One of the challenges of small garden design is of course space Unlike large gardens, you must be much more disciplined in your approach. While experimentation is easier in the smaller garden, you will want to spend some time planning. You will need to be satisfied with fewer types of plants. Instead of buying a new plant spur of the moment, you will want to spend a little more time thinking about the potential new plant’s fit in terms of spread, height, color and texture.
With the smaller garden, it is not as easy to do things like hidden turns and garden rooms. But this does not mean you need to throw away the elements of contemporary garden design. You have opportunities to do similar things on a smaller scale. Imagine you have a small garden space towards the back of your yard. It is on your right as you walk towards it. You can start with a low boxwood-type hedge, or in my case a rock about 12″ high with a sharpish edge on the top. My rock is about 3 feet long. I laid the rock perpendicular to and touching my garage wall, forming a border shaped like a mountain range. As you walk further back, the area at first obscured by the rock reveals itself. I tried to make this more dramatic by using multicolored peonies planted very tightly against the side of the rock near the garage wall. This way, you see a small explosion of color that remains hidden until you have come completely to the level of the rock. This is my version of the hidden turn.
While large hardscapes such as boulders and walls may be out of the question, you can still create the illusion of separation by using hedges, rocks as in my example, gravel rivers as in Japanese gardening, etc. For myself, instead of trying to create rooms or separation within a single garden area, I have several small garden areas which are for the most part separated by lawn. In some cases I try to treat each of these tiny areas as separate gardens or rooms.
This gives me the ability to try new things fairly quickly in a small garden area. If it doesn’t work, or if I want to try something new, I may buy some additional plants, or I might move plants from one of the other little gardens. I can add my “mini hardscapes” like rock, and move plants around in a matter of minutes. I think experimentation is one of my favorite things about this type of gardening. While on the one hand, you need to plan for the appropriate plants, on the other hand you can swap different plants in and out of a particular spot to see which works best, or just to try out a new idea.
As always, you will need to take note of your growing zone, especially the hours of sun vs. shade in the area you are planting. We do site analysis in the first place to know which plants will thrive in our garden. I read once that a poorly chosen plant becomes an annual, so don’t let that happen to you! Make sure to select your plant for the appropriate size, texture, color, and durability for your planting area. Some of my areas get sun for 6 hours, some are always in shade.
Unlike a larger garden, you will be able to see your entire garden as one entity. Even though you can have some separation into tiny rooms if you want, remember to look at each small garden as a complete composition. The way the plants work together to form the whole can be much more important in the small garden.
Everything I have read indicates that you should be somewhat monochromatic with your small garden. Use different variations and subtleties of the dominant color. Show differences with height, texture, etc. On the other hand, I have always been a little bit of a contrarian, so you can always try explosions of different colors, especially if you have an object to anchor the explosion, like a rock, small bird bath, sundial, bench, etc. For myself, I will never tire of red and green against a whitish rock.
And again, here is the versatility of the small garden. You can still have some of the traditional elements of the larger garden, like a separated sitting area or playing area. But here are some options. First, instead of one garden area with a play area, have 2 different garden areas separated by the playing area. If you want a bench, or sitting area, try the same – 2 separate gardens divided by the sitting area.