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Gardening in Small Spaces

Whether your outdoor space is a small patio, rooftop or balcony, small city gardens can be lush and welcoming oasis. Adding a small garden to your outdoor space can not only give it a visual upgrade, but also allow you to grow your own herbs and vegetables, saving you money.

A person chooses flowers for their garden at their local Home Depot store.

Plan Your Garden

Small-space gardens are a great way to add greenery and colour to your outdoor or balcony space. They’re ideal for people who have limited space and want to grow some plants or veggies, and also good for renters, as they can be easily moved if needed. They can be container-based, vertical gardens or even traditional soil gardens in a smaller outdoor space.

Choosing your layout is an important part of small-space gardening. Consider how much light your garden will get throughout the day and place it in a spot that gets enough sun for whatever it is you’re planting. A great choice is a combination of sun-loving and shade-loving plants, as they can create a beautiful look and benefit from the change in light throughout the day. Herbs, succulents and small, flowering shrubs are also great choices, as they’re most likely to thrive in small-space conditions.

A small arrangement of flowers sits beside a chair on a deck.

Less is More in a Small Garden

Restraint is the key word in small garden design. Instead of selecting a wide range of plants in a rainbow of hues, pare down the palette. Choose a simple colour scheme and concentrate on a few plants with long periods of bloom and interesting foliage. Although the space may be small - especially on balconies or terraces - you can still make an impression by using big, bold plants. When using planters, place them in groups of three or more rather than interspersing them throughout the area - this way, they'll have more impact.

A small arrangement of flowers sits beside a chair on a deck.

Plan a Surprise

Often, in small urban gardens the entire area can be viewed at a first quick glance. Instead of giving it all away at once, plan for surprises by creating two or more rooms or distinct areas, linked by meandering pathways. On balconies, grouping containers together to partially obscure a bistro set or sitting area achieves the same effect. In a backyard, change the levels to provide different views of the garden. Steps to and from an upper deck to a sunken garden, for example, entice visitors to stop and touch the soft, furry leaves of lamb's ears or smell the scent of roses.

Consider the Furniture and Garden Structures

The small details are more noticeable in small city gardens, so furniture materials, colours and textures should be in sync with the elements of the house, condo or apartment building to help meld indoor and outdoor spaces.

Trellises, pergolas and decks should complement the style of your home, as should the stone, brick or pavers selected for pathways and patios.

Keep in mind, however, that nothing makes a space seem smaller than filling it with oversized structures. When designing trellises, fences and arbours, keep them in proportion with their surroundings - neither too big nor too small.

Choose small-scale furniture to allow for ease of movement around tables, chairs and seating areas. When selecting statuary and garden decor, make sure each piece fits in as though it's always been there, rather than dominating the space.

A vertical garden is shown on a wooden wall outdoors.
A small arrangement of flowers sits beside a chair on a deck.

Use Vertical Spaces

Vertical surfaces offer another dimension to the small space garden and are especially important on balconies and terraces. Fences, screens and trellises clothed in climbing vines not only make the most of vertical spaces, but they provide privacy, block wind and sun and give the garden a lush look. On balconies, climbing vines such as bougainvillea and passionflower can add a wall of tropical colour and heavenly fragrance. When gardening on high, be sure trellises are fastened to railings or walls securely enough to support the weight of mature vines.

Borrow Surrounding Landscape

As much as you might want your urban Eden to be a private oasis, the fact remains that it's surrounded by other properties. When the landscape beyond your backyard or balcony features beautiful trees and shrubs, it can be turned into an advantage, forming a lovely backdrop. Even neighbouring concrete walls can be transformed — with a little latticework and paint, for example — to dress up a balcony or secluded courtyard garden. Unsightly sheds or satellite dishes, however, call for creative camouflage techniques that hide them from view.

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