Some love the city, and some could never imagine living anywhere with more skyscrapers than trees. Many of us fall somewhere between: we’re drawn to city life, but every so often we have to get away and spend some quality time with Mother Nature.

Wouldn’t it be nice if your getaway was at home?

With some effort, even the littlest urban lot can become a quiet garden oasis. We’ve put together several small backyard design ideas to help you stretch your space.

How to Design for Your Tiny Yard

If you’re human like the rest of us, you’ve let your home get messy at least once before, and you well know that clutter can make even a large room feel claustrophobic.

Optimizing a small space comes down to planning and organization. As the saying goes: “A place for everything, and everything in its place.”

Measure Your Space. First, you’ll want to determine exactly how much space you have available. Once you measure the proportions of your lot, we recommend using graph paper to visualize the space. Let each unit of the grid represent one square foot, and trace the outline of your yard onto the paper.

Determine Your Purpose. Given how much square footage you have to work with, decide what you want the purpose of your space to be. Do you want a place to relax and sip your coffee in the mornings? A place to entertain, garden, or grill? A combination of these?

It is important to be specific and realistic. If your backyard is 10 feet by 20 feet, you likely don’t have the room for entertaining guests, but you do have the perfect opportunity to create a private, tranquil reading nook surrounded by flora.

Plan Your Design. Before purchasing furniture, pavers, or plants, pencil these and any other elements you want to incorporate into the outline of the yard you charted earlier. This is the same approach professional landscape designers use to visualize and develop their ideas.

Doing so allows you to determine how much space singular elements of your design will take, and then you can scale your choices accordingly. For example, if a table that seats four overwhelms the area you’ve devoted to gardening, consider a café table or a low-profile bench instead.

Budget Your Project. Plotting your design also affords a clear picture of the materials you need to purchase. When you set your budget for the project, keep in mind that when it comes to designing for small spaces, less is always more.

Common Small Yard Design Problems

Lack of Direct Sunlight

Part of the planning process is understanding the limits of your yard. If your lot is sandwiched between tall, sun-blocking buildings, for example, planting shade-loving greenery will ensure the longevity of your garden.

potted plants against a brick wall

There are many shade plants that work well for a small lot, including:

  • Hostas
  • English ivy
  • Begonias
  • Sempervivium
  • Japanese maple
  • Fountain bamboo

Crawlers, like ivy, and tall, slender plants, like bamboo, are ideal for urban backyards surrounded by walls or fencing. Both are extremely durable and occupy very little space if maintained properly. When they grow to cover barrier walls, these plants and others like them also reduce city noise.

Poor Soil Quality

It isn’t unusual for an urban lot to be paved or have hard, sandy soil unsuitable for planting. In fact, many do, making DIY patios and container gardening two practical approaches to landscaping in the city.

Lay a patio. If your lot has poor-quality soil, put down weed barrier fabric and spread pea gravel or woodchips as a base. Consider placing pavers or stones to vary the texture of your new surface. Building a patio yourself is easier than you might think and can transform your tiny backyard from urban lot to cozy outdoor living space.

Garden in containers. Planters and pots are ideal for smaller spaces, as they will easily fit in corners and along the perimeter of your lot. Consider using various stands, stools, or shelving to give your plants a tiered look that works exceptionally well when fleshing out corners.

The choice of container can change the feel of your small yard entirely. For example, edging with simple, trough-style planters can skew modern or traditional, while varying the colors, material, and design of your containers lends an eclectic vibe.

Without the loose soil of a traditional garden, planting in containers also tends to keep your lot looking clean and tidy, which is key since minimalizing clutter maximizes your small yard.

Small Yard Gardening Ideas

Vertical Gardening

birdhouses and vertical wall gardensUndoubtedly, the most common issue you’ll run into when designing a small yard is—big surprise—space constraints. How can you leave room for dinner party guests while incorporating enough plants to make your urban plot feel like a backyard? Here are a few ideas:

  • Wall gardens: Living walls are an innovative alternative for gardeners who don’t have a lot of horizontal space, and they work beautifully against the plain concrete privacy walls common of city apartments.
  • Shelving: Get more from your space by hanging shelves or placing a shelving unit flush against a wall and layering with small potted plants.
  • Arbors, pergolas, or trellises: A vine-covered arbor can squeeze an intimate outdoor haven into even the most crowded of neighborhoods. If you can swing it, build your own arbor to be sure it fits the dimensions of your lot.
  • Vertical plantings: Vines and slender ornamental trees, like the redbud tree, will grow to envelop your small space in greenery without necessitating an arbor or pergola.

Ultimately, Size Isn’t Everything

You don’t have to take a vacation to get away from the city, and you certainly don’t have to have a huge yard to have a great one.

Through planning and thoughtful choice of furniture and planters, you can turn your tiny lot into a beautiful, private setting tucked away from the bustle of the city.

Remember: It does take effort. Although it may not seem so, designing for a small space is often more challenging than for a large one. Prepare for setbacks, and always bear in mind that plans can be changed.

And if the yard you want lies outside your abilities, a seasoned landscape design professional will have the experience to meet your needs and make the most out of your small space.