Improve The Functionality and Atmosphere of your Patio with Plants

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Tips to Improve the Functionality and Atmosphere of Your Patio with Plants 

by Nicole Martins

When I began to create planting plans for clients in the mid 1990ís one of my main concerns was, how will this collection of plants; the greenery, the flowering, the size and the shape grow together to create an aesthetically pleasing arrangement that feels right in its proportion and scale. If you are looking to create a planting plan for your patio or small outdoor space, the same concerns need to be addressed. 

Keep in mind that small spaces require great restraint, with a plan towards bringing together a cohesive look. Plants for small and large patios will still be used for similar purposes: decoratively, to create a focal point, add privacy, screen out unwanted views, and to create shade and such. No matter what your objectives, plants can play a significant part in enhancing your outdoor dťcor. Take a look at the tips and information below before you get started. Hopefully this approach will take you from buying plants impulsively or obsessing over a single plant and move you towards creating a sensible and aesthetically pleasing plan for your outdoor space.

See plants in a new light and show restraint

Your outdoor patio is an additional room and with a nice set up you will be able to relax, cook, entertain and enjoy spending time in your outdoor garden room. To get the most out of your outdoor room with plants, begin thinking about plants as structural elements that can help you to create a ceiling and wall planes, similar to the foundations inside your home. 

By thinking in these terms, you will begin to see plants differently and hopefully be inclined to choose plants based upon form and growth habit rather than a single factor such as Itís a pretty plant. The problem with this approach is that it doesnít help you to put together a unified look, or to create an effect. Showing restraint is one of the most challenging aspects of using plants to create pleasing effects outdoors. It is important however, that before another lovely plant makes its way into your shopping cart, and later home, you head to the nursery with a clear vision of what you want.

Create a plant wish list

Consider the size of your patio, itís not endless real estate after-all, and plants and planters should be chosen thoughtfully. If you or anyone you know just canít say no to another plant or needs to take in all the homeless, tired plants out there thatís fine, but be careful not to clutter up your patio with all of them. 

A helpful approach to selecting plants for your patio area is to take a good hard look at your space, and put together a wish list of all the realistic things you want plants to help you achieve; for example: to create greater privacy and to screen an unsightly view. Some people will want a way to create shade or to add dimension to a planting bed; others will want to soften an area, or create a focal point. Whatever your objectives or constraints, this will get you heading in the right direction.

No two patios are exactly alike

While it is very common to find a patio directly off the back of the house, there are no rules or regulations that make this the ultimate location. Also, patios come in various sizes and shapes and may contain any number of hardscape materials: flagstone, concrete, tile, brick, pebbles and such. 

As for layout, a large patio may include definition and enclosure with low walls and planting beds; while a small patio may have just a ground plane dressed in flagstone with enough room for a table and chairs (see and some planters and pots. Each patio example can take full advantage of plant forms to create pleasing effects that will maximize every ones pleasure outdoors.

Small patios: Designing with plants

Small patio spaces rely not so much on the horizontal plane as on the vertical plane where the greenery of plants can produce handsome walls, create a sense of enclosure and privacy, and, screen out unwanted views. Vines are very useful in small spaces, and garden structures such as trellises and pergolas can assist them to grow upward without claiming too much valuable patio space. This is especially true if plants are grown in the ground versus being planted in pots which will likely take up more room. 

For certain climates, evergreen shrubs such as boxwood and privet provide permanent architecture year round and can be clipped to maintain the right scale for your needs. To find comparable plant choices for your zone consult with local nurseries and landscapers. Ask for recommendations of upright or vertical shrubs and trees that donít take up a lot of horizontal space and/or can handle being pruned to keep them upright.

With all of the nice plant choices available, make use of perennials, shrubs and trees to create inviting effects. A patio shining with beautiful hardscape is wonderful, but dull without the bountiful greenery of plants to balance.


Nicole Martins is a contributing author and publisher to, an online resource that provides you with great information, articles of interest and reviews of the best selling outdoor furniture and patio accessories online.

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