Ideas for a Small Yard


Dining Deck

I wanted a garden that was both for plants and people. After years of gardening on large lots in suburban areas, I was ready to create a small space behind the cottage my husband and me had purchased.

Although it was romantic in nature, I began with a strong concept. The warm, enclosed areas surrounding English country homes are what I have always loved. They can be used to sit outside or for dining. The walls house herbs, vegetables, fruits, and flowers. The intimate, sheltered garden that is closely connected to the house would be my inspiration. It would be made with modern materials and not mossy brick.

Shown: The deck has ample space for casual seating. Wide steps allow for easy access to containers that blend into the garden. Concrete-paver patio provides a subtle backdrop for bright perennials in a variety of colors, including yellow, orange and plum.


I was worried about overplanting if I didn’t have enough hardscaping. Richard Hartlage, Tacoma’s garden designer, created a sketch of the half-diamond-shaped main patio, screen and diagonal grid of raised bed that will define the garden.

Richard created two 8-foot-tall wire screens to add height and dimension to the garden, as the cedar fence was still in good condition. He also hoped that the trellises might encourage me to plant vertically. This is a great way to save space.

The privacy buffer is provided by the curving trellis at the backyard. It is planted with sweet peas and provides valuable space for growing in a small garden.

Garden Stairs

I chose to play off the low-key look of the shingled home by using concrete and gravel as well as a limited, but vibrant, color palette to bring life to the otherwise somber space.

A burgundy-red Japanese Maple, ‘Orange Dream’, is underplanted with golden Heuchera Caramel to provide privacy on the deck. Baldsmith, another Japanese maple welcomes you to the garden.

Concrete Stepping Stones

A charcoal gray background is the best backdrop for all colors. This was the advice of an artist to me, so I used dark gray pavers on the path and terrace. In an explosion of purple, orange, and yellow plantings, the gray pavers provide a tranquil oasis.

Concrete-paver stepping stone lead to compost and storage areas on the other side of this house. The pathway is brightened by the orange Lobelia tupa flowers.

Garden Fountain and Custom Paver

Clare Dohna, a local mosaic artist was commissioned to create a trio accent pavers. I sent her paint samples in plum, marigold and butter yellow. These dramatic colors are great for hydrangeas and lilies as well as trees.

Water is essential for its relaxing sound and sky-reflecting qualities. I cannot imagine a garden without it. How can you squeeze a fountain and a pond into such a small space? Instead, I chose a concrete fountain that is freestanding. The fountain can be simply filled with water and then plugged in. The water bubbles from the top and flows into two rectangular basins.

The fountain is located on the main terrace next to the dining table. The fountain is small in volume, but butterflies and dragonflies love it. Birds also love to play on its rim.

Reading Patio

A second, smaller patio is located in the corner of the garden. It has a chaise lounge and makes a great reading spot.

Planters with a Feed-Trough

Local landscapers Dana Moffett (and Shawn Ogle, a carpenter) helped me determine the rest of my materials and to get the job done. By building raised beds of two sizes, shapes and materials, we created topographical interest and better soil.

Four galvanized-metal round feed troughs with holes in the bottom for drainage echo the metal used to make the screens. The soil heated by the reflectivity will quickly ripen tomatoes and strawberries. These 5-foot troughs can also be used as low-maintenance plants for yellow gaillardias and Peruvian Lilias, as well as pumpkins and strawberries.

Concrete-Block Raised Beds

The remaining beds are made of rectangular, split-faced concrete blocks that have been mortared together with a capstone. This allows you to use the capstone as extra seating or for gardening. The beds are easy to water because they have drip irrigation.

It is amazing how narrow the garden can be visually widened by setting the raised rectangular beds on a diagonal and angling the terraces away form the house.

Learn how to build concrete-block raised beds like those shown here.

Raspberries and Scented Leaf Geraniums

My children were young when I tried to get them interested in gardening. When they visit, they head out to the garden to find something to eat. They are attracted to the garden because of its many places to relax and enjoy a private or social life, as well as its art and fragrances.

The Plan

Richard Hartlage, a Tacoma-based garden designer, sketched the “bones” for this backyard garden. He included a patio for outdoor dining and a smaller one for relaxing in the back corner. A grid of rectangular and round raised beds was also included. Two 8-foot-tall wire screens were added. Visually, the space is visually larger because of the angling the raised beds and terraces away from the house. Curved elements soften the plan’s geometry. Raised beds add topographical interest to the flat lot, and tall trellis screens provide privacy.

Valerie Easton, Author and Homeowner

Valerie Easton, the homeowner, softened and unified the space by using a bright palette that included yellow, purple, green, and other plants. She also used dark gray hardscape materials underneath. She cuts the lilies which grow in the middle of a raised garden bed.


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