Tips for a lushbut tiny garden

Published on Thu, Apr 8, 2004
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Tips for a lush but tiny garden

by Barbara D. Wean

If you live on a piece of property the size of a postage stamp, you will definitely want to read this week’s article because I’m going to help you visualize and create a lovely small garden. If you have a larger garden area, don’t go away because even though we are going to plan a small garden it can be utilized and enjoyed as one of your garden rooms.
A small garden can be easier to plan because it isn’t overwhelming. It is like a canvas for an artist, there are edges and you have to stay within the borders. Think of creating this as a sanctuary where you can escape the pressures of our technological society.

First and foremost, remember that gardens are for people. It might contain sculpture, water features and a minimum of planting or conversely, it could be a dense jungle that blurs the property line and visually borrows your neighbors’ tall trees as part of your landscaping. The key to realizing the potential of your small space, in practical and visual terms, is design. Make sure that it suits your way of life, and the character of your home.

Link the inside of the house with your new outside garden room by looking out. If you have a super modern home with bold patterns, simple shapes and bright primary colors choose a bold simple design for your garden. Use crisp tiles for paving your terrace (paving is a versatile and practical alternative to small areas of grass) and modern clean lines for your outdoor furniture. Upholster or choose broad striped pillows in crisp colors. When selecting plants, try contrasting tall thin shapes like skyrocket juniper with several clumps of ornamental grass like spiky blue oat grass or a softer arching pennisetum fountain grass like “Hameln.” Don’t be timid, make a bold sculptural statement. Plant a large pot with rosette stonecrop, euphorbia, large hosta or if you are in the shade a large soft fern like ostrich fern. One or more topiary would also be fun. This can be a compelling focal point.

If you like green everywhere you look and want to lose boundaries like walls, or fences, go for the jungle look. Interweave layers of lush-looking plants with a canopy of trees. Start with deciduous trees that have fine-textured leaves and spreading branches such as a silk tree or honey locust. Thin a few branches to let in light for the lower levels. An important consideration is to be sure that the drainage is good and that you have plenty of good porous and loose soil. Ideas include hanging baskets filled with colorful coleuses and drooping vines like sweet potato vine or epiphytes growing on tree trunks at eye level. Hostas with white or lime green edges look great in the shade, caladiums and coleuses have wonderful colored foliage. Impatiens and fuchsia will love this atmosphere. Use shade-loving ferns like maidenhair, try a Sago palm in a large planted and overwinter in the house. Use interesting hedges that like shade. Now add twining and tumbling vines like Dutchman’s pipe and akebia.

If a deck or patio is your sole gardening space but you like several styles of plantings there is a way to incorporate a second theme. Partially screen a portion of the space with a trellis or a hedge in containers or install a bamboo blind.

Erect a canopy over part of the space and make a secret garden with a different theme on the other side. You might install shelves that you can display collections of stone, driftwood or wild with different types and sizes of containers, the more interesting, the better. Select a birdbath or hummingbird feeder and put them on the sunny side of the patio. If you have a really sunny spot choose a fruit tree and a vegetable garden in pots. You can espalier (train to grow flat against a support) your tree on a trellis or on the side of the house.