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Tips on Designing a Small Garden

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by Naomi Rodgers
(San Diego, California, USA)

The small garden, or garden space, is in many ways easier to plan than a larger one. The space restriction automatically rules out many features enabling one to concentrate in more detail, and possibly greater imagination, on the chosen requirements.

As the plants used in the small garden space are seen more closely they gain an extra importance and interest, each individual leaf and its shape and texture is noticed rather than the overall shape of the plant alone.

The effective use of contrasting foliage, such as hosta’s, grasses and bamboo, grouped together, can greatly enhance the small garden planting scheme. Floral colour may not in fact be of prime importance. Likewise, the hard landscape materials – bricks, paving slabs, cobbles and pebbles – can almost be treated as individuals.

One of the pitfalls when designing the small garden is trying to achieve too much, including too many features. A good, clear, but simple statement is likely to be more successful. By trying to include too many features the scale can easily go wrong, you cannot scale down a larger garden into a small space, the result would be both a visual and physical mistake. Paths still need to be a comfortable width to walk along and the spaces for chairs, table and people not too cramped. The principles of designing the small garden are entirely the same for any size of garden.

An all-the-year-round floral colour display can be difficult to achieve. In very small gardens even to try to do so may be detrimental resulting in a garden that is never effective at any one season. It is, therefore, better to get the overall structure of planting and foliage right and then concentrate on colour at certain times of the year. For summer, choose individual plants that have a long-flowering season, with the roses for example, Ballerina’,Jtosach/nens/s’Mutabilis’, in association with Hidcote Lavender, and the common Alchemilla mollis, are very satisfactory. Evergreen shrubs, such as Mahonia and viburnum provide additional strength.

Growing Vegetables In A Smaller Garden

It could be argued that, particularly where space is limited, there is little point in sacrificing ornamental flowering plants for vegetables and fruit which can easily be purchased from a shop. However, some fruit and vegetables are never better than straight from the garden and others are unavailable in the shops. When planning the vegetable areas, try to keep these small, avoiding big gaps when crops are harvested.

Many vegetables are themselves ornamental, like the runner bean, (introduced to this country as an ornamental climber, not as a vegetable), which can be trained on trellis, on a fence or on pyramids made from three or four bamboo canes tied together at the top.

Other vegetables, such as red lettuce or beetroot can give color as well as food. The herbs and vegetables could be surrounded by dwarf box or lavender as an edging, all making the vegetable garden more attractive, but adding considerably to the work. Bush fruit trees (grafted on dwarfing root stocks) and espalier fruits, grown against a wall or fence, can be useful and effective, at the same time saving space. With careful planning all can be included in the design with the other ornamental planting.

Updated: October 13, 2013 — 7:11 am

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