Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
August, 2004
Regional Report

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In a shady small garden, pulmonaria, Japanese painted fern, and gooseneck loosestrife provide glowing foliage throughout the summer.

Enjoy the Intimacy of a Small Garden

It seems gardens are getting smaller and smaller these days. As land gets more expensive, some people choose to spend their money on a larger house on a very small lot.

Others buy condos or townhouses with tiny patios and a few plantings near the front door, and retirees are often ready to downsize to a small garden where they can continue to create beauty without taxing their reduced energy levels.

The great thing about gardening is that it doesn't have to mean expansive spaces. A small garden is cozy, inviting, and can be an additional outdoor 'room' that serves as an extension of living space. A garden may be small in size, but it can be huge in impact and personal expression.

In a small garden there's less maintenance in the way of weeding, mulching, fertilizing, and watering, so you spend less time working and more time enjoying the fruits of your labor.

Think Small
When planning a small garden, each detail is doubly important. Plant selection, color themes, fences and paths, and use of garden ornaments take a bit more planning in the smaller landscape than in a large area. And as tempting as it is to fill every square foot of space with plants, in small gardens less is more! Simplicity should guide us to avoid creating a garden that is confusing, jostling, and even annoying.

Keep the color scheme simple. You get much more impact with a limited color palette, particularly if you move from pale to deep within each color range. The best designers suggest focusing on two colors in several shades combined with greens and grays. Flowers of one or two colors placed against backgrounds of various shades of green catch the eye in a small space.

In the small garden it's especially important to think vertically! Arbors and trellises allow you to grow plants upward, so they take up very little space. Adding height in a small space creates the illusion that the area is larger because the eye travels to take in the various levels. Grow vines on a trellis mounted on a wall or fence or in a container, use hanging baskets on a fence, or place a container of flowers on a pedestal.

Containers filled with plants are versatile elements of the small space garden, particularly because they can be moved around. This allows plants not yet in bloom to be placed in an out-of-the-way spot until they bloom. And when plants have faded, they can be replaced by something new that is starting its own display.

When choosing plants for a small space garden, remember that each plant has to offer maximum impact. Select plants that either have a long flowering period, interesting foliage, or more than one season of interest. Plant in layers by putting bulbs under flowering shrubs, perennials, and annuals to use the same planting space for each season.

Although it seems logical to use only small plants in a small space, the garden will actually look better with one or two larger, architectural plants to give some structure to the garden. They will give you a focal point to build around. But perhaps the most important design element of all is to make the garden your own and then take the time to enjoy it!

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