Outdoor living on shrinking lots

Small landscapes can make a big impact for homeowners with limited space
On a small lot, every plant has to "pay its rent" with beautiful flowers, wonderful fruit or seasonal color. (Photo: Michael Glli)

When homeowners have limited areas to work with, designers and contractors do not have many chances to wow them, so they must be strategic. One way to do this is by making small, bold statements with the garden components. Interesting fire pits and specialized water features add diversity to homeowners’ outdoor living areas, yet don’t have to take up much room.

On a small lot, every plant has to “pay its rent” with beautiful flowers, wonderful fruit or seasonal color. Use more dwarf varieties and plants that produce more flowers per square foot or have unique foliage or texture.

Flowering patio trees like roses and hydrangeas bring the most exciting flowers to eye level; then plant another layer of smaller flowering plants below the flowering patio trees, giving the project more visual interest.

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Small yards are also opportunities to use higher quality materials. Because of the smaller size of the job, the cost of higher-end materials is less significant than on a large job, and the visual impact is magnified because clients notice everything on smaller sites.

Incorporate windows in design decisions

Whenever possible, do something special outside the dining room window. Clients make memories with their families and friends at the dining room table. Position design elements as focal points around the home’s dining room windows and anywhere else they spend their time. This is also helpful in cooler seasons when homeowners spend less time outdoors.

Use lighting to visually expand areas. Always brighten up the back corners of the property to draw the eye back, making their property seem bigger. Consider using the neighbors’ trees, too. If a neighbor has a good-looking tree close to the property line, up-light it from your side. It makes the project seem even bigger and incorporates a specimen tree without having to buy, install or make space for it.

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Include a “quiet corner” in the design so that homeowners have a place to relax outside. It’s amazing how much they appreciate having even a small area where they can relax with a cup of coffee in the morning or a glass of wine in the evening.

One of the biggest challenges in designing small gardens is making a small space creative and special. You can make your clients’ garden dreams come true even if the garden has a small footprint by incorporating some or all these ideas.

Michael Galli is owner of Metamorphosis Landscaping in Millbrae, California. He can be reached at [email protected].

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