Design resources for making a small urban yard more private?
October 17, 2018 2:16 PM   Subscribe

Looking to landscape my backyard and want inspiration.

My backyard is about 1000 square feet. It's in a typical Chicago neighborhood, so there are no trees and it backs to an alley. (Well, it backs to a garage, which backs to an alley.) It is fully fenced with a 6 foot wood privacy fence. The 1000 square feet does not include a raised wooden deck, although it's in pretty sad shape, but I'll get to that later.

Right now my backyard is mostly grass and weeds, and I have one raised garden bed. I'd like to completely overhaul it next spring. I don't want any lawn, and I want it to feel as lush and private as possible. I'm into vegetable gardens and flowers. Usually "small urban yard design" leads to ultra modern, mostly paved, very living/dining space-oriented designs. I don't want any of that. And cottage garden inspiration pictures are usually on more suburban yards that are bigger, back up to a tree line, already have more green and space.

I would love any good resources - books, websites, etc - that show pictures of lush urban yards. Even better if they include information about what was planted, diagrams, etc.

posted by ohsnapdragon to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: This is not so much a how-to as maybe a source of inspiration, but there’s a show on netflix called Small Spaces Big Dreams that goes over projects very similar to yours, realistically-executed.
posted by Drosera at 2:21 PM on October 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In various places on the internet you can find episodes of the British television show "Garden Rescue", which does a number of fairly typical narrow townhouse/semi-detached back gardens, and because it is a makeover show there's often some pretty interesting features involved. It's hard to tell until you watch the intro of each one whether it's a space that meets your brief but it's worth poking around and checking some out.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:38 PM on October 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Take a look at Better Homes & Gardens' website. They have lots of pictures, plans, and ideas and many of the plans list the plants used and provide diagrams. And I would think Pinterest would be your friend for the inspiration part, too.
posted by XtineHutch at 2:41 PM on October 17, 2018

Best answer: Fine Gardening magazine does this kind of thing from time to time.
posted by matildaben at 3:26 PM on October 17, 2018

Best answer: The Minimalist Gardener by Patrick Whitefield might give you some good ideas - some sections discuss the application of permaculture principles to small spaces.
posted by sibilatorix at 3:27 PM on October 17, 2018

Best answer: Some thoughts:

Try to stick to native plants, they tend to require less care and be more robust

Many large plants/bushes come in dwarf size so they don’t overwhelm your space (when you plant, plan for their final size). Japense maples look great in small spaces (an exception to the native recommendation)

Plant *up* for a lush look - cover the fences with climbing plants, some are evergreen, some have tones of blooms, plant a tree to create height, have bushes at mid-height. This blog on a slightly larger small garden recommends painting the fences black.

Think “courtyard”, make a seating area at the far end with a path leading to it. If possible, make the path wider near the house and then narrowing, it gives the impression the path is longer than it looks.

Peonies are nice spring flowers that require little care, the beauty of roses without the thorns. Don’t plant anything with thorns in a small space, touchable plants are best, especially *really* touchable ones like lambs ears (so soft!)

Plant for four seasons, always have something going on, including plants that look lovely covered in snow, and plant for all senses - sight, hearing (fountains, wind chimes), smells, touch, etc

Lighting is super important! At night you want to be able to look out and admire, with specific things highlighted, not just stare at a black window. (But don’t leave the lights on all night)
posted by saucysault at 3:30 PM on October 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Not a riotous cottage garden, but a type of traditional kitchen garden - protective walls, raised beds with vegetables, herbs, and flowers, and stone walking paths between the beds. You could train vines on the fence for a more sheltering, enclosed effect.
posted by Iris Gambol at 3:31 PM on October 17, 2018

Best answer: Your grow girl blog by a Toronto gardener deals with a similar sounding space. The "about" section shows the development of her current garden and this post shows a recent picture. It is densely planted and looks casual and lush so maybe the look you are going for. I think she grows a lot of herbs and vegetables.
posted by Botanizer at 6:50 PM on October 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You Grow Girl's backyard is immediately what came to my mind. It's awesome.

The blog Yellow Brick Home is based in Chicago, and they've transformed their backyard into a patio with planter boxes around the perimeter. You can see most (all?) of their patio posts here. I know you're not looking for living/dining centric spaces, but they discuss which plants they chose, how they fared over the winter, planter box tweaks for the climate, etc.

(Last minute edit: This is probably the post you want:
posted by elerina at 7:38 PM on October 17, 2018

Best answer: I agree that permaculture might be quite relevant to you, given your interest in lush vegetation in a small space and your distaste for lawns and paved-over area. Gaia's Garden is a great introduction and a really enjoyable and inspiring read.

Here's a video of someone's urban garden that I found useful as an example of a permaculture-style urban backyard food forest when I was looking for gardening ideas a while back.
posted by Syllepsis at 11:48 PM on October 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The Chicago Botanic Garden has got you covered! Small space gardening resources, plant info for Chicago, ongoing classes on many subjects, and many more resources!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:00 AM on October 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

You might want to look into Piet Oudolf, who's the master garden designer in the Netherlands, specialised in wild, "natural gardens", which might be a good key word for further research. His skill is to design gardens that look good in any season, even under snow :-)
He uses lots of tall grasses and perennials. I recommend this book.

PS his designs are not only suited for european landscapes/climates, he also designed the High Line in NY.
Have fun!
posted by PardonMyFrench at 10:59 PM on October 18, 2018

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