Living Large – Outdoor design for small spaces
Like anything, small yards come with myriad pros and cons. While there’s generally less to keep after, they can feel limiting in the kinds of landscape and gardens that are possible. Fortunately, however, in Southern California, knowledgeable and talented landscape professionals can turn any lilliputian space into an oasis. But how? By employing common principles of design to make the most of the space available:
1. Small plants. It seems obvious, but using plant material that “behaves” by staying compact and not becoming overgrown in one season are best bets for preserving precious real estate in the small garden space.
2. Optical illusions. Use a little trickery to make a yard look bigger. A central lawn area that is elongated into a rectangle with planting beds on either side will appear to stretch farther than it actually does. For a forced perspective that really fools the eye, narrow its width as it moves away from the house or patio and approaches the rear fence line. Dwarf versions of common plants at this end will look really far away and help complete the illusion.
3. Open concept. Dividing the space with tall plants or walls will only serve to make it feel smaller. However, lower materials that give the feeling of multiple spaces to explore can reverse that. If the topography allows, try ha-ha walls and berms to create the illusion of rolling topography.
4. Simple textures. A complicated palette can quickly overtake a space of any size. Be very diligent and judicious in selecting the materials that will comprise the garden space. Where possible, incorporate strong lines that appear to grow the space along its axis, and choose smooth surfaces that look more expansive than their textured counterparts.
5. Less is more. Cluttered spaces always feel constricted. Limit the number of focal points to just a few and space them out from each other. Make sure their impact is great, too. Bright colors, unique forms, and cool textures can really turn heads.
6. The great beyond. If it’s possible to lower a fence or a hedge on one side without compromising your or your neighbor’s privacy, do so. Use vertical features on the property boundary to frame and open up views—especially great views—to what lies in the distance.
7. Destination. Have somewhere to go that isn’t immediate to the house. Hang a hammock or build a fire pit in an area that is at least several steps away from the main living space. Having a quiet spot with some separation can make your small backyard feel like a true getaway.
Small but mighty yards are indeed achievable using the right design principles. Measure your property and consider carefully how you want to use it. Then enlist the help of a Santa Barbara landscape professional to pull it together.