Landscape Design for Small Spaces

Small spaces in the landscape such as courtyards, patios, or terraces provide a fantastic opportunity to add flair and create a custom-tailored oasis for the individual homeowner. Many homes being constructed nowadays have small courtyard or patios spaces that, if designed correctly, will add enjoyment for the homeowner as well as value to the home.

When dealing with small spaces where every inch counts, it is important to make selections carefully. Some questions to consider as you design the space would be:

Does the area allow room for hardscaping?

If so, consider sand set stones or gravel for a more relaxed feel, or maybe the space calls for a cleaner look where pavers, concrete or decking is more appropriate. Be sure to use materials that are cohesive with the existing architecture of the home.

How will the space be used?

Is it a small space that is more of a vignette to be viewed from inside the home or is there room for entertaining? Be sure any furniture is scaled correctly for the given area, and remember to leave room for circulation within the space while furniture is in use.

What is the focal point of the space?

In small spaces this is key. Options could be a small fountain, a piece of art, a fire feature, or a standout ornamental tree such as a Japanese maple or Magnolia tree.

What are the proper plant selections?

Are there any existing plants that can be worked into the new scheme? Plan for future plant size to make sure it will be appropriate in the long run. Take seasonal interest into consideration, work in evergreens or ornamental grasses so interest doesn’t fall flat in the colder months. Adding containers is also a great way to mix things up throughout the year.

What is the sun exposure?

Is there a need for shade due to the space being bright or exposed? Consider an ornamental tree or shade structure. Alternately, if it’s a shady space bring in some light and add dimension with bright pops of color in furniture cushions or pillows, or use brighter, variegated-leaf plant material.

Are there neighbors to be considered or views to screen?

Water features can assist as a noise barrier and an evergreen planting or artful wooden or metal screen can offer year-round privacy.

Additional considerations for taking advantage of a small space would include:

  • Create pedestrian flow by using walkways that lead from one area to another. Using the right proportions, paths and open spaces will create a sense of scope and spaciousness.
  • Embrace the smallness of your space by making it cozy. A border of tall, lush shrubs with a well-placed cafe table and chairs can create a soft peaceful sanctuary with a feeling of nature.
  • Creative use of outdoor lighting can enhance your small space to seem larger. Vertical lighting draws the eye up, and take the focus off the width of the space while adding nighttime interest.

Small places are an easy way to add a wow factor to any landscape. Take the time to think through it carefully and make it something special to be enjoyed for years to come.

About the contributor: Troy Shimp graduated from CSU with a degree in landscape horticulture, and has been working in landscape design and construction in the Denver metro area for 20 years. Troy is a Senior Designer at Lifescape Colorado, a nationally recognized landscape architecture design/build/maintenance firm that has been in business since 1976. Lifescape focuses primarily on the single-family residential market, but also works in the commercial and multi-family unit market. The company’s mission is to create and maintain sustainable outdoor spaces that enrich the lives of clients and enhance the natural beauty of the community while conserving the planet’s resources.