Backyards these days are rarely big. Trick the eye a bit, and they can look magnificent - even enormous.
There are many tricks to make your backyard look bigger. There's one you may find in English movies of the 'grand country house murder' kind, where the drive is planted with large trees at the beginning of the drive, becoming progressively smaller as they near the house. Result: a grand drive that looks like it's at least three times its real size.
Try this in your own garden by planting tall shrubs near the house, then grow gradually smaller ones to the back fence.
A winding path tricks the eye too. So does paving - a smooth look gives the illusion of space. But avoid the 'one big block' paving look - that's both boring and makes the space look tiny. Curve, or even better, use paving to help divide your garden into several small 'rooms' with low 'walls' of slim, neat collections of shrubs, hedged or potted plants. Keep them at about waist height though, or you'll make a small space seem even more minuscule.
Another useful trick is to choose choose dwarf versions of plants, like dwarf fruit trees, dwarf agapanthus, low-growing floribunda roses, or miniature or severely pruned native shrubs that will repay you with more blooms as well as space. Trim hedges so they are slim, not bulky.
Growing 'up' is a great look in small gardens. Go wild with climbing roses on pergolas, rambling roses or clematis on the fence, or dangling bunches of grapes above you on the patio. Add hanging baskets of flowers or even red stemmed rhubarb or rainbow chard under the eaves, or tepees of red flowered beans ... you may not have much horizontal space, but your vertical space is limited only by the height of your roof, pergola, ladder and imagination.
Plant LOTS of small delights, like a carpets of bluebells under trees, or long winding paths of miniature daffodils. When it comes to blooms, think small. These days many old favourites have had smaller versions bred to suit gardens that need to fit a patio or townhouse.
Sorry about this one: a smaller garden needs to be neat. The tinier the garden, the neater it needs to be.
A large garden like ours can afford to be a mess (or at least that's what I tell myself) because there are always lots of something in bloom or autumn foliage to distract from weeds and the pile of prunings I meant to remove last week, and may get around to sometime before they turn back into soil.
Keep the paving swept, the roses pruned and dead headed, the hedges trim. Otherwise make sure you have a colourful table, comfy chairs and a jug of something cool and a plate of deliciousness waiting for your garden visitors. That way no one will bother checking for black spot on the roses.
Small gardens also need something to draw the eye. It might be a stunning weeping mulberry, though that will be bare mid-winter. A fountain surrounded by flowers or silver ornamental sage or English lavender bushes - anything that looks good all year around - will suddenly make our whole garden seem larger. Statues, an ornamental stone wall or outdoor pizza oven, a topiary horse, or even a collection of garden gnomes can have the same effect. They don't need to be in the middle of the garden, just add complexity - and be beautiful.
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Enclose your garden, too, with screening plant along the fence lines. Small gardens need privacy. Think narrow hedges, or ornamental stone or wooden walls with moon gates - those lovely round windows that means walls no longer make anyone feel claustrophobic. Make your fence a feature: paint it, or grow flowering or fruiting vines over Colourbond.
The most adventurous solution can also be the most fun, if you have the courage to be slightly eccentric. Add a garden gate to your back fence. It doesn't need to open, as its true purpose is to be painted with a scene that makes it looks as if you garden extends for metres or even kilometres once through your fence.
Hire an artist for a weekend to paint whatever you want to dream you are going to step into: a view through the bush, an ancient Roman orgy in an ancient Roman courtyard, megafauna wandering through giant imaginary trees, a pet elegant peering round the corner from the jungle ... it's your fantasy, and your garden. Indulge yourself, and everyone else who'll enjoy it.
You can even paint the entire fence. The view out the kitchen window will never be 'tiny' again.
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