whimsical English cottage.

Establish areas where you want more dramatic features, like a pond, an accent tree or shrub, or statue. In a small yard, you don't have a lot of space for these design elements, but you do have some, so take advantage of it. At the same time, make sure it all ties into the larger garden design and to the home. When you have a small yard, it's harder to pull off areas with radically different design aesthetics, because they can feel jarring.

Play down the small size with small, simple furniture that will feel large thanks to the surrounding space and light, airy plants. Use creepers and climbers to your advantage to make the garden into an outdoor room filled with light and color, and enhance the illusion of space by adding multiple levels to your garden. Use stepped terraces, pathways, and decking to draw the eye along the vertical axis of the yard, which will make it seem bigger, and install mirrors in clever locations to add to the size.

You don't want to make visitors think you feel like your yard is inadequate, but you can turn it into a space that feels much bigger on the inside. There are lots of creative ways to use a small yard, and you might just find yourself falling in love with your tiny space. After all, unlike your friends with huge gardens, your Miami landscaping maintenance will be a cinch!

Katie Marks writes for

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