Small but stylish
Outdoor spaces in crowded urban centres tend to be on the small side, making it important to use every centimetre of space wisely. If budget permits, it can be worth calling in the professionals, who will have plenty of ideas on how you can max your space. Otherwise, draw up your own plan with either an online planner or paper and pencil, making sure that you draw it to scale. Include all immoveables such as garden beds or a built-in barbecue, and clear ways for access. Add in your must-haves – a lounge setting, dining table and chairs, hanging chair – and finish with nice-to-have smaller items like pots and garden ornaments.
The right approach
If space is really tight, you will need to prioritise – will it be a place to kick back and relax, or are you dreaming of entertaining alfresco? Whichever you choose, include somewhere to sit and some shade, as shown in this rooftop garden, which has a fixed pergola to ensure virtually year-round use.
Vertical spaces become ever more important in a compact backyard, but where you are including wall-hung pot plants, you'll need to wield the watering can regularly. Flowering annuals make a pretty display with a country-cottage vibe. If you're not a natural green thumb, opt for species that can take a certain amount of neglect – succulents are an excellent choice and come in a wide range of sizes, shapes and colours.
Room with a view
How your green zone looks from inside your home is an important factor. Aim for an eye-catching element to draw you into the garden, and where space allows, create depth by adding in tall features, such as a potted or in-ground small tree, at the back, with shorter elements in the middle and foreground. A wall needn't be plain; jazz it up with an outdoor-grade screen, as in this Sydney garden, a mirror or even an artwork.
Small space basics
Less is often more with a small zone. Rather than fill every space, consider one or two standout items. In the internal courtyard of this colourful family home, a pair of large potted magnolia trees makes a statement.
Slimline planters positioned along or built into an outdoor area's perimeter serve several purposes: potted with tall plants, such as these magnolia 'Little Gem', they provide beautiful screening, both visual and acoustic. Use just one species rather than cultivating different varieties and heights – with no obvious division between the plants, the background appears more cohesive and makes a small area look larger. Bear in mind that if you're adding pots to a rooftop garden, balcony or similar, you may need to have structural tests done to ensure your space can take the weight of pot, plant and soil!
Create privacy or block a not-so-lovely view of a neighbouring property or cityscape with a screen that works with your existing palette. Slatted screen kits, complete with channels, slats and spacers, are available from Bunnings, who also have a variety of patterned screens in different colours, made from recycled plastic, which need virtually no maintenance.
Choose furniture to suit. It goes without saying that size is important, but so is style. Wrought iron pieces, like these in this French-inspired home, have less physical presence than solid wood, allowing the eye to travel through and make the space seem larger. Equally, avoid really tall pieces unless they are sitting against a solid wall, so you can see over the top of them to the garden beyond.