Article by Lauren Wellbank for Martha Stewart
Just because your yard is short on room doesn’t mean you are limited on planting options. According to our experts, all it takes is a little bit planning to turn your small outdoor space into a major design opportunity. From incorporating a variety of plants to create a more nuanced garden to being intentional with every shrub or bush’s placement, you can easily fake the illusion of a larger area.
Think beyond dwarf plants.
Having a small back yard doesn’t mean that you’re limited to dwarf plants. The same basic design principles you’d use in any yard or garden apply in your miniature space, says Erin Schanen, the creator of The Impatient Gardener. “This means incorporating trees, shrubs, and flowers, but with an eye toward size,” she explains. Just make sure you’re checking the mature height and width of each variety—a tree that grows to 30 feet wide in 10 or 20 years is not a good choice for you. “Consider trees and shrubs with a columnar habit: You’ll get the scale of a larger plant, without taking up a huge amount of space width-wise,” she notes.
Plant with purpose.
Schanen says it’s especially important to limit your plant roster in a small garden: “You are far better off picking just a few plants and mass planting them (in groups of five or more) than to have just a couple of many different varieties.” And texture will play an even more important role here, so look for contrast in form and feature; we like the height and fine texture of a taller grass juxtaposed against something with larger leaves and showy flowers.
Play up shaded spaces.
If you’re limited on space and sunlight, Adrienne R. Roethling, the Director of Curation and Mission Delivery at Paul J. Ciener Botanical Garden, says to get creative by planting shade-loving flora like Hostas, which come in an array of colors and sizes, with grasses like Hakone grass, Hakonechloa macra, or ferns (we like the Japanese Painted variety). “Plants that have similar textures but different colors than Hosta would be the coral bells, Heuchera,” Roethling adds. In some climates, they can take more shade or stay evergreen in winter, which will give you a garden that stays green year-round.
Incorporate some potted plants.
Utilizing pots and containers in a garden is always a good idea, regardless of its size, explains David Morello, a garden designer and founder of David Morello Garden Enterprises. “There is something wonderful about incorporating a container into a spot like a garden bed where it is least expected,” he says. “Keep your selection simple and group them together to create a focal point. The grouping could be a collection of pots that you collect—each one distinct and beautiful.” Morello says as long as they are cohesive, the containers don’t all have to match: “Being creative is half the fun.”