A meandering garden next to a big swath of green grass next to a sun-dappled built-in seating area sounds lovely, doesn't it? Of course, the reality for most of us (right now, at least) is a backyard that can be fully experienced in a single cursory glance: less oasis, more sad little patch of land. It's tempting to rip down the fence and take over half of your neighbour’s yard in a fit of frustration, but that's probably not a good idea.
Instead, take a cue from gardening expert Susan Morrison. In her new book The Less Is More Garden ($30, Timber Press), she writes, "Design strategies that extend a garden's footprint—either literally (by planting in unexpected places) or imaginatively (by crafting the illusion of more space)—help sidestep the unwelcome sensation that with one quick look around, you've seen all there is to see." Here are five of our favorite ideas:
1. Stop ignoring your side yard
Let us guess: Your side yard is riddled with weeds, tools, and other forgotten odds and ends. It's time to rethink that situation. "Stopping the backyard's interesting area's flush with the sides of the house creates an unbroken line, reinforcing the long, narrow profile the overall layout should be trying to minimize," Susan writes. Instead, keep planting your garden a few feet into your side yard to make it seem like it goes on and on. "The fact that the pathway may lead to nothing more exciting than trash receptacles or the compost bin can stay your little secret," Susan notes.
2. Create separate areas with plants, not walls
"Even small gardens benefit from structural elements that help define spaces, but incorporating them without overpowering the landscape can be tricky," writes Susan. Enter tall grasses and perennials, such as flowering Verbena bonariensis. "Because of their open, loosely branching habit, see-through plants create the illusion of separation while still allowing views to other parts of the garden."
3. Go diagonal
Arranging the layout of your backyard—the patio, the garden beds, the pathways—on an angle will help you avoid what Susan calls "the bowling alley effect," i.e., an outdoor space that looks endlessly long and narrow. Of course, making a deck diagonal is quite the project. Thankfully, Susan says smaller changes can be just as impactful. "Laying square-shaped pavers, tiles, or flagstones on the diagonal will counterbalance a rigid, rectangular patio. Even a simple gesture, like orienting an outdoor area rug or furniture at an angle, is enough to soften rectangular spaces."
4. Add some little surprises
We bet you never thought we'd be pro–garden gnomes, but here we are. "One of the simplest and most enjoyable ways to add a sense of discovery and to encourage thoughtful and leisurely strolls through a small garden is to tuck in a few surprises," Susan writes. If you'll never be into putting a gnome in your flower beds, consider a big potted plant or even a tree instead.
5. Add some big surprises
"In a small garden, visitors rarely need help navigating the garden in a literal sense, but there is still an opportunity to influence the way they interact with the space. Strategically placed focal points attract and arrest attention, providing a space for the eye to pause before moving in to explore," writes Susan. Think outdoor art along the line of statues, a bird bath, or a wind chime—basically anything that will make you stop and stare.
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