Creative Small Gardens
We’ve looked beyond Sydney and around the world for small garden ideas we thought our readers could draw inspiration from. Here are 10 creative small gardens that we love, and why we love them!
Far Sight House – Singapore
This design by wallflower sits on a long narrow lot on high ground with the rear of the house providing access to some spectacular views overlooking the valley with some of Singapore’s more affluent homes. The clients wanted to design a two-storey home with an attic level and a rear roof terrace overlooking the wonderful valley views. They also wanted to ensure that unlike many other semi-detached homes which tend to be dark and gloomy on the interiors, their home would be graced with light and fresh air throughout all three levels.
The ground entry level layout is simple comprising a living room, guest room, kitchen, dining and a small garden with a children’s pool in the rear. Stone walls in the lower level garden anchor the tall house and are punctuated with lush tropical plantings in varying shades of green. The bright greens and the azure blue of the pool provide refreshing color to an otherwise neutral courtyard design garden. The courtyard shade structure is punctured with an opening to allow in light and to allow a lovely plumeria tree to peep through.
The attic level deck, which overlooks the valley, is one of the client’s favorite outdoor ‘rooms’; in fact, most of their entertaining takes place here and not on the lower levels. A horizontal cantilevered shade structure protects the deck from the hot Singapore sun. The deck is simply designed with wood flooring and wood clad raised planters; pops of color are provided by colorful cushions. A dining table and seating make this outdoor room the perfect entertainment space.
See more pictures on the Wallflower website
Vilamoura House – Faro, Portugal
This gorgeous modern house is located in Faro, Portugal and exemplifies the concept of outdoor living. While the street facing façade is clad in stone to maintain privacy from prying eyes, the home opens up to the spacious backyard through the ample use of glass. Large floor-to-ceiling windows provide a constant visual connection between the living area and the pool and deck in the backyard. The design ensures that the clients can enjoy the wonderful mild climate of the region year round by blurring the boundaries between the indoors and the outdoors.
The design of the backyard is classic and crisp with a rectangular pool surrounded by a large wooden deck. The only planting is an enclosing hedge that defines the boundaries of the yard. The neutral grays and whites used in the interiors are echoed outside; the wood has been allowed to naturally gray, minimizing the maintenance required and enhancing the contemporary style used throughout the house.
The furniture is no-fuss durable wicker furniture with solid colored cushions. The large deck provides plenty of space for entertaining and is made to look larger than it is through the use of monochromatic colors and clean lines. Apart from the color provided by the pool water, the outdoor design largely sticks to a semi-minimalist design.
See more pictures on the Villa Maior website
South End Courtyard in Boston – Massachusetts, USA
This South End, L-shaped courtyard is located amongst the buildings of Historic Boston. Artfully designed keeping the surrounds in mind, the designers have used natural materials that have been salvaged or are locally available for most of the garden.
- The materials used are primarily wood and metal; the enclosing walls are made of whitewashed fir boards affixed to steel frames. Paving used is antiqued cobblestones planted with phagnum moss salvaged from another construction site in the South end. The focal point of the courtyard is a glass table supported on a salvaged Maine granite pier that seems to rise right out of the ground.
- Bright green plants punctuate corners of the courtyard. Using a simple plant palette of five plants helps to keep this outdoor space low in maintenance and prevents it from looking overcrowded. The trees are Livinstonia chinensis (Chinese palm), which are sculptural and frame the entrance to the house. The raised planting bed is filled with Hakonechloa macra and Heuchera micrantha ‘Palace Purple’; both plants have a soft, pillowy profile that spills over the edge of the planting bed and obscures its boundaries.
- Innovative storage is built into the courtyard to make maximum use of the space. A white washed fir cabinet, which looks like a part of the enclosing wall, is used for seasonal storage and stores wood logs below as can be seen from the image. A tool storage cabinet is built into the design as you turn the corner, providing a neat and well hidden storage space for unsightly tools.
- Keeping the design simple and geometric is the perfect approach to converting this compact courtyard into a lovely urban garden that can be used for entertaining or a quiet candle-lit dinner for two!
See more pictures over at Matthew Cunningham’s website
Tropical Garden – Vancouver, Canada
This wonderfully charming little garden located in Vancouver, Canada is planted with lush tropicals and brightly colored plants to add vibrancy and color to the garden year round. Surrounded by tall plantings of black bamboo and phormiums for privacy, this courtyard could quickly become dark and claustrophobic but the designers have used several strategies to make this sheltered space appear open, light,airy and visually interesting.
- The landscape designer has used a colorful, tropical plant palette comprising of euphorbias, colorful cannas, crocosmias and succulents, such as aeoniums, to add splashes of color.
- The hardscape including planters, fences and paving are limited to shades of grey, giving even more emphasis to the colorful plants.
- Different textures in the hardscape add visual interest; the smooth aluminum fencing panels provide a foil to the coarse pea gravel. The planters are constructed from zinc and are deliberately painted dark gray to make the plants stand out more.
- Exotic accessories add vital detail to this space; the antique Balinese chairs, the built-in bench with the succulent planter and the dolphin-fish fountain enhance the garden visually.
- Even though very limited in space, the designer has cleverly created different areas of usage without the use of any barriers, which would shrink the scale of this garden even more.
By demarcating space with hardscape, the designer draws the eye to the different corners of the garden. The chairs provide a comfortable, lounging area in which to sit and relax with a drink! Small mounds of green groundcover break up the pea gravel area and make it softer in appearance. A single focal point – the dolphin fountain – captures attention and leads to a paved patio with dining table and small barbeque. Although it may seem like a lot of elements to pack into a small space, the designer has integrated these skillfully into the design so as to avoid making the space feel overcrowded.
View more photos of via Glenna Partridge Garden Design’s page on Houzz
Montcalm Street – San Francisco, USA
This tiny backyard is an extension of the master suite in a home located on a steep slope in San Francisco. The yard serves primarily as a way of accessing the detached painting shed located to the right, just outside of this image.
In keeping with the style of the house, the architects decided to go with an informal planting style to blur the boundaries. Plants used are mostly low ground covers that require very little maintenance and are in keeping with the scale of this miniscule space. Grey and green hues, with very little added color, draw the eye outwards towards the edges, increasing the illusion of space.
The focal point of this space is a simple concrete water basin that spills into a linear rock pond, which has to be crossed to get to the painting shed. As simple as this design appears to be, the architects did a wonderful job of designing this tiny backyard to be more than just leftover space between two structures.
See more pictures on Rossington Architecture’s website
Red Walls – Oakland, USA
Designed as a split-level garden, this California home presented a challenge to the designers. The outdoor space was not only limited in size, but also enclosed on one side by a tall and drab concrete retaining wall. The upper level was converted into a play area for the kids with a climbing wall and a checkered floor reconstructed from recycled tires. The lower area became an extension of the living space, accommodating outdoor seating, a water feature and light planting to serve as the perfect sit-out.
The designers used several strategies to make the outdoor area look fresh, inviting and bigger than it actually was.
- A bold splash of red was added to the wall to create a lively and vibrant outdoor area. This is the only colorful accent added to the space; all other plantings and materials were selected in muted earthy shades (greys and browns) as too many contrasting colors would overpower this small space.
- A simple plant palette comprising of deep greens complemented the red wall without trying to compete with its presence. The designers used bamboos, vines and grasses which are low in maintenance and open in habit to keep it simple.
All other features in the space take a back seat to the red; the water feature basin is finished in grey concrete with a white tiled fountain, while the bench seat is finished in recycled wood from an old Oakland bridge. The central fire pit is also finished in concrete and doubles as a wood-top table when not used as a fire pit. Open wooden slats are used as fencing to compliment wood used in the rest of the garden and to keep the feeling of openness.
See more pictures over at Shades of Green website
House in Parana – Brazil
This veranda, which is an extension of a residence in Brazil, is the perfect example of how much can be achieved with such little space. Remodeled as the ideal entertainment and relaxation venue, the boundaries of this veranda seem to blend into the surrounding landscape, making this long, linear space appear wide and spacious. The architects have used lush green plants to blur the boundaries; these plants reflect the varying greens of the surrounding trees and shrubs bringing the existing landscape into the newly designed veranda. Varying shades of green add depth, while different textures such as the sculptural phormium against the soft, mounding hydrangeas add detail and interest to the outdoor space. Color is used sparingly to add accents and provide some contrast against the green backdrop of plants and trees.
The plexi-glass panels integrated into the wooden pergola enable use of this space throughout the year, even in inclement weather. The furniture is simple and functional, comprising comfortable chairs, simple terracotta pots and sheer curtains, adding a touch of coziness to the veranda. The deck is made of recycled plastics, keeping maintenance to a minimum and allowing the clients to enjoy this delightful space without worrying too much about its upkeep.
I love the simplicity and functionality of this space and the way the architects have taken an ordinary veranda that can be found in many homes and transformed it into a lovely outdoor venue.
See more photos on Bender’s website
Cottesloe Courtyard – Perth, Australia
This tiny sheltered courtyard of a beachfront residence located in Perth, Australia is situated at the rear of the property and is therefore sheltered from the winds that come in off the ocean. Designed to complement the Mediterranean style house, this intimate and charming space is very compact, yet includes all the necessary elements of an outdoor entertainment space. Integrated into this tiny outdoor ‘room’ is a built-in barbeque area, lush planting, a lovely table with a seating capacity for six and a charming water bowl tucked into the planting.
The planting is kept to a minimum to increase the illusion of space with a primarily monochromatic planting scheme with greens dominating the palette. Sculptural plants such as the agave attenuatta and the philodendron add texture to the space. The planter has been cleverly raised to serve two main purposes – it serves as a green buffer to the exterior and also provides additional seating space in the form of a curved seat wall to accommodate a larger number of people.
In a space as compact as this one, every little detail stands out; what is immediately evident in this design is the attention to detail.
- The Mediterranean accents such as the aqua blue tiled backdrop for the barbeque area is repeated in the tiled wall inserts, the blue door under the barbeque counter and the brightly colored cushions on the chairs.
- The glass table top with the wrought iron legs and the wrought iron chairs take their cue from the door and window grills.
- The Spanish terracotta tiles on the floor are used on the barbeque counter top as well as an edging to the raised planter, tying the entire design together.
- Even the mosaic tiled pattern under the table and chairs has accents of blue tile to pick up on the color scheme of the space.
The repetition of color and material are cleverly used to create a cohesive design for this wonderful space which is probably one of the most frequently used ‘rooms’ in the house.
See more photos via Cultivart’s website
Private Residence – Perth, Australia
This delightful patio garden is part of an extensive extension performed on a non-descript 1970’s duplex building located in Perth, Australia. This charming patio space is an outdoor extension of the home’s kitchen, designed and landscaped by the owner, who is an interior designer. Although compact, the patio is light, airy and multi-functional, serving as a great-al-fresco space for entertaining, dining or just relaxing on the comfortable wooden bench. What is particularly inviting about the space is the use of light, neutral tones to make it look more expansive; the soft taupe paint on the walls compliments the light color of the travertine flooring perfectly. The bright greens of the trees and lower shrubs provide contrasting color; plant tones are deliberately monochromatic to preserve the crisp look and feel of the patio. Accents in the landscape are offered by the subtle use of accessories; the patterned cushions and the stained wooden bench offset the light colors giving this patio the look and feel of a stylish, modern patio garden.
See more photos via Swell Homes’ website
Private Resident in Austin, Texas – USA
The earthy courtyard featured above forms the focal point of this residence located in Austin, Texas. Despite this rectangular courtyard being enclosed by tall walls on all sides, the materials and minimal planting all serve to maintain a feeling of lightness in a space that could otherwise quickly become claustrophobic. I love the use of earthy browns and beiges that compliment the wooden siding on the house; the crushed pebbles, the limestone paving and the corten steel used to create the water feature combine beautifully to give the courtyard a feeling of intimacy without making it feel cramped. The lone, weeping acacia tree is perfectly suited to the limited exteriors, being dramatic and sculptural without overpowering the space. The stepped water feature is expertly designed, tucked against the wall, to provide the soothing sound of water, creating the perfect atmosphere for a quiet dinner or an entertainment venue for a few guests.
See more pictures over at Urban Jobe’s website