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Garden Design Strategies for Courtyards and Small Spaces

By Ed Ball | Published on June 15, 2021 | 2 min read

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Here in our region, we are blessed with many options for putting down roots – from rolling countryside to manicured suburbs, city brownstones and townhomes. Each has its own appeal, yet the latter is booming in popularity with homeowners who don’t want to spend their weekends walking behind a lawnmower.


Townhomes and DC brownstones are a hallmark of our area; both provide big amenities within small spaces. They also have compact yards, which can stump homeowners when it comes to landscaping and functional design. The same challenges arise for homes with courtyards that leave owners scratching their heads.


Consider the function


The outdoors is often an extension of our homes, and this is even truer for compact footprints. No matter what you call your small outdoor space, the first question to ask is, “How do you want to use it?” Do you want space to entertain? Do you dream of an outdoor kitchen? Do you want to grow your own veggies?


You may also consider how much time you want to spend maintaining your yard. Most likely, one of the appeals of a small space was reduced upkeep, so be mindful not to design yourself into more maintenance than you can handle.


Often a project begins with a challenge to be solved. Do you need to create more privacy from nosey neighbors? Do you want to lessen road or other noise? Is there a drainage issue or a slope that makes the space difficult to use? Do you need a safer place for kids and pets?


No need to choose just one


Sometimes the answer to all of these questions is an exuberant “YES!” And while you might not get every last desire, you can pack more into your small garden than you thought possible. Through efficient design and use of vertical spaces, you can get the compact landscape of your dreams.


Here are a few ways to maximize your landscape without adding clutter:

  • Choose furnishings that do double-duty, such as a bench that opens for storage, a table that expands to add guests or a grill with fold-away shelves.
  • Consider furniture that stacks or folds, such as folding lounges or stacking chairs, to easily open up your space when not entertaining.
  • Use vertical space to grow plants and vegetables, provide lighting, and create privacy.
  • Think about how your yard will look in different seasons and how you want to utilize it during those times.
  • Add clever storage solutions to put away cushions, kids’ toys, and games that you might not want out all the time.


You may have to prioritize your wish list or make some trade-offs, but with a little creativity and careful shopping, you can make your small space the envy of your neighborhood.