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Make Small Big
by Susan Jasan - posted 06/24/19

Just as we are mesmerized by the tiny fingers and the tiny toes of newborns, or fascinated by tiny works of art, it seems that anything small in scale draws us in with interest and curiosity. I think that is true of small garden spaces as well. Maybe it’s because every feature has to have a valuable impact on the whole. There’s no room for excess. There’s necessity, purpose, and yes, detail.

Typically when designing a small garden space, no matter how you define “small,” there are some special requirements:

• Keep things simple. Clutter happens quickly in a small space.

• Even as you keep your design simple, think in terms of detail. Each plant should have a clear purpose and contribute to the overall experience in the garden.

• A focal point is imperative, but use only one focal point. Keep it in proportion to the space. Even try a cut out of your proposed feature to see if it is the proper scale before you make an investment and make the effort to haul it home.

• Just as you have a focal point, it’s important to have an area to sit and enjoy the garden. Instead of using a typical outdoor table and chair arrangement, consider a small bistro table to one side, or maybe a cozy bench or swing to relax and enjoy your garden space. Or possibly your view is from an interior window. Consider all views!

• Create a backdrop with taller plants or vines to help envelop the space. Remember to keep the height and breadth of the plants in proportion to the space. Also you’ll have a root system that will be smaller and less likely to compromise nearby footings or pavement.

• If using any trees, consider using ornamental trees rather than large shade trees. The lower canopy of ornamental trees will provide a feeling of safety and comfort while not overpowering the space.

• Consider developing a Japanese-style garden. Utilize the ideas of feng shui, where each plant, boulder, color, and placement is purposeful with deep meaning, contributing to balance, harmony and comfort.

• Repetition is always key to creating harmony in any garden. In a small garden that is no exception. Whether it’s repetition in hardscape materials, repetition in plant species, or repetition in plant form or colors. Repetition helps create a sense of familiarity and thus contributes to creating an inviting space.

• Look for dwarf forms of your favorite plants. Today there are so many varieties and cultivars of trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants, grasses, and tropical plants, that you can often find a dwarf form of that favorite plant that may just fit your space. Check with your local nurseries for plants that grow well in your region. Remember too that dwarf can mean many things – anywhere from 1-foot- to 10-feet-tall “dwarves,” so be sure to consult your nursery specialists or read plant labels thoroughly.

• When planning a garden space, even a small garden, try to give yourself a planting bed that is at least 3 feet deep; 5 feet is even better. This allows you to tier plants from tallest to shortest which adds visual depth to any landscape.

Even if you have a limited space for gardening, you can still have maximum impact.

 

This article appeared in a previous State-by-State Gardening issue.

 


Susan Jasan is a horticulturist and landscape architect with a passion for creating landscapes that provide the human spirit an environment that gives one’s soul the respite from life’s daily challenges.