Peruse magazine shelves, libraries and bookstores for outdoor living ideas, and you will find most publications dedicated to landscaping ignore people who live in condos, townhouses or single-family bungalows at arm’s length from their neighbors.
I live in Shirlington, where my “yard” is smaller than the average flower bed in Great Falls. Whenever I speak to landscaping experts, I ask, "What about us?" You know, those who enjoy the concept of landscaping, despite being land deprived. I'm talking about people like those who live in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, where outdoor spaces are measured in square feet, not acres.
“Containers,” said Kimberly Lacy, host of HGTV’s "Curb Appeal: The Block."
Lacy, who was recently in the Washington area for the Capital Home and Garden Show, grew up in Prince George’s County, Md., lived in the district and was part of HGTV’s "Designed to Sell" decorating team. She’s familiar with urban dwellers with little lawns.
“Container pots are what urban gardening truly is,” she said. “In containers, you can grow an herb garden, you can grow annuals, and you can grow shrubs. Containers are the best way to go for the urban gardener. You can plant anything in a container pot. They decorate a space and transform a space.”
Even if you live in a 12th-floor loft, Lacy said, you can create beautiful outdoor spaces with containers. “Say you have a patio or small balcony but it just has walls encasing you. You can put container pots along a wall. You can plant trees and vines and create this outdoor oasis.”
Lacy likes terra cotta pots because they are inexpensive and easy to paint. “I’ve painted them to match the color of trim on a house,” she said. She also suggests using wicker baskets filled with landscaping plastic.
"You can use almost anything as a container," Lacy said. "I’ve seen people use toilets."
Use ground cover instead of grass for small lawns. Lacy’s favorite is mondo grass, a soft, carpet-like ground cover that is easy to grow and less invasive than ivy. “Ivy just takes over,” Lacy said. “It can grow into your neighbor’s yard. Mondo grass is fun. Mondo is not going to grow any higher than two to four inches, depending on what type you get.”
When it comes to which flowers to choose, Lacy recommends following the lead of your local nursery: "They are usually going to sell plants that grow well in your particular zone. Annuals are inexpensive. Perennials require a little extra maintenance but can return stronger and fuller the next year."
Cecilia Palmer, a designer with Shade Tree Farm near Manassas, likes to combine different plant textures and colors to create interest in a courtyard. “Low-growing ornamental grass, mondo grass, pairs nicely with a lighter, feathery textured grass,” she said.
Palmer suggests adding interest to greenery with accents, like Fairy Berries, small glowing lights that illuminate off and on. “I found them on the Internet and I was looking for something interesting to add to the garden that was different,” she said.
Even water features, like the pottery and stone fountains at Springdale Water Gardens near Greenville, Va., can be added to small outdoor spaces. When grouped together, these water features create a stunning zen-like scape.