In this era of social distancing and working from home, the time we spend out-of-doors is appreciated more than ever before. Even a weekly trip to the local shops or a careful visit to a friend or a relative gets you some valuable fresh air and exercise. Of course, those with gardens have a major advantage, but even if you live in much more restricted accommodation you might find your building has an outdoor area where you can go and destress.
One effect of the lockdowns is that many people have expressed an interest in taking more exercise and maybe trying some gardening. If you’ve ever wondered if you have green fingers — and you’re bored with sudoku — this could be the moment when you start! A neglected yard can be turned into an oasis, whether it boasts a patch of grass or simply ugly concrete. But before you embark on any outdoor remodeling project, make sure you declutter your yard as this can make the difference between a drab space and a welcoming retreat. Any items that are necessary but not so pleasing on the eye – such as tools, lawnmowers and old plant containers – can be put in self storage. Just make sure you find a self storage facility that’s near your home, ideally within a 3 to 5 mile radius so that it will be easy for you to get anything you need quickly.
Also, conducting a detailed land survey can help you prepare both from a planning and legal perspective, to cover your bases from day one, and make the most of your available space.
Without further ado, here are 12 tips for turning small outside spaces into enjoyable hang-outs, places where you can spend time in the fresh air together with attractive plants, ornaments and relaxing features — and maybe with friends, too.
1: Assess Your Space
If you have any sort of space outside the back door, or perhaps a tiny front garden you generally ignore as you step out onto the street, the first thing to do is to see if there is potential for renovating and landscaping it. How many square feet does it encompass? Does it get pollution of any sort, and can passersby see into it? Most importantly, can you get permission from the other residents to make your dream oasis there?
2: Surface Matters
If your outdoor space has a nice looking piece of lawn, you may want to keep it. Alternatively, it may look very rough indeed, and maintaining grass can be quite a chore. But if you dig it up you will have an area that has natural drainage and soil in which you can grow things. Alternatively, if the area is all concrete, there are still plenty of things you can do there, with plants in containers, seating areas, ornaments, and much else besides.
3: Plan a Living Area Outside
Whatever the size of your space, you’ll probably want to do more than just stroll around it. Sitting in a comfortable chair and admiring your new oasis — and inviting friends there — is one of the nicest feelings in the world. Think about using attractive paving stones to make a sitting area, with well-matched outdoor furniture. Top interior designer Laura Roberts recommends that you “mix in colors, patterns, and texture with throw pillows, cushions, and small ottomans, which also provide additional seating that can be easily moved around while entertaining.”
Design enthusiasts who can see their outdoor space from indoors may also consider how it matches their indoor living space. If you have fancy outdoor furniture, climate may dictate that some items cannot stay outside year round, so if you’re living in Chicago, for instance, you could move your expensive outdoor seats into Chicago self storage for the winter.
4: Get in Harmony With the Seasons
Newcomers to gardening may not know much beyond the fact that flowers seem to bloom in the warmer months! True enough, but you might want your outdoor space to look good all year round. Do some research and choose plants from the garden center that have long flowering periods. Evergreen plants come in all shapes and sizes, including very small, and as they look good all year you could consider planting some dwarf thujas, tsugas or junipers.
Plants grown in containers are good for cities with big differences between their summer and winter temperatures. But while these are outside in the warmer months, during winter their pots and tubs clutter up the space, which could be used for equipment that‘s needed at that time of year. So, for example, Minneapolis self storage could be used as a temporary place for these items if you live in that snow-bound city.
5: Think About Balance
As your new oasis is probably not so big, you can afford to think about details. And although you may not be a trained interior designer, now might be the time to learn something new and exciting. Balance, proportion and harmony are key factors as you decide where to put plants, ornaments, rocks and anything else you desire. Plus, as award winning designer and renowned environmentalist Pablo Solomon says, “any design should be a reflection of who you are.”
6: Water Features Sooth and Relax
Laura Roberts reminds us there is nothing quite as relaxing as the tinkling sound of running water in a garden. Water features come in many forms. As few of us have a stream running through our land, they are generally units which pump water from a reservoir and then let it cascade back down again in one of a variety of attractive ways. If the reservoir is a pond, you can have the added advantage of fish and waterlilies to gaze upon.
7: The Only Way Is Up!
A very small outdoor space may only have room for a chair, a few paving stones, a tiny coffee table, and not much else. Don’t worry — this is where vertical planting comes in! You’ll be familiar with rambling roses and maybe other climbers such as clematis, and these can grow up walls, giving a profusion of summer color. More novel ideas include vertical planters for strawberries, herbs and much more besides. Just check they will get enough sunlight, though.
8: Don’t Be Afraid of Your Artistic Streak
There may not be much space for trees and shrubs to fully grow in your oasis, but ornaments and decorations won’t give you that problem. Metal is an interesting introduction in a small outdoor space and architecturally minded people use stainless steel or cast-iron forms to create artistic effects, while others make interesting arrangements of old rusted tools.
You could even make your own actual sculptures. There is a tradition in the US called ‘lawn art,’ where people put large artworks outside their houses for all the world to see — the tastefulness of such items can be variable! You can do this in your small renovated yard, too. And if you live in the country’s art capital, for example, and you become enthusiastic about this hobby, you might need to put some of the things you make in New York City self storage.
9: Invest in Good Materials
If you’re not renovating a huge area, you can afford to invest in quality. When planting trees or shrubs, after you’ve done some research about what best suits your space, get what you need from a reputable garden center. The same goes for garden ornaments — you’ll be seeing them a lot over the years, so get ones that will wear well. Natural stone can be very attractive, especially after rain, and you will not regret buying it either for paving or for decoration.
10: Don’t Forget to Eat
An outdoor oasis should be easy on the eye, and the fragrance of pretty flowers would be a wonderful reward for all your work — but so would a basket full of freshly picked fruit and vegetables! To complement those strawberries in the vertical planter, radishes are easy to grow and tomato plants are rewarding. Growing food at home has become increasingly popular recently, when restaurants have been closed and supplies are sometimes disrupted. “People are getting scared about food supply,” say Urban Leaf, who sell beginner-friendly gardening kits, as “our industrial food system is very fragile.”
11: Go With the Flow
If passersby will be able to see into your garden, and you care about what other people on your street do with theirs, you might like to blend in. This needn’t be boring, as neighbors may share their tips and even seeds with you — yes, gardening can be a very sociable hobby! There is also a broader geographical aspect to gardening appropriately, and Pablo Solomon states that “Even in a small yard, try to use native plants. In general they will require less watering and will be more resistant to problems.”
12: Add a Finishing Touch With Fancy Lighting
Garden lighting is a wonderful addition to any outdoor space. There are solar lights available in all shapes and sizes for illuminating evenings when you just want to kick back after a long day. Not only can lights be stuck in the ground but strings of them can be attached to fences or entwined among branches. If you need relaxation more than you need illumination, candles are a welcome addition, often having evocative fragrances, and they are safe to have alight out-of-doors.
Not only will your new oasis be a wonderful place to relax, but you’ll have enjoyed planning it and developed some skills making it. Whether it’s a front-yard or a back-yard, tiny or just plain small, you will have carefully selected objects, both living and inanimate, which you now see every day and probably care a lot about. As clutter won’t look good in your new paradise, make sure it stays away — use your self storage unit if necessary. Plants may need looking after, so now is the time to learn a little basic horticulture, for example about watering and pruning. Get a good book to help you, look at what experts have posted online, or perhaps ask those green-fingered neighbors.