Oct 12, 2009

Landscaping Small Spaces, Part 1

As much as I love the possibilities afforded by designing larger estate landscapes (as in, trees! I actually get to spec trees!), small gardens hold a special place in my heart as well. Here's the first of five bite-size tips to make the most of bite-size spaces:

Go vertical. A small space quickly draws the eye to its perimeter. Interrupt that line of sight and create a three-dimensional yard with
vertical elements including tall, narrow plants (such as bamboo, crepe myrtle or 'Whitespire' birch trees); raised planting beds or berms; or freestanding trellis structures. Be sure to include accent lighting to show off these features at night. In the other direction, excavating a sunken garden can pose construction challenges, but the results can be spectacular. Retain and frame the area with a stone seatwall; include niches in the wall for candles or planter urns (including self-watering styles) and seat cushions with delicious custom fabrics.

Next, I'll write about my second tip for landscaping small spaces: Be colorful.


Chookie said...

OK, after you've done your'small' series, I'd like to hear about 'not big'!

My back yard would be about 50 feet wide and 65 feet long, I think. This is largish by local standards. It's too big to apply the principles of courtyard gardens, and too small for those of Capability Brown. I'm planning on a main lawn area with various garden rooms disposed around the edges, but would love to hear your suggestions for such a space.

steve said...

Nice post, John and good to see you posting again. It's been too long, tsk, tsk.

Hey, don't forget the lights!

One virtue of small space gardening is that they are almost always near the home (usually off a den, living room or kitchen) making them a natural place to extend one's living area. Lights make this happen at night, big time. Nothing special, nothing glaring, for sure, but muted and uplit plants can form a wall all on their own, plus inspire with geometric shadows.

John said...

Thanks, Steve! Yeah, sometimes life and work get in the way of writing, don't they? But I've got YOU to fill in the gaps for me! You're absolutely right about lighting: it's the oft-overlooked finishing touch that can take a space from "good" to "great" and add a whole new dimension. Ortho's lighting design book is a great reference for beginners and pros alike.

Chookie, your "not big" is fairly typical of the town lots I work with; a standard lot here in Palo Alto is 50' x 125', so half of that (back or front yard) would be about the dimensions you describe. I don't usually develop more than one or two "rooms" in such a space, but it all depends on how you live (or want to live) out-of-doors. There are too many variables for me to possibly make any useful suggestions, but whenever I'm stuck I cozy up in a library or bookstore and read every single page of every single garden design book on the shelf; invariably somebody smarter than I has done something I can copy!