Landscape Ideas for Small Townhouse Backyards


A backyard in the city is a prized commodity that begs to be exploited. When the expanse outside your town house is barely big enough to hold a few chairs and a table, create a sense of wide open spaces by honoring the personality of the outdoor home extension – or adding a little character to a boring plot.

Miniature Wonderland

  • A garden for Alice and the White Rabbit is a simple greensward behind a town home that stretches from the back door to the back fence. Mismatched pavers form an uneven but direct path to a formal garden bench at the end of the lawn, flanked by two small topiaries in boxy planters. The velvet green grass is bordered on both sides by a riot of green foliage. Day lilies and vines climb a 5- or 6-foot-high wood grid fence. A small space seems grander for the precise layout but also whimsical and inviting for the few haphazard elements in the landscaping.

South of the Border

  • A high stucco wall painted an “aged” Mexican pink provides privacy in a postage-stamp backyard enclosed by an unattractive wood fence. The new stucco wall both hides the ugly fence that is part of the property and supports a multitiered fountain that spills into a blue tile pool. Use a theatrical wall to mount graduated scalloped bowls that catch water falling from a verdigris copper open pipe. As each bowl sends a trickle of water over its edge, the musical sound of the fountain fills the small space. Water lilies and reeds cluster in the tiled pond. Container plantings of succulents and flowering bougainvillea that arches over the fountain transform the backyard into a hacienda courtyard.

Sleek and Simple

  • A thoroughly modern town house deserves a thoroughly modern backyard. In a development with identical town homes and miniscule backyards, a patch of dirt with standard concrete pavers becomes a sleek patio with horizontal cedar planks covering a plain pallet fence. The cheap-looking concrete is an easy upgrade when you replace it with subway tile-shaped basalt pavers and leave the borders bare. Plants that can handle part-sun will thrive in this backyard – Japanese maple, hostas and ornamental grasses are low-maintenance greenery. Add just a few pieces of contemporary seating that are weatherproof, and the wasted space becomes an outdoor room for relaxing and entertaining.

Lost Garden

  • In a sliver of a backyard behind an urban town home, vintage brick covers a raised patio, steps to the backdoor and two steps down to the back entrance. The unpaved ground flanking the brick is a riot of overgrown shrubbery, small trees and container plants in eclectic pots. More potted plants run up the steps to the door and down the stairs to a gravel entry. The impression is one of a wild, forgotten garden where anything magical might appear -- a rich contrast to the concrete urban landscape beyond a weathered wooden fence overgrown by bushy green vines.

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