How To Design and Landscape a Small Yard

How to design a garden in small yards.

This is a small yard in West Hartford, Ct – .25 acres transformed into a private backyard oasis.

Garden design small yards
Garden Design for small yards.

How to transform your small yard into a beautiful outdoor living space.

Are you considering downsizing to a small property and are concerned that the land may be too small to create privacy and the peace that you crave? Perhaps you just purchased a small home and your didn’t really expect to be looking at the neighbors playscape, garbage cans and other unsightly structures.

In this article you can learn how to create a beautiful gardens and outdoor living areas in a small space.

If you have poor soil like clay or large trees shading the entire yard some new soil and compost can fix this. You soon will have a beautifule perennial bed dancing with color, bees and butterflies. The soil is the most important part of the base of a great garden.

Most homes have cookie cutter landscaping and have buried their homes in shrubs that have overgrown their plot blocking light from the windows. Out with the old an in with the new! Don’t be afraid to remove the overgrown shrubs and trees. Start with a clean palate.

If you have small children and need a place for them to play, incorporate a playscape or child friendly area.

All of these issues can be remedied  with a little careful planning. You can have a design that creates privacy, sun and shade plants, play areas, entertainment areas and a place to attract the birds and the bees.

Decide if you want curves or straight lines.

Are you lacking privacy in your yard?

Is you home on a lot that is about .25 acres or less and close proximity to neighbors? Perhaps you are looking at the neighbors garbage cans, playscapes  and other unsightly things that they store out of their sight but in direct view of your line of sight. A good fence solve this problem or a row of fast growing evergreen shrubs.

Fences and Privacy Screens for Small Yards

Privacy obtained with 6’foot Cape Cod Stockade Fence and climbing hydrangeas to give a softer look as well as attracting birds.

how build stone wall shade gardens
Stone wall with shade garden in West Hartford, CT

Are you tired of looking at your neighbors garbage cans, yards filled with plastic toys, swimming pools and gas grills?

Consider a Cape Cod 6’ stockade fence. Plant Creeping Hydrangeas and use the fence as an arbor. The birds will love it and you will have a wall of green to look at.


Decide if you want to add any special features like:

  •  Stone walls
  •  Fencing
  •  Playscapes
  •  Fire pits
  •  Decks
  •  Patios
  •  Water feature
  •  Garden Art

The Garden Design

A well designed landscape should be functional and ornamental. Always work from the view inside the house first.

Resist the urge to go binge shopping at your local nursery and then find a place for your plants. You will end up moving plants constantly or end of with collection of plantings with no sense of bloom times, height and color. 

Just like your indoor space has rooms so should your outdoor space to accommodate various activities.

how to landscape and garden small yard
How to Landscape a Small Yard.

Follow Basic Design Principles:

Devise a plan that takes into account your entire lot even if you think it may change later.

If you are a DIY person but lack vision, consider hiring a landscape design person to draw a detailed plan. When drawing out your plans, keep in mind placement of windows, doors and pathways. 

Drawing the Garden Plan

Garden Design to sell your home.
Garden Design to sell your home.
  • Your sketch does not have to look professional, just accurate in scale. Use graph paper and 100’ tape measure.
  • Check online for APPS like Smartdraw or Sketchit.
  • Take note where windows and doors are to avoid covering them. You want to  have a nice visual from inside the house.
  • Note direction that the light is coming from IE>  N-S-E-W, sunny areas, shade, wet or dry spots.
  • Now the fun begins! Decide what to add or subtract from the landscape.

Plants installed in this garden.

Curved Garden Design Full sun on left, to full shade then part shade. Potted plants , wrought iron chairs, bluestone patio

  • Hydrangeas: Blue and White
  • Several variegated Hostas
  • Weeping Cherry Trees
  • Weeping Cherry
  • Day Lilies
  • Amelanchier (Shadblow) tree
  • Sedum
  • Ferns
  • Roses
  • Annuals: Coleus, Impatiens, petunias
  • Yellow grasses
  • Coral Bells
  • Maple Trees
  • Peonies
  • Goat’s Beard
  • Vibernum
  • Burning Bush
  • Coral Bells
  • White Nancy spotted dead nettle (lamium

How much work do you want to do maintaining your new garden?

How to garden and landscape a small yard.

Annuals, Perennials, Trees, and Shrubs

Don’t fool yourself about garden and landscape maintenance. All gardens and yards are work. There is no such thing as “maintenance free” however, some require more attention than others.

What is your motivation? Are you just moving into your home and starting your gardens from scratch or are you planning to sell your home and want to do some outdoor staging?

Don’t underestimate the importance of good curb appeal when selling your home. Neglecting your landscape when selling is a commom mistake home sellers make.

After your plants have bloomed be sure to maintain the garden by feeding them regularly and dead head the spent flowers. This will promote new flowers and keep the garden looking fresh.

If your plants are large and unsightly divide your plants and spread them around your yard. This is best done in early spring or fall. Learn proper times to prune shrubs and trees.

Perennials vs Annuals – What is the difference? 

Perennials return every year but have a short bloom usually 2 weeks. They require division but will reward you every year.

Annuals are replanted every year and require feeding (miracle grow) and dead heading to prevent them from going to seed. They are inexpensive and provide beautiful color for you garden all summer. These are a must!

What is your garden budget? Where to buy your plants.

There are expensive ways to do this or creative ones that can save you some bucks. Finding a local nursery you like is of the upmost importance.

Buying from big box stores may have some better deals but make sure you buy right after delivery. Sometimes the plants are not cared for as well as in a local nursery. If you can get up at the break of dawn and hightail it to your local farmers market you can get some great deals and wholesale prices. Bring a wagon and hope for a close parking spot.

Be sure to check the root system and make sure the plant is not root bound.

Garden Design for small yards
Garden Design for Small Yards

Installation of Garden

Will you be hiring a professional to install the plants or plan to do the work yourself?  Soil preparation is the key to your success. Bring in good top soil and compost and mixed them together. If you have clay soil or sandy soil the plants will not thrive.

Return on Investment on your Landscape Improvements

What are you expectations on your ROI?

Outdoor rooms can add additional living space to your home. Landscaping can greatly increase the salability of your home and increase the value. Talk to your local real estate professionals and get a realistic number on your return on your investment. You may not get dollar for dollar but you are sure to increase the value of your home and have a quick sale.


How many homes do you see in with those small “lean-to” porches on them?

Most of them have fallen off by and have been replaced. Here is an example of an old porch and deck replaced by a new porch and bluestone patio.

Here is an example of a new porch that was installed with views of the garden and patio.



Land Clearing and Permits

Before you do any building be sure to check with town zoning department and get permits.
When you sell, you will have to produce the permits. Very important!
Call before you dig! You don’t want to hit any elecitric or gas lines.

Basic Design – Need Garden Ideas?

  • PINTEREST – great online source of ideas of small yards.
  • Drive around and take notice of other properties.
  • Visit local nurseries.
  • Hire a landscape design professional.

Make sure you have at least 3 things blooming at once during the spring summer and fall.
Knowing how tall and wide each plant gets is very important. You will end up having to move them the next year.

Resist the urge to plant everything too close together or too close to the house.

Be aware of windows and be careful not to block them but do plant so that when you look out the window you have a nice view of the yard.

Plant annuals in bare space for color and filler until the other plantings grow.



Don’t have a green thumb? Start with the soil.

The first thing you need to do is bring in some new soil and compost to amend the soil. Many yards are full of clay or sand. You need to either replace or amend it with compost and your plants will reward you for years to come.

Soil Conditions

Do you have heavy clay soil or sandy soil? It is very important to add organic matter to hold water and nutrients allowing air to get at plant roots. To assess your soil send a sample to UCONN and get a PH test to find out the degree of acidity or alkalinity 0-14, 7 is Neutral. Low numbers mean acid, high numbers mean alkaline. You can incorporate lime to change the PH. Also, know what zone you are in! Zone 6 mostly in Connecticut.





Organic and Inorganic Fertilizers


Occurs naturally – compost – build soil – absorbed by roots more slowly but are less able to leach from the soil or burn the plants. Beneficial to animal life.
You can mix several organic fertilizers such as cottonseed meal or granite dust.


Man made – Chemically made. Provide specified amounts needed and work faster.
Town leaf compost works well too.


Do you have poor drainage? Consider installing a curtain drain.

You will need:

  • PVC pipe with holes
  • Level
  • Shovel
  • String line
  • Gravel or stones
  • Landscape fabric

Garden Sheds


Sheds are a great place to store lawnmowers, garden tools, kids toys!

If you are going to add a shed in your back yard make sure it is attractive and sized properly for the lot size. Don’t forget to get a permit from the town. If you are handy build one yourself. It is a great DIY project.This shed was made from a dismantled a deck and re-used the wood to build it. An antique door found in someone’s garage and a custom window was installed. The roof on is made of wood cedar shingles and foundation is made of stone giving it a more attractive look for the garden.

Full Sun, Shade, or Part Shade Gardens?


You can have beautiful gardens no matter what type of lighting you have.

Read the labels on the plants you purchase if it says “full sun required” believe them. If it is for part shade or full shade don’t put it in the sunniest part of your yard.

Don’t be afraid to test out different areas. Many plants designed for sun will grow in part shade but not flower as profusely. You can test out different lighting conditions and move the plants if they don’t look happy where you planted them.

Don’t plant things too close – fill in with annuals until your perennials grow to maturity.
Buy healthy plants from reputable nursery.

Personally, I love shade gardens filled with different color foliage plants. Here is another example of a small yard with a shade garden that was installed on a challenging slope.




Garden Maintenance

Spring, Summer, and Fall To Do Lists


How to put your garden to rest in the fall.

Early April Gardening Checklist

Late April Gardening Checklist

May Gardening Checklist

June Gardening Checklist

July Gardening Checklist

August Gardening Checklist


How to make a stone wall with no steps skipped!
How to make a stone wall with no steps skipped!


Bluestone Patios

Don’t forget the birds!

Set out some bird houses, feeders and bird baths and you will enjoy seeing all sorts of birds all year long.

Gardens: Tips, Tricks, and To-Do's
Enjoy Public & Private Gardens in Farmington Valley and West Hartford

Container Gardening

Potted Plants are always a nice feature on front porches and patios.

Get creative and design them yourself.

Be sure to feed them once a week and water daily as needed.

Great place to grow herbs for cooking.

Happy Gardening! Feel free to contact me with questions about gardening or real estate.

Additional information:

How to choose outdoor lighting by Eric Jeanette

Simsbury Garden Tour – Before & After Photos!

How to Create an Epic Garden in a Tiny Space by Sharon Paxson

Improvements that will Boost your Homes Value by Bill Gassett

How to Prevent Mosquitoes from Taking Over your Yard by Paul Sian


Real estate and garden information was provided by Eileen Anderson, recognized leader in her field. If you are looking to hire a top realtor , Eileen can be reached via email at [email protected] or by phone at 860-966-2112.

I am licensed for residential real estate sales in the state of Connecticut including but not limited to the following CT towns: Avon, Bloomfield, Burlington, Barkhamsted, Canton, Colebrook, Granby, East Granby, Hartland, Hartford, Suffield, Windsor, New Hartford, North Granby, Farmington, Newington, Litchfield, Simsbury, Suffield and West Hartford, CT.

“At the Heart of the Sale – Making a House a Home!”


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