Design Guidelines

Designing a townhouse garden is like no other residential design project. It requires the designer to think more like an interior designer or architect, but with a different palette of materials. As with the other sites that have special conditions, there are a number of suggestions to guide the designer of a townhouse garden.

Divide into Subspaces A townhouse garden site should be divided into subspaces to provide spatial and visual interest. This is typically a necessity to relieve the monotony created by the existing simplicity of the box-like space. Spatial subdivision can be cre­ated by a combination of techniques. Like other residential design projects, the de­signer should start by organizing the site into different outdoor uses (Figure 13—32). Functions such as entertaining, sitting, eating, reading, and potting that meet the clients’ wishes and fit within the garden area should each be given their own space. The individual subspaces may be allowed to overlap or might be separated by a short distance depending on functional and spatial considerations.

Figure 13-33

Different pavement materials and wall/fences can be used to subdivide the spaces in a townhouse garden.

At a more detailed scale, individual spaces can be given definition and identity by a number of means. Plant materials, walls/fences, or even low earth mounding can be used to enclose the spaces in the vertical plane while simultaneously letting the spaces flow from one to another (Figures 13—33 and 13—34). On the ground plane, different pavement materials can be employed to give each space its own character and identity. Grade changes between individual spaces also help to subtly separate spaces. Collectively, these techniques create multiple subspaces within the framework of the perimeter garden walls, just as furniture, room dividers, house plants, rugs, and so on do in interior rooms.

Increase Perception of Spatial Size Every effort should be made to increase the per­ceived size of the townhouse garden site. Subdividing the site into different spaces with overall organization, different pavement patterns, and the careful placement of internal vertical planes as previously suggested is one way to accomplish this. Another technique for giving the illusion that the townhouse garden is larger than its actual dimensions is

through forced perspective. One way this can be done is by converging the edges of spaces as they extend farther away from the house (left side of Figure 13—35). This will give a greater sense of depth and distance to the spaces as viewed from inside or near the house. A similar approach is to make the spaces located near the house compara­tively large while making other spaces progressively smaller the farther away they are located from the house (right side of Figure 13—35). This, too, gives the illusion of greater distance through the garden. Material colors and textures can likewise estab­lish forced perspective by contrasting materials that are coarse textured and/or bright colored near the house with materials that are fine textured and/or light hued at the back end of the garden area (Figure 13—36).

One other way to increase the overall feeling of size is to force views through and/ or around various elements such as trees, walls/fences, water features, and sculpture.

Figure 13-37

Forcing views through or around tree trunks or other vertical objects can increase spatial depth.

When a person looks around an object or through a semitransparent plane such as a multistemmed tree, the background on the other side appears to be farther away (Figure 13—37). Thus, the designer might carefully place an open-canopied tree or similar architectural element in a location where views from the house pass through the tree. This will make the remainder of the garden area behind the tree look farther away. Additionally, vertical planes can be located to hide selected areas of the garden. The feeling that a space is larger than it actually is occurs when not everything can be seen at once and when a space is seen disappearing behind an object or vertical plane (Figure 13—38). Concealing the terminus of space or view is a technique common to small gardens in China and Japan.

Provide Overhead Planes Overhead planes should be strategically located through­out a townhouse garden in coordination with the other elements of the design. This is a desirable objective for all residential sites, but is more critical in a townhouse garden where small size and upper-story views from neighbors are frequently a notable prob­lem. A tree canopy, pergola, canvas awning, or other covering should be located over frequently used spaces in a townhouse garden to screen upper-story views and provide a ceiling (Figure 13—39). Various types of overhead planes might be used for different subspaces in the garden to reinforce spatial identity as discussed in the previous para­graphs. Overhead planes will also create shade, a factor that is a necessity for town­house gardens located on the south or west side of a dwelling. Overhead planes should be more open in garden areas on the north or east sides of a house to allow more light into these potentially dark areas. Architectural overhead planes such as a pergola should be carefully detailed because of the small scale of the spaces they help to define.

Use Existing Perimeter Walls/Fences The existing walls or fences that surround a townhouse garden should be utilized for various purposes. Like interior walls, these vertical planes should be taken advantage of to enhance the quality of the different

Figure 13-38

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The perceived size of a townhouse garden can be increased when some areas of the site are hidden from view.


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garden spaces (Figure 13—40). One use of perimeter walls/fences is to hang plants. Given the limited size of the townhouse garden, the surrounding walls are good loca­tions for shelves of plants, hanging plants, or even vines that can grow up the wall surface. These techniques are sometimes referred to as “vertical gardens” and are an excellent means of incorporating vegetation in a narrow area. These approaches also soften the surrounding vertical planes and make their presence less obvious.

Art and sculpture can also be hung on the perimeter walls, again just as in indoor rooms. This provides visual interest and can give relief to an otherwise monotonous wall surface. A similar concept is to place mirrors in selected locations of the exterior walls. Mirrors act very much like windows in interior rooms and reflect a space back onto itself. This, too, helps to give the illusion of a greater spatial volume.


Although each site is unique, some sites require special consideration and design solutions because of their lo­cation in relation to the street, wooded conditions, steep topography, or confined size. These types of sites require distinctive design solutions that solve the partic­ular issues each of these sites possess. You should com­prehend the following about these special sites:

• Special conditions or problems of a corner site

• Design guidelines for developing a site plan for a cor­ner site

• Special conditions and issues of a wooded site

• Design guidelines for developing a site plan for a wooded site

• Unique conditions and issues of a sloped site

• Design guidelines for developing a site plan for a sloped site

• Special conditions or problems of a townhouse gar­den site

• Design guidelines for developing a site plan for a townhouse garden