Small patios with big design


Any courtyard or patio can become a dream landscape, according to Ben Maddox, proprietor of Maddox Outdoor Solutions. Here the local landscaper and ISA-certified arborist shares some of his philosophies and techniques for transforming a small outdoor space into your favorite place to be.

When working with small areas, he has a few tricks and insights that give him an edge in creating more from less.

 You probably have more space than you think.

Maddox recommends maximizing what you have by crafting your landscape on multiple levels, or “building up, not out.” This can involve layers of earth and stone, hanging flower baskets, tiered water features and climbing plants like clematis or trumpet vine.

There may also be opportunities to utilize the unseen space beneath your land. Some decorative fountains, for example, can be set up with an underground tank engineered to catch water as it seeps through the gaps between flagstones or pavers. With all the imagination and creativity you can bring to your design, limited space need not be an obstacle.

Bring your patio to life.

The addition of living landscape elements creates big outdoors personality, surrounding you with dynamic colors and interactions. Plants, trees, even birds and wildlife, can easily be folded into your design.

A garden, Maddox says, does not require much land, especially if you apply “containerized thinking” to your gardening projects. Many ornamental and flowering plants, herbs and vegetables, and even some trees do well in pots or large planters, and can be watered by special irrigation systems with tubing available in colors that blend in with the surroundings, such as stucco walls. For lots of color that lasts throughout the spring and summer, create decorative container gardens of annual flowers and grasses.

If you’re thinking outside the pot, perennials are what to plant in small garden plots, in Maddox’s experience. There are hundreds of lovely and resilient alternatives for our high-desert climate, though he advises caution when choosing the best ones for your small space. To keep it compact and low-maintenance, for example, it’s best to avoid the popular Russian sage, as it will spread and grow wildly. Among Maddox’s favorite perennials to plant in small outdoor areas are oriental poppies and day lilies.

“I’d rather plant a lily than an iris,” he says. “You can dig them up and move them around.”

If space allows, it doesn’t hurt to add another level or two of height to your living landscape. A tree here, a shrub there, creatively and sustainably incorporated into your design will provide the depth you’re looking for. Evergreen varieties, in particular, offer year-round beauty with minimal maintenance. In a pocket-sized courtyard, dwarf juniper and spruce varieties are a good fit.

“I love the dwarf globe spruce,” says Maddox. “It sits there and looks like that all year.”

To add an enduring, ground-level foundation of green to your palette, consider one of the low-growing or creeping varieties of juniper, such as blue rug. In fact, “Plant as many evergreens as possible,” says Maddox.

To complete your miniature oasis, it’s important to remember the water. Rain chains, pondless fountains and waterfalls are excellent ways to hydrate a small space and keep things alive and in motion. Many water features will invite birds and wildlife as well.

Accentuate and enhance.

The Enchanted Circle provides a wealth of inspired solutions for turning your patio into a work of art, and Maddox likes to tap into the talents of local artisans in order to give his clients the landscape of their dreams.

“I’m a big-picture person working with different clients,” he says. “Building a relationship is really important. I like having a 30-thousand-foot view of what they want and what they need and then bringing in the different resources to make it happen.”

This can include wood- and metalworkers, sculptors, and even fellow landscapers with a particular flair for certain visual effects, such as container arrangements.

Further enhancement of a small space can be achieved by the tasteful addition of lighting features.

“Lighting is a great way to enhance a small landscape,” Maddox says. “It’s not all trees and shrubs.”

Now get walking.

The first step to planning your patio design, Maddox says, is to determine the best placement for walkways.

“If you have a small space, first think about where you’re going to walk. Get the hardscape down before you put the softscape down. Let your garden beds establish where you’re not walking.”


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