15 Big Fixes For Small City Gardens
In a city garden, size isn’t everything. Here are some smart solutions for city dwellers craving a garden oasis where they can unwind and escape the pressures of urban life.
Covering hard structures in green softens them, creates a calming environment, and blocks out eyesores. The key is planting a fast growing vine such as Virginia creeper or the Boston ivy shown here (“the first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps, the third year it leaps”) and pruning it regularly for a dense curtain of green. Ivy never fails to lend a rich look, but some self-clinging varieties can crumble mortar and are better suited to fences and trellis structures.
Is your garden plagued by a patch of grass that never thrives? Or a dark corner shaded by trees pelted by oak keys or pine cones? Turn these liabilities into focal points with a pretty garden sculpture.
In small gardens, the eye needs to be led. In this garden, pea gravel gives a path presence and delineates the space. The crunch of walking on gravel adds a sensory note and it draws bonus points for mimicking a romantic French parterre garden.
In a small garden, every inch needs to be maxed out. This bench runs almost the length of the fence and does double duty by including storage underneath the seat for cushions and pillows, and even the folding chairs.
This country garden has plenty of space, but a tent is also picture perfect in a small backyard to create a dreamy cocoon (with bonus weather protection). When the sides are closed you could be just about be anywhere, even somewhere as pretty as this century-old country retreat.
This water feature doesn’t eat up a huge amount of space, adds a focal feature where plants are sparse, and helps muffle street noise. A miniature waterfall brings a spa-like feel to landscape designers Brad and Meredyth Hilton’s urban garden, while small ‘green velvet’ boxwood hedges soften all the hardscaping.
It sounds counter-intuitive, but filling a small yard with many little pots ends up looking cluttered. Instead, invest in a large container and fill it with a tree that has some height or a large, bushy plant to match the scale of the container. On this Toronto rooftop terrace, a supersize white Corian planter holds a low-maintenance Tamarack larch tree.
Fences are a reality in most city spaces, but lavishing them with architectural details turns a practical boundary into a luxe environment. A combination of applied trellis and box molding dresses up the fence in designer Sharon Mimran’s backyard. Painted in sophisticated neutrals, the fence seems to melt into the mature tree trunks surrounding the property.
Garages are a resale asset, so we don’t suggest doing away with one entirely, but if you’re one of the urbanites weaned off your wheels by Zipcar, Uber, ride-sharing apps or a bike, why not convert a garage into a lounge you will use every day? In this Toronto backyard, the driveway and garage, which can be closed off thanks to a 20-foot sliding glass accordion door, become usable, picturesque spaces for entertaining and relaxing.
Gardens that don’t have space for a boxy fire pit can take a page from this design, where horizontal wood strips and steel create an “urban fireplace” with candles, turning the small space into a magical outdoor room.
Containers allow you to vary the height of plants and move them around when entertaining. Designer Mazen El-Abdallah carves out zones in his small city backyard with flexible pieces that can be reconfigured at a whim, which includes plants. Another bonus? Poor soil conditions aren’t a problem when you plant in potting soil.
Want a quick way to visually double the size of your yard? A mirror creates the illusion of greater depth. In this garden, pretty mirrored doors topped by trellis and a circular mirror up the indoor-outdoor feel.
Long to turn your small backyard into a secret garden? Layer in some vintage finds with plenty of patina and character. In her urban backyard, designer Theresa Casey takes visitors on a journey and creates instant heritage using charming salvaged items casually displayed in nooks and crannies.
Mimic the sophistication of a flagstone patio on a balcony using slate tiles, which look so much more polished than concrete. Designer Joel Bray gave his drab condo balcony a serious upgrade by laying a thin sheet of cement board on the existing concrete and gluing on 12″ x 12″ Montauk Black slate tiles over top.
A riot of clashing colors can make a tiny garden seem busy. Skip a bunch of low flowers for a larger bush with prominent blooms, and draw the eye up with a raised planter for extra impact. In this garden the pretty hydrangea bordered by a boxwood hedge are perennials, so they don’t require replanting in spring.