An Expert’s Tips on How to Get the Most From a Small Outdoor Space

After living in a newly-built Richmond apartment for several years, landscape architect Phil Withers knows first-hand how to make the most of small spaces. “Our apartment only had about 12 square meters of outdoor space,” he says. “But when you get it right, it’s amazing how good it makes you feel.”

Withers’s Melbourne-based landscape company focuses on designing environments, rather than landscapes. That ethos is aimed at integrating nature into urban areas and embracing biophilic design – the practice of both integrating and mimicking natural elements in design.

Here are some of Withers’ tips for getting the most from a small outdoor space – whether it be an apartment or a small concrete courtyard.

Use furniture to set up “zones” in your space
“Placement is everything,” says Withers. “When you start, you want to make sure you’ve got zoning in your space to make the most of the area.” He says that in a small outdoor space like a courtyard or balcony, barbeques work nicely as their own “zone” and can be complemented by plants. “If you plant the herbs and vegetables in that space, then [you can prepare them] next to the barbeque. Throwing rosemary on the steak – all those little added benefits are important.”

Pick one thing and do it well
“In a small space, if you try to overdo it, you will,” says Withers. “As a priority, you want to create a space where you can relax. If you’ve only got space for one zone, go for a couch over an outdoor table and set up everything around it.” Get a cozy couch and complement it with other items like an ottoman. “A big couch makes the space look nice and relaxing and conversational. An ottoman complements the space and looks nice and organic.”

Fill the space with plants
“It sounds silly, but get a hell of a lot of green plants,” Withers says. “Broad-leaf greens make it look nice and luscious which I feel is really important in these small spaces. We’re trying to create a nice, green environment and get all those biophilic benefits.”

Have a maintenance plan in place
“If you don’t think about the needs of the soil, watering and how it will all work from the start, you won’t have those plants for very long,” says Withers. “They won’t thrive. There has to be a system in place.” He says you can have planters with wicking beds, timers and functions or just pick a time every day when you use the hose; and make time for seasonal maintenance. “When you’ve got container plants, they dry out quickly. They need consistency or they’ll get neglected.”

Use design to frame, or create, a view
“If you have a view, don’t take anything away from it,” Withers says. “Add to it with your placement of furniture and neutral planters that blend into the environment.” And if you don’t have a view? Create one. “That’s where you work really hard on the green life,” Withers says. When he lived in a newly-built mezzanine apartment in Richmond, Withers used a vertical garden to create interest in the space. If possible, make your “view” visible from inside the house. “It makes the garden seem bigger if you can see it from other parts of the house.”

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