Designing Tiny
ripe persimmons in basket after a successful harvest

Landscape design is an interesting challenge at any scale – to incorporate all of the important elements in a practical and aesthetic way, at the highest level of comfort and with the right style and mood, designers have a lot to think about.  But when we are working with a small space, or even a tiny space, we are really put to the test!  We embrace the challenge of tiny spaces, for the chance to make the most of every inch and for the unique solutions that are born from necessity!

Key Elements

When working with a small space, the question of what to prioritize in the landscape becomes even more important.  Working within a courtyard or small terrace, it might be impossible to include every desired element, so we narrow it down to the most ideal use of space.  Maybe there is just room for a cozy sitting area, a firepit, and a few beautiful plants – it doesn’t take much for the perfect retreat!  The key to small space is making it feel spacious, so the last thing you want is for too many elements to compete and clutter.

Going Vertical

Since horizontal space is limited, it may make sense to bring vertical elements into the equation.  An arbor extending from the house is a perfect shade solution for a small space, and can support a vine and pendant lights for a cozy effect.  Bird feeders, chimes, or even a hanging porch swing make the most of this extra level of design space.  Walls and fences are also design spaces that are often overlooked.  Are hanging planters or vertical fountains possible solutions?  What about dart boards or sculpture to add interest?  And on a practical note, would shelves or hooks benefit a small outdoor bar or workspace?

Vertical was the answer for this French-style fountain, with a narrow nearby bench.  Masking neighborhood sound, it gives a true sense of peace to a small yard.

Multi Purpose

We love the opportunity to create something really different, and the challenge of small space often sparks ideas we wouldn’t have otherwise considered!  A modern gas fire pit designed to double as a cocktail and coffee table, a tiered retaining wall that doubles as a fountain, a cool floating bench that doubles as a planter and is actually hiding a utility box…  The possibilities are endless.

Ultra-cool, ultra-modern gas firepit is easily fitted with a wooden tabletop to maximize space in this small J. Montgomery-designed landscape

Visual Effects

Our final goal when it comes to small space design is to create the desired ambiance.  Is cozy and compact the feeling we want to invoke?  Or do we want to create the feeling of expansion beyond this small footprint?  Knowing this answer, we can rely on visual tricks to create the effect we want.  To make fences and walls disappear, dark, neutral colors and dark-leaved plantings will recede from vision, while tiers of brighter-leaved plantings in front draw the eye to create an optical illusion of deeper space.  Natural elements soften corners.  Even a simple potted bamboo or grass will distract the eye from the tightness of a small space.

The eye is drawn to the foreground with the white furniture, while the fence falls back behind loose plantings.  The overall effect is one of spaciousness, and the hanging swing is a fun addition, by clients’ request!

Finally, if there is a view from the space, this can be framed and used in the Japanese garden tradition of ‘Borrowed Landscape.’  A distant mountain or surrounding woodland can become ‘part’ of your landscape with the right design, enhancing the feeling of spaciousness and connection with nature.

Tiny by design, many Japanese Temple Gardens use views of the surrounding landscape to create a sense of vastness.  Jikkō-in temple, Kyoto.

Here at J. Montgomery Designs, we design new landscapes and update existing ones on any scale within the greater East Bay Area.  Reach out to discuss your project and book a complimentary consultation through our Alamo Studio.  We look forward to working with you!