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Considering Small Spaces

10-year logoBy Stephanie Rose

‘Whenever I receive a call for an initial meeting about a potential project,’ began Stephanie Rose in her Natural Companions column of May 2003, ‘I always envision – before the client ever opens his or her mouth – that I will be adorning a multi-acre estate with a classic garden that will someday be written about in books and examined by landscape students throughout the world for generations to come.

‘Now,’ she continued, ‘back to reality.’


‘Although there are plenty of large-scale landscape projects to be had, the smaller projects are much more plentiful.  And they are often, as I have found, just as if not more demanding of my creativity – and just as satisfying to my clients and me.  As the maxim has it, “Good things come in small packages” – and I truly believe this is so when it comes to small garden spaces.’


‘Where a large space typically has many components and calls on me to spread a variety of ideas throughout a yard in service of a defining theme, I find that with smaller-scale projects, my planning must be much more deliberate and carefully considered.  In other words, in small spaces, concepts and design elements have to be specific, because in smaller spaces, things that don’t work or go together are that much more apparent.’


‘Once I was asked to look at a property where the homeowners wanted to rework the front yard but weren’t quite ready to do anything in back because they couldn’t figure out yet what they wanted.  The front, they told me, was to be a natural landscape incorporating herbs, vegetables and other edible plants – mainly because they missed the kitchen garden they’d had back home in Australia.  The trouble with their vision was that the front yard didn’t have enough area that caught full sun for a long enough time during the day to nurture an edible garden.’


‘To meet their desires, I turned to the side yard, which at the time was being used as a dog run.  The space, about 40 feet long and 13 feet wide, received full sun much of the day and seemed an ideal space for a kitchen garden.’  


‘The one possible drawback was that the space was right outside the carpeted dining room, and they didn’t want to encourage traffic to flow that way.  But I saw the proximity to the dining room as an opportunity to create a visually beautiful garden as well as a functional one.  My suggestion was to create a formal space that would open up a beautiful view through both the living and dining rooms’ windows – and that would most easily be accessed through the back yard and, specifically, through the kitchen door that led out to the backyard.’


‘[W]e started with a decomposed granite walkway down the center of the side yard, leaving five-foot beds on either side.  This made everything in the space readily accessible.  With the basic grid established, I began suggesting some key formal elements, including a formal fountain and planter.’  


‘The fountain was a particularly wonderful addition to the design, offering the gentle sound of water reflecting off the property line wall and flowing into the living and dining rooms when the windows are open.  The raised, circular planter is filled with plants that now drape over the edge and are watered by a drip-irrigation system.’


‘This small-scale design,’ Stephanie concluded, ‘fulfilled this family’s need for homegrown edibles and the flavors of the Down Under lifestyle they’d left behind.’

The pages of WaterShapes were often filled with stories of projects that called on the designer to concentrate his or her creative energies on small spaces.  Has that situation changed as a result of economic changes?  Or are small-space designs even more prevalent now than back in 2003?


Stephanie Rose wrote her Natural Companions column for WaterShapes for eight years and also served as editor of LandShapes magazine.  She may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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