Small yards require big creativity and a little planning to turn them into the stylish sanctuaries we want. Design techniques such as creating outdoor rooms or vignettes, using focal points and installing features that do double duty enable you to enjoy even the smallest of outdoor areas.
A Place for Everything
Avoid clutter in small yards and maximize every inch of space by installing design features that do double duty. When there’s not a lot of room to spread out, you can design up and work with the features that enclose smaller backyards. Decorative or utilitarian fencing or retaining walls become the backdrop for things like taller shrubs, hanging plants, privacy screening and space-defining decorations. Use bench seating that opens up for storage, shelving that makes use of vertical space and small tool closets in place of larger sheds.
Create Outdoor Rooms
When space is at a minimum, how it’s used is at a premium. Don’t leave a small outdoor space bland and boring. Define it into an outdoor room or rooms with specific purpose. Separate the area into places for different uses with features like elevated decking, low retaining walls, and different surface materials on different levels. Use screening to define rooms or create settings for sitting, entertaining, and child’s play. For example, install tile or natural stone and a shrubbery border to create an outdoor extension of the living room or kitchen and use grass in an area with swings and a sandbox for kids. (3, 4)
Create Focal Points
With a smaller backyard, it’s important to create a unifying focal point and design the rest of the space around it. A fireplace, cozy seating area or above-ground swimming pool gives you a central design theme to use to focus the space. A sculpture with dramatic lighting, a flowering ornamental shrub or a container garden for herbs, salad greens and specialty tomatoes give purpose and focus to small backyards and take attention off the size of the area.
If the backyard is an extension of part of the indoor space, tie the focal point to that room. For instance, if the entrance to the yard is through patio doors from the living room, use a fountain or fireplace with seating as the focal point. If the kitchen opens into the space, set a dining table and chairs and small outdoor kitchen area as the focus.
Use the Right Plants
Use the right kinds of plants in small spaces, including dwarf shrubs, small trees and small perennials. Clutter and oversized landscaping will quickly overwhelm a small backyard. Small trees like Japanese Maple and dogwood make sense in tight spaces. Flowering trees and shrubs can become a focal point if planted as display features. One beautiful redbud in a corner of the yard in the spring or a dramatically lit Japanese Maple makes a beautiful backdrop for outdoor seating. Small shrubs like boxwood, dwarf junipers, Mugo pine and cinquefoil won’t outgrow the space and make good low-lying walls to either separate small areas or create a border.