How to Maximize a Small Outdoor Space

When you have a very small amount of green space outdoors, you will need to maximize it as much as you can. Urban dwellers are accustomed to working within the confines of courtyards or rooftop gardens. If you live in a condo, you value the possibilities a container offers as a miniature planting space, and window boxes become your very own backyard. It is possible to have a beautiful outdoor garden, regardless if it is assumed to be restrictive gardening. A small space is a perfect place to espalier a fruit tree or fragrant honeysuckle.

But don’t be fooled. A pint sized space involves the same design principles as a property the size of a township. Make the most of your yard, no matter what its shape or size. Techniques and project suggestions should help you create some workable ideas to try out.

"Gardening in small spaces"

A Well Developed Garden Space

Getting Started

As with any landscape project, the first step is to analyze your site. This includes noting the following points: access, shape, and surroundings. This conceptual evaluation should follow careful examination of your property’s sun exposure, grade (note slopes or areas that have poor drainage), and soil quality.


Small spaces may be gated, or you may only access the yard by walking through the house and exiting the back door as is typical in some townhouse developments. At best, a narrow walkway may be the only access to your work space. This obviously presents challenges when carting in plant material, hardscape, or other supplies you need to build ponds, patios, pergolas, and such. Make access a critical part of your design. Before you decide what to put in your back yard, figure out how you will get it there. This may require dividing loads into smaller options.


Standard ½ and ¼ acre lots in subdivisions are often squared off, forming a patchwork quilt of box-shaped properties. Small yards are different: skinny, pie-shaped, circular, and oblong are often times the shapes you may find. This requires a little more planning. Perhaps you utilize every piece of a pie-shaped yard by hardscaping most of it and creating a succulent garden at the tip. An oblong property will look wider if you contrast it with circular patterns, whether a patio, pond, or rounded plantings. Use the principle of contrast to trick the eye.

Working with a long, narrow space


Decide how you prefer to spend time outdoors, and dedicate your small space to this activity. It may be herb gardening, relaxing by a pond, or meditating in a Zen space. Once you choose a theme for your small yard, concentrate on how plant material, hardscape, and furniture work together.

Tip- Jot your plans down on paper as you consider features that you would like to consider.


1. Pick large pots. A collection of small potted plants looks messy and accentuates the fact that you may not actually have room for all of these containers. Instead, combine plantings into large, attractive pots. Remember the odd rule that suggests ones, threes, and so on, are more interesting. Plant in one large pot, or three pots of staggered sizes.

"Gardening in a small space"

A Cozy Garden Space

2. Big is Better. In large yards, breaking up space into smaller rooms creates intimacy. In small properties, the opposite is true. Dividing an already small area into several tiny spots is a recipe for claustrophobia. Instead, choose one large feature as a focal point, and build interest around this hub. For example, a kidney bean shaped pond contrast a linear backyard, and a surrounding patio builds in more room for entertainment. Bordered with layered foliage, greenery blurs the property line and suggests that the space is more expansive.

3. Grow up. Draw the eye up with climbing plants, slender conifers, tall hedges, and hanging baskets. Think of walls, trellis, fencing, and any property border as open ground for planting. Beds of low plantings in a tight space draw the eye down and take up valuable space that may be used for a patio, pond, or other feature.

4. Keep it clean. By choosing plant material that establishes quickly and grows into a jungle of foliage, you’ll spend your spare time pruning. A tame, trim look is ideal for small spaces. Opt for slow growers that fill in a bed over time. Train climbing plants to crawl around forms or up lattice and walls. Topiary adds vertical, shapely interest and looks refined.

5. Blend foliage. Check out your surroundings by looking beyond your small lot or plot of space. If you have a certain type of foliage in the distance, try to incorporate plants that will blend into the backdrop. For instance, if you have trees in the distance, then try planting a tree on the border of your area , so that it will blend in the view you see and will blur the line between what is yours and what is not. This creates a type of optical illusion, but is very pleasing to the eye.

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