Designing Small Spaces in the Landscape

Water Conservation for Lawn and Landscape February 11, 2014 Print Friendly and PDF
        

 

Small courtyard garden. Photo credit: UGArdener Flickr CC BY NC 2.0

 
 

Small urban space
Photo credit: Adam THEO Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

Designing small spaces, whether in a residential or urban area, is not as hard as it may seem. A lot can fit into a small space if designed correctly.

Small, intimate spaces can be an ideal way to connect with nature or for a quiet getaway.  A few important strategies can be used to get started on designing small spaces in the landscape.

First, decide how many outdoor spaces or 'rooms' need to be created. What size will they be ? What will their function be?  It may be a single small space for outdoor dining or a small seating area for quiet contemplation.

Decide whether  the space will be completely or partially enclosed as this will influence the degree of privacy.  A small space can create a sheltered microclimate that may be warm enough for plants that might not thrive elsewhere in the garden. This can act as an oasis close to the house.

The most important factor to keep in mind while designing small spaces is to keep it simple. Use only about five to eight different plant species to keep the garden from appearing too chaotic.

Space Creating Attributes:

  • Small or fine leaved plants tend to recede visually
  • Use pastels, textures, and leaf shape to create a larger feeling space
  • Go vertical, use narrow upright space-saving plants to create a sense of height
  • Grow vines on fences, walls, and pergolas 
  • Dividing the space into a series of smaller spaces or 'rooms' can make the overall effect seem larger

Design Considerations

  • Too much intense color makes the garden seem smaller
  • Plant choices may be limited due to size
  • Constraints may exist on how much shade or sun is available
  • Views from house
  • Use shrubs with herbaceous plants in the border
  • Larger perennials with coarse leaves can be used as accent plants
  • Use a small specimen tree as focal point
  • Use a variety of container sizes to add vertical interest
  • Raised beds work well in a small space
  • Water
  • Consider the orientation of the path. Will it be straight or curvilinear?

 


Additional Design Resources:

Louisiana - Be creative with small space landscapes
Mississippi: Creative Courtyard Spaces


Plant Lists for Small Spaces:

California: Ultra Small Trees for Small Spaces
Colorado: Small Deciduous Trees


 

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.