Pro tips for making the most of a small outdoor space


When it comes to creating a beautiful garden, size doesn’t matter. With the right choice of plants, artistic design and just a little creativity, you can make big dreams come true in a small space. We asked three experts how you can transform a small backyard, mini garden, or strip of side yard into an expansive well-being space that thrives on big vibes. Here are their suggestions.

Pick small plants. Many seed companies and plant breeders are developing strains specifically designed for growing in smaller spaces and pots. When buying plants, Callie Works-Leary, founder of the Dallas Garden School, recommends looking for ones that have the words dwarf, patio, or container in their name. For example, if you want to grow fruits and vegetables, Patio Baby Eggplants, Tophat Dwarf Blueberry Bushes, and Peas-in-a-Pot are good options.

Present a unified front. Variety isn’t always the way to go. “Having a collection of random pots of different colors, sizes, and shapes is the quickest way to confuse the eye and make a garden seem smaller,” says Amy Pennington, author of Tiny Space Gardening: Growing Vegetables, Fruits, and Herbs in Small”. Outdoor spaces.” She suggests choosing containers of the same color and style to bring the focus to the plants and allow them to create pleasant contrasts with their colours, textures and shapes.

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Less is more. “The biggest mistake I see is trying to grow one of everything,” says Works-Leary. “Just like in a house, if you have too many belongings, that clutter will make it feel cramped.” To create a sense of harmony, select a smaller number of plants, say up to half a dozen, and grow enough of each to fill the beds. The plant fields offer the eye a place to rest, allowing viewers to experience each plant species on a deeper level.

Go vertical. “When you have limited space, you grow up,” says Pennington. “Add plants that draw the eye upwards.” There are many edible plants that are vines or trellises, like tomatoes, peas, cucumbers, and melons. You can purchase a higher quality metal climbing structure, or simply lean two pieces of bamboo against each other and tie them together at the top to secure. Alternatively, there are decorative vines that can cling to walls, such as star jasmine, evergreen clematis, and royal trumpet. You can also add other vertical elements like hanging baskets, plant stands, flower boxes and containers that attach to a wall, railing or patio.

Walk horizontally too. To make a room appear larger on the horizontal plane, use repeating identical elements that add drama. For example, if you are designing a garden bed at the back of your property, choose the same eye-catching plant for both sides. Or if you have a narrow yard next to your house, put the same type of eye-catching tree at both ends. “They draw attention to themselves,” says Works-Leary. “They frame the area and at the same time make it appear wider.”

build layers. Works-Leary suggests creating a layered effect by choosing plants with different textures, complementary colors, and different heights. This adds variety and prevents you from having a room where a bunch of similar plants drown out each other. Try planting a yucca pole with a tall, thin trunk and green, sword-shaped leaves in the back. Before that, use Gregg’s Mistflower, which has a fuzzy appearance and light purple flowers and doesn’t grow as tall as the cane. “This will create nice contrasts,” she says, “while breaking things up.”

get thoughtful. Hanging a mirror on a wall or fence or on the side of the house or shed can trick the eye into believing there is more space. Just make sure you place the mirror where it doesn’t get too much direct sun and reflect the light onto your plants, which could cause problems, especially in hotter environments. Niki Jabbour from said she visited a small garden overlooking the ocean that had a mirror that partially reflected the open sea. “It was like this gateway into another world,” says Jabbour, author of several gardening books, including Growing Under Cover: Techniques for a More Productive, Weather-Resistant, Pest-Free Vegetable Garden. “You just had the feeling that the garden was much bigger.”

Try some water. There may not be room for a swimming pool or an underground pond, but even the smallest garden can have a water feature. Consider adding a small above-ground pond surrounded by rocks to hide the sides or a standing birdbath. The water reflects the sky and greenery above, adding another dimension to the space and making it appear larger. Additionally, Jabbour says, it can attract birds and amphibians, as well as butterflies, bees, and other beneficial insects and pollinators.

Think in terms of “spaces.” Divide your garden into sections. Perhaps place a seating area with a couch and small table in one corner and a collection of potted plants in another. Jabbour suggests maximizing your space with useful components like a pollinator garden, a raised bed for growing produce, or an herb garden. “Creating small spaces or zones within a room creates the illusion of being spacious,” adds Pennington. “It’s like putting a bookshelf in the corner of a small studio apartment to make it feel like there’s another room.”

Forge a path. If you have a yard that’s at least 10 feet by 10 feet, put a stone walkway between a few of the zones you’ve created, perhaps between the lounge chair you lounge on in the sun and a bird bath, or between the patio and your herb garden. The path doesn’t have to be anything special; Simply place stone or concrete pavers into shallowly dug indentations in the ground. Avoid straight lines as they visually reduce space. “Build curved paths instead,” says Jabbour. “They make short distances feel like a slightly longer walk, giving the illusion of size.”

Create a living fence. To demarcate these zones, Pennington suggests using living fences that double as edible landscape. She plants small fruit trees (like apples or pears) on a trellis system—small trellises that force trees to grow flat in two dimensions—interspersed with blueberry bushes and strawberry plants. This creates a three-layer barrier where the trees grow five or six feet tall, the bushes grow to a maximum of two to three feet tall, and the strawberries spread to ground level.

Martell is a writer from Silver Spring, Md. His website is Keep finding him Twitter and Instagram: @nevinmartell.

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