Provider Tip: Creative Use of Outdoor Spaces

You don’t have to be a professional designer or landscape architect to create a beautiful courtyard or backyard patio. Just follow a few basic design principles and you, too, can achieve that designer look.

Gardens and landscaped areas should be approached as a series of spaces. From a design standpoint, spaces are defined by their purpose. The purpose of a space may be for entertaining, viewing, relaxing or just a spot that sets it off from other areas, thereby making it separate. These spaces could be one large single space to begin with, or eventually become a series of interconnected spaces after you design their various functions.

There are lots of design idea books and magazines that talk about “small space gardens”, “pocket gardens”, “gardening for containers”, “courtyards” or even creating “outdoor rooms”. The point here is that they are all designed for a distinct area that has some sort of size constraint.

The Courtyard Garden

Gardens that are enveloped by a building or walls that screen out the outer areas are enclosing, intimate and private. This type of garden is perhaps one of the most historical in ancient times, as the “walled garden” was considered a style of garden where roses and other cultivated plants where grown to separate them from passersby.

A courtyard is normally in the front or side of a house and is integrally connected to the building via doors and windows. The entrance to the courtyard is usually through a gate that may or may not have an arched structure above it. Courtyards should be designed with a seating area, and including a fountain can provide the sound of water as well as a focal point and make the space more inviting.

Small Space Gardens

While you cannot physically make a small garden larger, you can create the illusion of greater size with some unique ideas and design ideas. For instance, keep the design simple and uncluttered by keeping the purpose of the space limited and not have too many functions such as a sitting area, a fountain, a group of pots, a lawn area and a barbeque station.

Make sure the plant material is proportional to the size of the space and does not grow to a size that would impose on the space, thus crowding the area. Think about placing fountains against walls rather than stand-alone types. Avoid dividing the space by building raised planters or low walls. You want to keep the ground plane expansive.

The Outdoor Room

Outdoor rooms can be created by building a gazebo, or an outdoor kitchen with a seating area and an overhead canopy. But an outdoor room does not have to be a defined structure. The feeling of an outdoor room can be achieved by simply calling it another name, such as a garden retreat or secret garden.

The concept of the outdoor room comes from extending the interior space outdoors. Extending the indoors to the outdoors by using similar materials on the flooring and having larger windows is typically how one creates an outdoor room adjacent to the house. This is often the back patio that usually already has a canopy such as a patio cover.

What makes it a distinct room is the sense of enclosure. When creating an outdoor room not connected to the home, you must design it with a floor, walls and a canopy or ceiling so that the architecture of the space is structured to convey the sense of an indoor room but without the heating and cooling of the indoors. However, you can furnish it with space heaters and misting systems to control the climatic conditions.

The Strolling Garden

One of the most dramatic and interactive gardens is one that is simply a series of interconnected spaces linked together with a pathway. Such a style was used in many of the traditional gardens built in historic Japan.

If the property is big enough, think about making distinct spaces so that you can enjoy the garden from several vantage points. Providing several small seating areas located at key spots can make full use of the limited area. Gardens can have hidden features so that one only sees them after making their way along the paths. Revealing everything all at once may not entice one to get out and stroll through the garden. Pathways provide the invitation to do so. People are naturally curious and will wonder where the pathway leads if it appears to go somewhere intriguing.

Does your yard lack that certain sense of space? Are you maximizing its value regardless of how small or large? I can help by offering you a free consultation, full of design ideas for you to consider.


John Leslie
Landscape Designer