How to Create a Small Yard With Big Impact
To create a feeling of expansiveness in a small yard, carve out distinct garden areas and outdoor rooms.
Consider my own property, which is shown in these slides: An ornamental border along the street adds curb appeal, an entry garden welcomes visitors, there's a private patio for dining, and a woodsy backyard for lounge-chair relaxing — all on a 60-by-100-foot lot.
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Not only do the "rooms" make the yard more functional, they keep from revealing the whole place at once, so there's a sense of discovery as you move through them.
Colorful perennials layered on both sides of the fence greet visitors, while a bracketed lamppost and garden gate lead them to the front walk.
A flowering 'Kousa' dogwood tree is scaled to the house and provides a front-yard focal point.
Make Every Inch Count
When designing for a small yard, make every inch count. Pay special attention to hardscape features such as fences, walls, and paved areas; make sure they have the right scale and proportion. Along with established trees and shrubs, they lend structure year-round. Put the front yard to work to establish a mood — here, an English cottage-style garden to suit the cozy 1924 Tudor Revival house.
Layer plants of various heights, colors, and textures to add depth, and choose varieties with successive flowering times, so something is always in bloom. Personalize your home's exterior with hardware, lighting, containers, and trellises that tie it into the landscape. Last, plan and plant with views from inside the house in mind — and illuminate the garden at night. After all, what better way to gain ground than to blur the lines between outdoors and in?
READ: 8 Lessons on Stretching a Small Yard
Create an Intimate Entry Garden
A garden arch makes a visual connection between the landscape and the house, and signals where to enter. Here, an exaggerated lamppost with a curved support bracket serves the same purpose. A Japanese red maple brushes the top of the arm and a rhododendron reaches around the post to soften the structure and blend it into its surroundings. A bronze light hangs over the latch-side post; in the evening, the wooden arm almost disappears, and the lamp appears to float.
The paving should signal the style of a home and garden, too. This one consists of irregular, multicolored pieces of slate — probably original to the 1920s house. Now, lined with hosta and Japanese painted fern where it's shady, and white 'Annabelle' hydrangeas, 'Nikko Blue' hydrangeas, and ever-blooming pink roses where there's filtered light, it serves as a casual pathway for the informal cottage.
Sturdy construction is key to preventing a sagging gate. And so is the right hanging hardware — usually a pair of sturdy strap hinges sized to cover one-fourth to one-third of the gate's width. Here's how three styles from Snug Cottage Hardware ably do the job.
1. Surface mounted, with a cupped pintle: On the decorative galvanized-steel hinges used in this project, the pin (or pintle) is part of the strap, which is attached with a carriage bolt and wood screws. The bottom "cup" is screwed to the face of the post, and the pintle set into it. Another cup covers the pintle top and is screwed in, making for a very rigid hinge that can carry up to 150 pounds.
2. Open-topped, lag-screw pintle: A J-shaped pintle is lagged into the side of the post ready to receive the barrel end of the strap. This most-basic style allows for more swing and makes the gate easy to remove.
3. Bolted double strap: For the heaviest-duty field or driveway gates, a double strap wraps both sides of the stile and rail; the pintle is bolted through the side of the post. The bottom fitting adjusts easily if the gate gets out of kilter.
READ: 39 Budget-Wise Ways to Create Outdoor Rooms
Build a Walled Stone Patio
When planning an outdoor dining room, consider the paving material and how it will be laid. A larger space may be paved with several materials, which would be too busy for a small space. Here, cut bluestone pavers of different sizes are laid in a random pattern; they are dry set in keeping with the informal garden, and volunteer flowers and moss creep up through the joints. A low perimeter wall made from concrete block and finished with stucco and a bluestone cap further defines the 14-by-18-foot paved area.
To create a sense of privacy, this woodland edge of trees, shrubs, ferns, and shade-loving ground covers creates a buffer, while letting light and air filter through. To maintain views into the front and back yards, those edges of the patio are planted with medium-height flowering shrubs, including hydrangea, summersweet, and azalea. Terra-cotta pots planted with herbs (which can be clipped for cooking), gray-leaved licorice plant, million bells, and black-eyed Susan vine provide even more color and textural interest.
Add an Ornamental Border
A fence along the front of a property creates a frame in which to garden, provides year-round interest, and offers privacy. This one was designed with an English lattice pattern for a charming cottage look.
The airy squares of the fence provide a handsome backdrop to a long-blooming perennial border that looks good from every angle. Low-growing plants were placed on the street side, including snow-in-summer, creeping phlox, heuchera, salvia, cranesbill, red valerian, catmint, rose campion, penstemon, spiky-leaved iris, 'Autumn Joy' sedum, low-growing 'Knockout' roses, Japanese painted ferns, 'Stella d'Oro' daylilies, and clematis. Taller ones were planted on the house side, including foxglove, allium, velvety red peonies, false indigo, highly perfumed 'Casa Blanca' lilies, butterfly bush, delphinium, hollyhocks, the fragrant damask rose 'Celsiana', never-say-die 'Betty Prior' roses, and showy 'Charles de Mills' roses. The fence also hides the unattractive lower limbs of some of the tall flowering shrubs and supports perennials that get top-heavy.