• Doug Burgoyne

It's a Small Wonder

When landscaping small areas such as condominiums, infill houses or courtyards, the minimal area can actually be used to the designer's advantage. However, some creativity and a little sleight of hand are going to be necessary to achieve the desired results. Aside from using mirrors, there are subtle tricks to make a small space seem bigger than it really is.

First of all, by implementing different heights or levels, the designer is physically creating more visually square footage leading the eye to believe there is more space than what actually exists. Secondly, it's important to create a feeling of depth. Instead of accentuating the smallness and geometric shape of an area by row planting around the perimeter, it's important to create an illusion of spaciousness by changing the lines of sight.

In a back corner, a grouping of plants can provide depth and add flow to a dead-end corner. Perhaps starting with a grouping of three upright junipers or smaller varieties of pine such as Swiss Stone or Bristle Cone. As a backdrop, they will provide year-round colour and supply some interesting shadow play as sunlight passes through their branches. Fine-textured shrubs such as burning bush, bridal wreath spirea or dwarf arctic willow can be used to add even more depth. Their soft arching branches will give a feeling of open airiness. Lastly, towards the front of the bed, smaller varieties of perennials such as alpines, mosses or ground covers will provide some interest at yet another level in the garden.

Plants play an important part in softening the harsh look of fences, decks and other hard surfaces. Vines, tall perennials or hanging pots work well to soften harsh edges.

Decks coming off a house higher than one foot above grade in a small yard, help accentuate the fact the yard is small. One way to solve this dilemma is to bring the deck down closer to grade with a series of grade changes. A comfortable size landing, with stairs leading to a mid-level deck or lower patio will help extend the living space and blend it in with the rest of the yard. A high deck only helps to section off a small space into smaller compartments, leaving the impression of smallness. A delicate arbour or trellis will help add another height and another opportunity to add more visual square footage to the small space. Making a static space blues depends on blending all of these elements into a pleasing flower design.