Small packages are oftentimes the best.
That can also be true of outdoor living and gardening spaces.
While many people like to be able to spread out and play large-scale games when they are outside, some of the most charming outdoor spaces are those created in a small entryway, balcony, courtyard or patio. Gathering with close friends or family in an intimate area that has been well thought-out and decorated can be ideal.
There are many gardening options for those with balconies, small entryways or other intimate outdoor spaces they wish to enhance, said Jean Bragdon, marketing/events manager for Lurvey's Garden Center, 2550 E. Dempster St., Des Plaines.
"There is more than one 'right way' to garden in a small space," she said.
The ever-popular hanging baskets are the easiest to use in any space, of course. There is nothing to plant. All you need to do is hang one from a hook or overhang for instant beauty and a touch of nature.
In fact, metal "trees" on which a homeowner can hang two, three or even four different hanging baskets on a patio or deck have become popular this year, adding great and colorful interest to a corner or wherever you want a special look.
Trellises and obelisks can also be used for vertical interest. If vines (flowers like morning glories or honeysuckle vine or even edibles like cucumbers) are cultivated to grow up them, trellises, in particular, can enhance the privacy available on a balcony or a small patio that is uncomfortably close to the neighbors. These outdoor sculptures can easily be used in either containers or out in a larger yard, Bragdon said.
Containers of all sizes, shapes and colors, filled with annuals, can dress up any space of any size. Shrubs and perennials, on the other hand, tend not to thrive in containers because the soil freezes during Chicago winters unless the pot is placed very close to the house or in another protected area, she added.
"Window boxes and other containers with wall mounts can also enhance a small space," Bragdon said. "They come in half-pockets and many other shapes and sizes for a great look."
Vertical garden walls have also become very popular, using a variety of unique planting bases like pallets and cubbyholes to hold the soil and plant material. They literally become outdoor living art.
If you have a small yard, consider planting a small ornamental tree that won't take over the yard. Trees like redbuds, weeping cherries, urban apples and American hornbeams (carpinus) add some nice color, vertical interest and shade to a yard, but their roots will never grow up out of the ground and ruin your patio. Espaliers -- trees that are trained to grow up a wall like a vine -- are also ideal for a small space.
Small shrubs also help balance your garden and add winter interest, and in some cases, year-round color. Think ahead, however, and do not plant them in areas next to your driveway or sidewalk where snow will be piled in the winter because shrubs can be damaged when snow is piled on them, Bragdon cautioned.
Those who would like to grow vegetables and even some fruit in their small spaces can also do so. Strawberries, herbs and cherry tomatoes do particularly well in containers. Some tomatoes, like Sweet 100s and Tumbling Toms, even cascade for an attractive look, Bragdon said. But many other vegetables also grow well in raised beds and containers. So those who wish to have fresh vegetables from their own "garden" can grow them no matter how small their growing space might be. It just takes some planning, she said.
Grapes that are winter hardy can even be grown on an arbor or trellis and used as a space divider in your small yard. They are perennials so they come back every year and the "bones" of the grape vines add some winter interest, too.
Fountains and water features can also be incorporated into small outdoor spaces in the city or the suburbs. Children love them and everyone enjoys the soothing sounds, Bragdon said. The soft gurgling noises often really help you relax after a tough day. Wind chimes have a similar effect.
Bragdon is also a fan of using garden art to create a focal point. You can make your yard more fun or more formal or add drama or even give it a theme that changes every year or two by adding a gazing ball or a birdbath or birds hanging in your trees or another unique type of small, appropriately-scaled yard art to your small space.