Small-space tricks from two tiny Toronto gardens

Curved walks in both tiny gardens expand the sense of space, turning the few strides to the front porch into a winding path

Do you have a tiny front yard? Many people in Toronto do and wonder what the heck to do with it. The photos of two east-end gardens that I recently recovered* show that you can pack a lot of interest into a small area. The first thing both gardeners did was to get rid of the lawn and plant a garden. The first garden is a little more elaborate in plant choices and design; the second is simpler. Look at the small-space tricks they use, then let us know any tricks of your own.

(*Among 5,000 garden photos regained after a hard disk fail, but roughly 20,000 were lost. Back up anything precious, at least twice, my friends. I thought I had, but then the backup failed, too.)

Evergreens are part of the backbone in both gardens, giving passersby something to admire in all seasons.  The first garden even manages to tuck a small fountain into the greenery. Can you see it bubbling near the upper right? Creating a raised berm gave the gardener more space for a reservoir and circulating pump, and made the topography more interesting.
Perennials are often the preferred choice. But in a tiny garden it’s hard to have perennials flowering all season long. So add flowers in containers – which might include annuals or perennials. You can even move them around.
The second garden also used a curved path, as well as a tapestry of evergreen Euonymus in different colours for all-year effect. Like the first garden, it places a strong foliage emphasis with contrasting colours and form. The hosta in the lower left has been added to fill a blank space (I might have been tempted to plant three there rather than one.)
No need to be itsy-bitsy in your plant choices. A big, bold plant like this hosta makes a strong statement in a small space.
Love this element of surprise: a simple pot of annual blue Lobelia peeping out from the ferns on the front steps.


  1. The thing I find specially challenging about a small garden is light. If it's small, there are probably walls near almost every bit of it to create shade. The front of my house suffers specially from this, the houses round aren't far enough back not to block the sun for almost all the day – then, when it does get a look in it can be fiercely fierce in summer. I wish I could copy these ideas – but my plants always lean horribly forward to reach the light.

    1. Esther, if I'd used pictures from my own garden, my plants would be showing a dangerous list to the right, too. Shade, especially deep shade, poses a problem in any size garden. I'm writing a presentation right now on dry shade for Canada Blooms, and will be sharing ideas later on that topic, too.

  2. Had meant to offer commiserations about the loss of photos. There cannot be too many of them. I would be overwhelmed to lose any, let alone that many. Hope you are recovering, even if they are not all recoverable.

    1. I know that many of those shots should have been deletes anyway. There are always a bulk of those when one downloads. However, it underscored the need for proper backup and archiving. I was able to retrieve some of the more important ones, thankfully.

  3. Love that bold blue of the annual Lobelia, really a nice punch of color. I will backup my photos tonight! Had been thinking about it for a while, that random thought that floats through your mind…just when did I do my last backup????

  4. Tiny front yard gardens are the most challenging to design and plant because homeowners see them at very close proximity. They need to be perfect and beautiful – just like the ones you posted here. Great photo images too!

    1. You're right, Allan. The front yard is the welcoming smile (or frown) for the home. Tiny front gardens have to do a lot with not much real estate.

  5. Some great tips here Helen. Hope you get to rescue some more of your precious photos.

    Perhaps that hosta was newly planted and will fill out the space like the other one has.

    1. That was my thought about the hosta, too, VP. But I still might have planted three, as I'm trying to retrain myself after a lifetime of onesiness.

  6. Sorry to read about your hard disk fail and horrible photo loss. Everyone should get rid of their front lawn no matter how big it is. Love the Lobelia and fern photo, such a striking contrast.

    1. Hi, Melanie. Thanks for your commiseration re: photos. Hope you, too, have a good backup.

      I don't completely agree with the idea that everyone should get rid of their lawn. There are still good reasons for lawns – a place for kids to play, for instance – so long as they're responsibly managed, with low environmental impact. It's the status quo of chemically nuked, unblemished turfgrass that's problematic. Green grass, with a product like EcoLawn, still cools the ground, prevents run-off, &c.

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