Urbanization is transforming landscape design in many places: Larger houses and smaller lots are driving the development of scaled-down plants.
Plant breeders are introducing plants -- everything from shrubs and trees to flowering perennials -- that remain compact when placed in the garden. They look great in containers, too.
"This is happening in every urban area in the world where developers are trying to squeeze in extra homes per acre," said Jonathan Pedersen, vice president of business development for Monrovia Nursery Co., which has brought hundreds of new plant varieties to market. "That's making us look for downsized but diverse plants with a smaller footprint."
People with smaller yard space must use it more resourcefully, he said.
"They don't have as much room for large, lush gardens, but they still want seating areas surrounded by plants. We want to give them that with compact plants that bloom longer and require less maintenance," Pedersen said. "They reach a certain size and stay that way."
Less can be more in smaller gardens, said Eileen Obermiller, a landscape architect from Powell Butte, Oregon.
"You don't want to crowd a small space," Obermiller said. "Plants should comfortably fit an area without taking over."
Dwarf species or columnar forms are appealing options, she said.
"Be sure to read the attached tags when you're dealing with specialized plants," Obermiller said. "Make certain that you get plants that fit the space."
Create a calmer environment by cutting down on the number of materials and plant varieties.
"For example, a good ground cover can tie a garden together well," she said. "Instead of planting vinca, ajuga, woody thyme, creeping mahonia, kinnikinnik and sweet woodruff, plant just sweet woodruff in the shade and wooly thyme in the sun."
Select and work with only a few complementary colors, Obermiller said: "You can add color with pots of flowers or colorful furniture cushions."
Also, go vertical. Choose an assortment of green tower boxwoods that can grow 9 feet tall and provide loads of greenery in a confined space. "Vines on a trellis would do the same," she said. "Plus vines can offer colorful flowers and a pleasant fragrance."
Think function when creating gathering places.
"It seems like we always need storage," Obermiller said. "If you can design a bench with space for blankets and pillows or games, you've accomplished two goals with one piece of furniture.
"Or if you end a planting area 4 feet short of its boundary, using an attractive wall with vines, or silhouetted trees or falling water, you can park yard equipment behind it out of sight."
Proper pruning is important in any size garden for plant health and beauty, she said.
"More so in a small garden, because in a small garden everything is up close," she said. "Every gardening action you take in a small garden will be seen over and over again."