Lush Life: 5 Ways to Maximize Your Outdoor Space
Marquette Clay’s Oklahoma City home is tiny, but what he did to the garden is huge. With a keen eye for design and color, this landscape contractor proves that sometimes less is much more.
Cottage Garden Style
When your house is just shy of 1,000 square feet, you get creative about how to use outdoor space. Front yards become foyers, and backyards turn into living rooms. Landscape contractor Marquette Clay bought this tiny cottage as a rental property in 2003 but fell in love with it and turned it into a showpiece. Neighbors still scratch their heads wondering where he “found” the extra land. “Small gardens require focus,” he says. “First, you have to decide what you want the garden to be.” Here, Marquette shares his secrets to making the most of a small lot.
Get more curb appeal by adding a picket fence. This stock version tops a stone wall and is planted with Dutchman’s pipe.
Keep the Concept Simple
“Don’t try to cram every idea you’ve seen into a small garden,” says Marquette. Begin by installing necessary hardscape elements such as walks, walls, driveways, and patios. They define areas and set the tone for the garden. To level the once-sloping front yard, Marquette installed a Granbury gold chopped-stone retaining wall and topped it with a classic white picket fence.
A single uplight accents the house number.
Opt for Clean Lines and Minimal Colors
The only curves you’ll find in this garden are on the planters that flank the front wall. Straight lines tend to take up less room. To maintain visual flow, he balanced voluminous bottlebrush on the right with dwarf Alberta spruce, variegated elderberry, and mugo pine on the left. Boxwoods lead the eye up the walk to the front door. “I love gardens with shades of green and white,” he says. “It’s classic.” Purple accents play off the neighbor’s crepe myrtle.
A round planter of purple heart softens a corner of the front wall.
Make the Front Door a Focal Point
It’s the most important feature in the yard. To coordinate the door with the existing green-and-white scheme yet still make it stand out, Marquette painted it a bright shade of green, Appletini (S-H-410) by Behr; behr.com. “It’s inspired by the garden,” he says. “It’s the color of new boxwood foliage, spring lettuce leaves, and the chartreuse foliage of the dwarf acorus I planted by the curb.”
‘Queen Mum’ agapanthus, part of the Southern Living Plant Collection, loves the heat.
Define Spaces with Evergreens and Walls
Marquette did something many of us don’t have the luxury of doing—he painted his neighbor’s garage and reroofed it to match his house. The shingled wall you see above serves as a backdrop for his teak bench and collection of potted plants. “It really pays to have a great relationship with your neighbor,” he says with a smile. If you can’t borrow a wall, plant a hedge. Evergreens are a key to year-round beauty, structure, and backdrop. ‘Nellie R. Stevens’ hollies surrounding the arbor on two sides separate it from the driveway and parking area.
The center of the drive is made from welded steel frames filled with soil and then sodded.
Build the Largest Structure Your Budget Will Allow
Contrary to what you may think, dinky decks and cramped patios make tight spaces seem even smaller. Marquette crafted his arbor from cedar posts set atop concrete pads. Drawing inspiration from a lone cedar tree that grew in his backyard, the resourceful designer got posts from area tree-trimming companies to build the 12- by 12-foot structure that covers his entire patio space.
Marquette (at left) mixed two sizes of Aztec gravel together so it would lock into place.