This month’s Garden Designers Roundtable topic is our own home gardens. I thought about going with my favorite lazy-day post option and showing a montage of images – like a Wordless Wednesday but delivered on a Tuesday. Instead, I’m using my pint-sized garden to share some of the solutions to a question that comes up over and over again with my clients: how do you make a small garden seem larger?
I fondly refer to my tiny back yard as my 50 Foot Garden, since it’s not much wider than that. At a mere 20 feet deep, achieving a look that’s cozy rather than closed-in is a challenge. Here are four strategies I’ve used in my own little retreat that are easily translated into just about any space in need of a spacious feel.
Use every square inch
In our book Garden Up! Smart Vertical Gardening for Small and Large Spaces, my co-author Rebecca Sweet and I dedicated a large section to the over-looked opportunity of gardening in side yards. Yes, the narrow space and odd sun-shade patterns can be a challenge, but side yards give you the chance to create a space strictly to be gazed on – a rare occurrence in a small garden, where many features must do double or even triple duty.
Include a road less traveled
You know that famous infomercial line: But wait - there’s more! Well, that’s what your pathways should be saying to visitors in your garden.
When I’m designing a back yard garden, I never stop the path flush with the edges of the house. Doing so not only reinforces the typically boxy shape of a backyard, but it tells visitors that they’ve seen all there is to see. In a small space, it is particularly important to give the impression the garden continues around the next corner. The fact that that intriguing path leads to nowhere more exciting than compost and extra gardening supplies is my little secret. (And now it’s yours, too.)
Have a few tricks up your sleeve
You may be familiar with the design strategy of adding a mirror to a wall to create the illusion of a window to another part of the garden. If you’ve never considered this idea because you scornfully think no one will be fooled, I’m here to tell you that EVERYONE is fooled. I purchased a set of porthole-shaped mirrors at Target for $15.00 a few years back, and despite the obvious fact that nothing exists on the other side but a tiny strip of green and the street, almost everyone walks down the path and tries to look through them. As a side note, use caution when adding mirrors to gardens, and avoid placing them in such a way that might confuse birds.
Bury your treasure (or at least tuck it away)
What can be disappointing about a small garden is the sensation that in one quick glance, a visitor has already seen everything there is to see. That’s why I like to tuck in a few surprises that require a more thoughtful and leisurely stroll through the garden. Containers, particularly those tucked discretely in the back of a bed where they aren’t immediately on display work well.
But don’t stop there. My three ceramic starfish have been known to pack up and visit spots all around my garden, delighting the patient guests who take the time to admire not just the flowers and foliage, but the unexpected treasures hidden throughout.
For those of who would have preferred a Wordless Wednesday tour of my garden, here's a one minute Animoto video for your viewing pleasure.
To see what other Roundtable members have to say on the topic, check out these posts: