If you live with a postage stamp yard or balcony, and still, want a garden, you need to think small on space and go big on design impact.
Take heart – life is easier – you won’t be a slave to your garden. Small spaces are striking, and comfortable if done with a few adjustments to your thinking.
That’s what I am reminding myself.
I am moving soon and placing limits, by planning a smaller garden. Having designed small spaces for others – I am armed and ready with plenty of ideas on how to scale down.
What can I do to make a small space work?
First, I need to think in three dimensions. Look up. There is a lot of vertical space up there; however, I need to provide structures for them to climb on.
I won’t put in a monstrous Clematis Montana cultivar or a Wisteria vine, as they have ravenous appetites when it comes to space. Yet a decorous, eight-foot tall Clematis vine in full bloom will be the crowned jewel on any structure.
When furnishing this garden, I will unite it by employing similar colors, materials, and even same plant material.
No large sequoias are going to fit this space; still, a dwarf conifer will work. They can grow in a container for many years and be set out in the garden later in life. Small maples work in small gardens and will grow for some years in a pot.
I will go beyond the typical plantings and grow a locust tree. Not just any one though. Perhaps something out of the ordinary such as Robinia ‘Lacy Lady’, sometimes sold as Twisty Baby™. The small tree has quirky, twisty stems, and twisting leaves. I will grow it in a large pot with an addition of plants under its crown.
In the winter when the tree loses its leaves and stands naked as a skeleton, it will add another dimension. Eventually, when it outgrows a pot, into the garden it will go. On the other hand, I could give the tree to someone who admires its twisted body.
The plant palate will change. It’s a blank canvas right now, ready for me to paint with flora. Choosing just annuals and herbaceous perennials for their flowers means when winter hits the garden looks like a cold, barren wasteland. A good foundation of plants that gives year-round structure is important. That doesn’t mean there won’t be room for winter slumbering perennials and pockets of soil for some annuals. I can save room for them in my pots.
I am giving myself permission to do away with planting anything permanently. Every few years change out the perennials, grow something interesting and experiment withdifferent types of annuals. Plant something that will mature and grow beyond it’s bound in a few years, because I want to grow it and see how it performs. I can always remove it before it becomes a detriment and plant something new. Moreover, always, always, plant up a new hanging basket or two.
I won’t be afraid to try new plants, change up my garden, dig up older plants, and pass them on to friends. I can even donate them to local garden clubs for their plant sales. Master Gardeners will even come out, dig up plants for me, and use them in their annual plant sales in the spring.
What about a structure? I need a garden room. It sounds contradictory that dividing a small space will actually make a garden feel larger. Walls can come from plant material, decorative panels, or by building a tall arbor with lattice panel siding.
I have a handy chop saw and a good drill, I’m not afraid to use. I know how to build an arbor my plants can climb. Ringing an area with an overhead structure such as a pergola that provides a sense of enclosure makes a site appear supersized.
Oversizing a focal point that draws the eye is a good design trick that makes a space seem larger and adds a dramatic element. Curved pathways wide enough for two walking side-by-side makes it seem like a stroll through a larger garden.
What can I say? It’s spring. There’s a new garden, I’m dreaming and I’m ready to create. What are you creating this year?
Don’t forget to renew your soil with a couple of inches of compost as mulch every year. With a smaller garden, you may only need to buy bags of compost, instead of bringing in truckloads.
— Debbie Teashon photographs and writes about gardening in the maritime Pacific Northwest. She is co-author of “Gardening for the Homebrewer: Grow and Process Plants for Making Beer, Wine, Gruit, Cider, Perry and More.” She also is editor and webmaster of Rainy Side Gardeners. Contact her at debbie firstname.lastname@example.org.