Design ideas, May 2018

Making the most of a small space

A small space doesn’t have to hold you back from getting what you want out of your garden. A small space just means that decisions count more than they might in a larger area where you have room to put everything that you want.

I think that the best way to illustrate what works in a small garden is to show a few pictures and discuss what works (or doesn’t.) First of all, I will say that all the pictures that you are about to see are interesting and successful because they don’t consist of an expanse of lawn in the middle with flowerbeds bordering it on all sides. Although you might think that being able to see the whole garden at once allows you to get the most out of the space available and make it seem bigger, the reverse is actually true, except for under certain circumstances, like if the garden is seen primarily from above.

So let’s go…

Example #1:

small garden 1

This garden is successful for a number of reasons.

  1. Good fencing choices. While it is enclosed, the choice of a lattice fence allows it to “breathe”, and the little glimpses that you get of the gardens beyond make it feel more open. Imagine if the fence were solid instead of “see-through”. You would lose that light feeling and just feel like you were in a box.
  2. Change of heights. By having the gate at the top of the steps, it adds interest to the space and makes you wonder what is on the other side, and how it relates to the sunken garden.
  3. Open space vs. plant space. The designer of this garden was wise to keep them separate. If there had been plants on the left hand side as well as the right, it would have made the garden feel more closed in. The little patch of lawn keeps the garden from being busy, and nicely compliments the exuberance of the plant bed on the right.
  4. There is a place to enjoy it! Even a small garden should have room for a seat of some sort. In this case, the patio has room for enough furniture for two people to have a meal, or just to sit and enjoy the space around them.

 

Example #2:

small garden 2

This garden is much more plant-centric than the first one, but it shows how a relaxing area can be made out of the smallest space, or even a corner of a larger space. Noteworthy characteristics include:

  1. Coziness. While feeling much more enclosed than the first garden, this nook looks like it was made so on purpose. Colorful, shade loving plants surround but do not encroach on the lounge chair’s space. And the blanket on the chair adds to the cozy effect.
  2. Water. What could be more relaxing than the sound of water? The small fountain in the corner (at least, I think that’s what it is – if not, let’s pretend it is) fits the space well, and delivers a soothing sound.
  3. Well chosen colors. The relaxing palette plus the occasional pop of red keeps this space calm, but interesting. The cushions on the chair echo the color of the foliage, and the natural wood keeps the whole scene looking natural. Picture it with bright red cushions. Not necessarily bad, but a very different feel.

Example #3:

small garden 3

This small garden has a more modern feel, but is still a good example of how simplicity can be very successful in a small garden.  In my opinion, things that make this garden work are:

  1. A limited number of textures. One common mistake in small gardens is to try to have too many textures – patio, walkway, plants, etc. This garden has four basic “visual” textures; the metal chairs, the decking, the pea stone, and the grass. Other things in the garden echo these choices – the larger round rocks by the fountain echo the pea stone, the metal fountain echoes the chairs, the edging echoes the deck, and the plants echo the grass. This creates a visual continuity, instead of being cluttered.
  2. A repetition of shapes. The designer of this garden didn’t try to integrate curves and straight lines as that could be visually over-stimulating. Instead, there are squares and rectangles of various sizes that move the eye through the space.
  3. A limited color palette. Warm browns and greens make up this garden, and tie the separate elements together. Imagine if the pea stone had been grey and the plants a riot of color. It might have worked, although more likely, I think, the garden would have looked much too busy. In any case, it would have had a totally different look.

There are so many ways to design a small space. If you have one of you own, take time to look online at pictures of other small gardens and think of what looks good to you. If you do that, you will be halfway there. Awareness is everything.

Design ideas, January 2018

Winter Interest

Here in Northern New England, winter interest in the garden is a must.  Just because three of our seasons are “almost winter, winter, and still winter” (the fourth being “road construction”), it doesn’t mean that we have to stare out the window at nothingness much of the year. Creating winter interest is a more subtle art than designing riotous garden beds, but it is absolutely attainable, and the good news is that it can co-exist with the summertime plants without lessening any of their splendor.

Plant choices are important, but structure is even more so, so I will start with that.

STRUCTURE: The “bones” of the garden are made up of things like walls, pathways, trellises, large trees, and the patterns created by the flowerbeds. They are the framework against which we place the plants, rather like a cake before it has been decorated. Good bones give the garden visual balance and make it interesting to look at. The picture below has good bones. Although it’s not a garden, per se, but a field covered in snow, it’s far from boring to look at. The trees in the middle ground and in the background have an interesting shape, and the low hedgerow dividing the fields breaks up what could otherwise have been a rather dull expanse of snow. And the curly iron gatepost and frosty weeds add a lot of interest to the foreground. In the summer that same gatepost would probably be almost invisible, and we would be walking right by it, only registering a rather weeds patch by the side of the path.

In winter, the bones really get a chance to come into their own!DSCN2749 (1)

Here is another picture, but of a real garden this time. However, the principles are the same: Trees placed in the foreground, middle ground, and background, with the space divided up into sections by low hedges. The wall adds interest, too.

winter garden

If you are wondering how to achieve this in your own garden, or if you aren’t quite sure how it will look in the winter, try this trick: Take a photo of your garden and change it to black and white on your phone, or make a black and white copy of a printed photo. Without the distraction of the color, you will be able to see the shapes much more clearly, and imagine what the garden will look like when the flowers have gone away. Then you can adjust, if necessary.

COLOR: Once you have structure in the garden, you can start adding some of the cake decorations- the plants. Plants with brightly colored stems, like Cornus sericea, (Red-twig Dogwood) or Salix alba var. vittellina (A shrubby willow), make a stunning display. Ilex verticillata, or Winterberry Holly, is covered in bright red berries. Neither is all that exciting in the summer, but they make a nice backdrop for other perennials, preferring to  pull their weight in the winter.

DSCN3197

Salix alba var. vitellina, I think, at the Eden Project in Cornwall, UK.

winterberryWinterberry Holly. You’ll need a male as well as females to get a lot of berries. Ask at your garden center.

TEXTURE: Interesting textures that catch the frost or fine snowflakes can also add a lot to the garden. Leave the seed heads of perennials like Echinacea, or the tall Sedums for their unusual shapes. The birds will thank you, too. Just yesterday I had at least a dozen Juncos eating the seeds of the Liatris that I never got around to deadheading. Who knew? And now I get to feel righteous instead of lazy!

Grasses of all shapes and sizes can look splendid in the winter. Tall, plumy ones like Miscanthus add great structure (!!), Medium Pennisetums like ‘Hameln’ add a fountain of foliage to the landscape, and a waterfall of Hakonechloa (see picture below) is hard to beat after a frost.

Grasses in snow

Play around with these elements and you will find that your winter garden is far from boring. Now, if we could just figure out what to do about road construction…

DSCN2703