What are the best tips for designing small backyards or gardens?

Your backyard is the extension of what is happening inside your home, and this space is usually more relaxed, colourful, fun and without having any ceiling to cover the desires and needs. In the yard, you can see the trees and the vines climb over the highest point, and the weather may be quickly changed. If you think that you do not have any DIY construction and design skills to handle your backyard project, then you can bring the landscape designer or architect to help your outdoor space achieve its potential.

A professional can guide you through the process of looking for the best style, decide who will use the backyard while creating the activity area, choosing the plants and materials – check out our previous blog for the top benefits of working with a professional landscape designer.

Cities are places of condensed layers of people, vehicles, and building materials. Plants are also found there, but too often, intentionally designed landscapes and interesting plant materials are lacking.

The problem might be a rapid turnover of residents or the lack of plant knowledge, and sometimes it’s just the challenge of designing a small urban space. We often don’t know a lengthy history of the urban sites we are designing or planting; however, both current and past uses can significantly impact the success of new landscape design. Following are some insights for analyzing and designing small urban landscapes.

We have some amazingly beautiful small backyard ideas, and we shall give you useful tips for the landscape design and the decor of your outdoor place so that you can easily create a magnificent recreational or entertaining area for your family and friends. Some homeowners have large plots, but there is a considerable number of citizens living in private houses and having a very small piece of land near their home. Hence, they face the challenge to arrange their backyard rationally and use the available space in the best possible way.

How to design a beautiful small backyard? Before you start planning the landscape design, you need to determine what “beautiful yard” means to you. What is your general idea, is it important for you to impress neighbours and guests with the splendour of decoration or you prefer practicality and convenience? What is your lifestyle, do you have children and pets, do you entertain often and have evening gatherings outdoors? The answers to these questions will affect the appearance of your backyard, and good initial planning will save not only money but also time for alterations, reconstruction and corrections.

Of course, in many ways, the landscape design of your yard will depend on its size. If the area is large, then your imagination will be limited only by the financial possibilities. Still, if it is a small backyard, then it is necessary to set clear priorities. It will be difficult to place a children’s playground, a place for barbecue, dining and lounge area, large flower beds and lawn when you are limited in space. However, a good plan will allow you to get the most so it is best if you marked the location of all the elements that you would like to have – gazebos, pergola, flower beds, rock gardens, ponds and patio deck. Experts advise dividing the whole plot into squares, and each segment will have a key figure – a building or a decorative element. Thus, it will be easier to arrange all the desired elements of the landscape design and create a balanced and harmonious exterior.

Site Condition Analysis

Consider the existing conditions of a site when choosing plants and locating amenities. Use your observations to create a well-informed design and plant pallet.

Sun and Shade

Take time to evaluate the sunny and shady places throughout the day. Determine if the conditions change significantly throughout the day or year. Evaluate if there could be significant changes occurring in the near future, such as construction or demolition of buildings, or tree removal.

  • Deep shade — the highest shade is behind and alongside buildings. It has very distinct lines and changes seasonally with the sun’s angle. The north side of a building might have spots that are cold and dark in June, but hot and sunny by July.
  • Overlapping shade might occur from multiple building heights, or buildings and trees, or buildings and vehicles.
  • Spontaneous shade develops if cars, trucks, or dumpsters are regularly parked nearby during the day. This can create deep shade pockets even on the sunniest sites, and you might need to determine if this is a temporary (and for how long?) or permanent condition.
  • Light from reflected surfaces like windows and metal from cars, building materials, and signs can burn plants.
  • Shade increases the growth of moss and algae on surfaces. Although this can create a pleasant visual effect in some places, it could also be an unwelcome slippery nuisance on walking surfaces.

Suggestions

  • For areas with interchangeable shade through the season, choose plants that tolerate a wide variety of sun/shade variance.
  • Block reflections with hardy plants or built elements.
  • Choose surfaces that provide good traction when wet or are easy to clean off moss and algae.

Heat

Consider sources of heat that might be present on or surrounding the site.

  • Heat island effect: Cities get hotter and stay hotter for longer, creating a different climate from the surrounding towns and countryside.
  • Impervious surfaces absorb heat and radiate it for long periods. This can create a microclimate for certain plant species that are not zone hardy, but it usually does more harm than good by creating high heat and causing soils to dry out fast.

Suggestions

  • Choose plants that prefer hot, dry conditions.
  • Add trees and shrubs for increased shade and cooling through transpiration.
  • Cover the ground with vegetative groundcovers which can help keep soil cooler.
  • Create cooler micro-climates by selecting taller plants to provide additional protection for smaller, more sensitive plants.

Stormwater Management

Check the site for ways water enters, moves through or stays on the site. Start the water management plan as near to the water’s entry point as is feasible and work your way downhill.

  • Impervious surfaces result from people walking over, standing, parking, storing construction materials, and driving heavy equipment over areas.
  • Impervious surfaces cause increased flow and velocity of runoff.
  • Lawns and compacted soils don’t allow good water infiltration. Areas might become inundated with water and not be able to drain quickly.
  • Evaluate if there are interchangeable periods of extreme inundation and extreme drought.
  • Pesticide, herbicide, fertilizer, sediment, petroleum runoff is increased.
  • Evaluate if there could be significant changes occurring in the near future, such as construction or demolition of buildings, parking lot expansion, or tree removal. Any of these changes located uphill of your site, including compaction of soil from large equipment, can impact the amount, direction, and velocity of stormwater flow.

Suggestions

  • Increase plant material as an alternative to pavement, lawn, and mulch to help slow water running through the site.
  • Design with deep-rooted plants to increase water infiltration and decrease erosion.
  • Slow water down with berms and stone placement, or spread the water out over a flat vegetated space.
  • If space allows, create rain gardens to catch the first flush of stormwater runoff and keep pollutants on-site for filtering.
  • Add cisterns above or below ground to collect rainwater. Cisterns come in a range of sizes and shapes that could fit small spaces including narrow, wall-mounted models and those that fit under porches or decks.

Soil

Although soil can be challenging on any site, urban sites often present some unexpected challenges. Urban soils generally have experienced significant disturbances, only some of which are visible.

  • Compaction
  • Topsoil could be stripped from the site by construction or erosion.
  • Soils might be contaminated from industrial particles, leaking, or dumping.
  • Urban rubble might be on or below the surface, or completely different soil characteristics exist from one spot to another — surprise!
  • Road debris and trash can be thrown or blown onto the site.
  • Salt and pollutants from road and sidewalk runoff might become concentrated in small areas.
  • Soil pH can be affected by a wide variety of elements: over-fertilizing can acidify, city water can alkalize.

Suggestions

  • Soil testing gives you a good place to start understanding your soil.
  • Designing with deep-rooted plants improves soil texture, aeration, and texture while also preventing erosion.
  • Choose trees and shrubs that tolerate compaction. Many native plants that grow in wetlands tolerate compacted soils because they perform well in low oxygen conditions.
  • Cover the soil with plants and mulches to keep contaminated soils covered and prevent dust and splash-back of contaminants onto plants and other surfaces.
  • Leaf mulch is a great choice of mulch to reduce watering and insulate plant roots. It holds the most water of any mulch available (up to twice as much as peat moss, depending on leaf variety) and it’s often generated on-site for free.
  • Specify trash removal as part of the maintenance plan.
  • In spring, provide a flush of water to soils that accumulate de-icing salts.
  • Extremes of soil acidity or alkalinity can be adjusted with the addition of organic matter, lime, or acid-forming compounds.

Air Movement

Evaluate for conditions that increase the velocity and direction of air on or near the site. Although mild winds of 5 mph can help strengthen plants, strong and turbulent winds can cause added plant stress and injury.

  • Wind tunnels can develop between buildings and objects such as trailers and large dumpsters, producing colder air that rapidly dries out the soil.
  • Solid fences create pockets of turbulent air on the leeward side of the fence.
  • Wind dries soils out quickly.
  • Wind increases plant transpiration, requiring the plant to use more water.
  • High wind can shred plant leaves and sand particles can sandblast the entire plant.

Suggestions

  • Use larger plants or built screens to block the wind for new or tender plants.
  • Choose porous fences that allow wind to move through the site more naturally.
  • Apply thicker mulch and more frequent supplemental water to new plants at the base of solid fences.

Small Shared Space

There are a few special considerations when you are working in a small urban landscape that is shared by multiple users or infrastructure.

  • Privacy needs – space is shared with tenants or viewed by neighbours
  • Snow storage in winter and into spring (and due to the small space, sometimes it’s your neighbour’s snow too)
  • Streetside parking areas
  • Contested boundaries with neighbours
  • Overhead wires and poles, and underground wires and pipes
  • City infrastructure (transformers and streetlight boxes) might need to be screened from view or incorporated into the design as is. Snow storage in winter and into spring (and due to the small space, sometimes it’s your neighbours’ snow too)

Suggestions

  • Call DigSafe before digging, even for planting trees and shrubs.
  • Use plants that die back to the ground in areas where snow is stored to prevent plant damage.
  • Consider including neighbours in a part of the design process to decrease potential conflicts during installation.
  • Find out if there are regulations for plant distance or height limitations for city or utility infrastructure.

Other Factors

An urban site might present one or more other unusual or unexpected circumstances.

  • Animals – dogs, skunks, opossum, rats, deer, turkeys, squirrels
  • Zoning – sometimes current zoning practices limit what you can do. Many zoning plant height limitations for front yards are interpreted specifically for grass height. Perennials, shrubs, and trees may not apply to vegetative height limitations but clarify with the town or city as needed.
  • Regulations by special interest groups like a condo or historical associations

Suggestions

  • Place stones, garden sculpture, wattling, fences, or larger plants around small, new plants to deter animals from digging until new plants become well-rooted.
  • If rats are a problem, cover all water sources, only compost in sealed bins, and add wire fencing around outbuildings that extends 12” below grade to prevent burrowing.
  • Great designs and great plants win over many of the most cynical community members.
  • Show successful precedents to community groups and condo committees to gain interest and approval in the project.

Create a garden landscape made of gravel stones

Gravel, a kind of small stones and pebbles is the trend going on when it comes to decorating your garden landscape. They are minimal maintenance small garden yet spreads a beautiful look and affordable compared to bricks. One advantage is that the gravel allows rainfall to pass through the soil.

Focus on trees

If you have large trees backside of your home, then you can think of creating a beautiful garden landscape around it. Under the trees, you can keep the table and chairs and covered the area with flagstone. It could be a wonderful place for relaxation. However, you should be little careful here not to raise the ground around the base of the tree.

Creating a small pond could give a bigger effect.

You need not necessarily have a large backyard to create a garden landscape. You can think of creating a water garden to handle a wet corner of your small garden. You need to do some digging in that area and create a pond and install a pump, and your water garden is ready. It will attract colourful butterflies and birds. Plant water lily type of flowers in the water garden and it will brighten up the whole garden landscape.

Putting fence

You can add a low fence to every planting bed so that you can double the number of flowers and vegetables in your small garden. Even you can grow vine crops in your garden landscape. That way, you can vertically grow vine crops, and it won’t affect the growth of other vegetables.

Creating wildlife like atmosphere in your small garden

If you choose the kind of flowers, birds and butterflies love, then you can create wildlife in your small garden. Together with if you add a bird feeder and birdhouse, it will double the beauty of the garden landscape.

Installing a mowing strip

This you can do for the purpose to give an extra look to your garden landscape and it will help you to keep the weeds away and will provide a minimal maintenance garden path you can walk comfortably looking at your garden. It offers you a mud-free, clean and effortless way to overlook your small garden.

Add some vibrancy

You can add an oversized gate at one end of the garden to give it a different feel. It will act as a centre of attraction for all. It will make your small garden look larger. Also, it will support some climbing flowers.

Create curve walkways

This is a wonderful way to give a new meaning to your small garden. By creating curve walkways, it creates a feeling of space in your garden. It always gives a better look than a straight path, and it will give the visitors a feeling that they are walking in a large landscape. Make sure you make the path comfortable for two people walking simultaneously. This will create an appeal.

Emphasis on pots

Collect as many as you can diverse types of colourful pots and planters in your garden landscape full of flowers and fragrant herbs. Scented flowers and diverse types of colourful flowers will enhance the beauty of the space, and additionally, you can think of fixing a teak bench surrounding them. A large terracotta structure you can put here in the form of the bowl to give a different effect.

Think about the seasons

When you decorate your garden landscape, keep in mind how it is going to look in the four seasons of the year. Choose perennial flowers that can give beauty to your small garden in all seasons, for example, tulips.

Concentrate on the shady backyard if you have any

Shady backyards look great on the scorching summer afternoon. But they offer a very dark and dull look. You can work on improving the view of your garden landscape by adding colourful pillows, fabrics, outdoor rugs and pots of unusual colours and styles. So, this will turn into a colourful spot.

Hide the garbage in the backyard

You can try to do a little camouflage here. Try making a wooden structure around the garbage so that it cannot be overlooked. This will reflect an organized look in your small garden. Get some stylish wooden panels to hide the garbage bins.

Look after your outdoor plants and keep them healthy

Whether you are developing your first small garden, or you are already an expert, it is sad to see your garden plants dying. You cannot kill them; they are to be nurtured, to be sustained. Get some easy to grow plants in your small garden, and keep them nurturing every day, take care of them maintain them.

These small garden landscaping ideas will provide you with adequate insight to develop your little garden.

Designing for small spaces makes us consider every opportunity to maximize aesthetic details and usability. We exploit every asset on the site to make your outdoor living spaces as useful, diverse, and attractive as you can imagine.

As always, feel free to contact us for a free consultation. We’d be happy to give some advice, tips and tricks to help you maximise the potential of your backyard.

Happy Landscaping,
Seyffer Designs Crew

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Director James Seyffer's love and passion for gardens began at Melbourne University's Burnley campus in 2006. Inspired by this platform, James realised his dream of creating live canvasses that captivate and delights his audiences. His drive and passion were soon rewarded after receiving an award at the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show in 2011. His designs showcase his love for plants, variations in natural textures and hard surfaces.

In addition, James has over a decade of experience as a qualified tradesman in landscape construction and horticulture. This experience cultivated a sound understanding of how to construct aesthetically pleasing landscapes which are now baked into his design philosophy.

 

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