Urban Gardens: Terrific Tight Spaces

You don't need a half-acre to design an outstanding garden; actually, you don't even need more than a balcony. Here, we help you realize the gardening potential of your urban space.

Outdoor Space With Urban Garden Design Using Potted Plants

Efficiently Used Space With Urban Garden Design and Potted Plant Accents

DK - Garden Design, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

There are many options when it comes to planning a design for a smaller urban garden. Things like squares and rectangles that fit snugly into small spaces can be used as a layout plan for an efficient oasis space. This garden also uses carefully arranged potted plants that give the space a jolt of color and soft textural elements.

Gardens have always had a presence in cities, but they have recently taken on a more important role as asphalt-free zones, used for planting, relaxation, play and entertaining. They may be small but, planned to maximize efficiency and tidiness - often by fitting squares and rectangles snugly into the space - city gardens can be designed to great success; designing on the diagonal is another good option, and makes your space seem larger.

Approaches vary, but most urban gardens are treated either as functional spaces or as green oases - both offer a private escape or retreat from hectic city life. Designers who view city gardens as functional spaces or extensions of the indoors use hard surfaces to create a stage for multiple uses, for example children's playscapes and outdoor dining areas. A simple palette of hard-landscaping materials create clean, practical surfaces, while careful planting along the boundaries can increase privacy. Architectural treatments to boundary walls, furniture and water features create elegant "rooms", often lit after dark to create extensions to the home.

For the city slicker who yearns for a green retreat planting dominates, sometimes densely and often taking over areas that could have been used for entertainment or play. This intensive planting approach livens up the space and can shield it, visually, from the tightly-packed buildings nearby. Pergolas or trimmed trees offer privacy, while dense planting can achieve a more naturalistic effect. Containers, small beds and trellises offer productive and pretty spaces for a complex range of decorative and functional plant species: flowering plants, vegetables and small fruit trees.

In many city gardens, close proximity to windows and the use of sliding or folding doors creates an enlarging seamlessness between interior and exterior "rooms."

Trio of Agave Planters

Repetition of Form and Color

2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited DK - Garden Design View original photo.

DK - Garden Design, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

This terrace walkway gets a stunning focal point from repetition of form. The purple planters and painted squares against a white wall enhance the green agave.

In small urban gardens, planting is often simplified, with only a handful of high-performing types that maintain interest year-round. Mature plants are sometimes brought in, in planters or pots, to provide immediate visual impact. In these gardens, vertical planting can soften edges while maximizing the amount of usable floor space. Potted plants that share the quality of minimalism, as shown here, can reinforce modern architecture and tie indoor and outdoor design together. 

Water Feature Surrounds a Wooden Deck

Blue Mosaic Tile Deck Retaining Wall

2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited DK - Garden Design View original photo.

DK - Garden Design, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

This outdoor retreat features a small garden retaining wall covered with blue mosaic tile along a round wood deck. Two chairs and a side table are positioned on the deck, which faces a shallow water feature.

Urban gardens layout needs a simple, clear geometry that follows existing lines in the architecture and a limited number of plants that maintan interest, such as grasses and large-leaved foliage.

Paved or decked surfaces help to increase functional space and can further unifying the home's spaces by using outdoor materials selected to match interior finishes. Built-in seating fits architecturally, but can limit the flexibility of the garden.

As shown here, stylish furniture, the repeated use of identical containers and a water features propelled by jets offers drama and rhythm for the eyes and ears.

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