10 small garden planting ideas that really work
Small garden planting is often different from planting in large gardens. Colour and shape work differently in a smaller space.
This is Part 2 of ‘10 garden planting ideas for small garden.’
It features the garden of garden designer Posy Gentles. Her own garden is 100ft x 20ft, so it’s very narrow. She uses it as an experimental garden, finding out what works and what doesn’t.
Posy’s top 10 tips for small garden planting:
- Use evergreens for structure and as punctuation points
- Add vertical planting -trees and spires – so the eye goes up
- You don’t need to plant in 3s and 5s – you’re not aiming for a ‘drift’ but can enjoy individual plants close up.
- Always have one or more trees to use vertical space
- Make your garden ‘glitter’ – add soft colours and small flowers
- Climbers take the garden upwards and blur boundaries.
- Contrast leaf colours and shapes
- Add light with variegated or glossy leaves
- Choose plants with movement instead of chunky blocks of colour.
- Use scale for contrast. Big leaves and big plants next to smaller ones
We went into more detail on the first five points in the first post about small garden planting ideas.
For example, a herbaceous border with blocks of beautiful colour looks wonderful in a large garden. You can walk past it, enjoying the play of colour over a large canvas.
But in a small garden, a border filled with chunky shrubs and drifts of perennials would occupy all the planting space and block off the rest of the garden visually.
So Posy recommends using flowers with movement and airy plants, so that you can see through the garden.
Make the most of vertical space in a small garden
The space in your garden is not just at ground level. You can plant climbers up the walls and into trees. ‘A clematis that climbs up your wall and into a tree blurs your boundaries,’ says Posy.
‘I only use Group 3 clematis in a small garden. That’s because they climb up in a single season, then you cut them down to six inches above the ground the following February. Then they climb up again by the summer. This means they’re not occupying space in the garden all year round. A Clematis montana, for example, will occupy space in your garden even when it isn’t in flower.’
Contrast is important in small garden planting
Contrast is important in both small and large gardens. Pick plants with different shapes or colours of leaves, and contrast small plants with larger ones. But in smaller gardens, you can plant just one of each plant. You don’t have to plant in threes and fives, which is recommended for larger gardens. You’re not aiming for a ‘drift’ in a small garden.
And the plants are close up. So you can really enjoy the difference between a small feathery leaf and a large glossy one. Posy contrasts leaf and plant shapes in her narrow town garden.
Add light with variegated and glossy leaves
Small gardens are more likely to be dark than large ones. They are usually in towns, so are shaded by buildings, walls and trees.
To add light, Posy suggests using variegated leaves and glossy leaves that reflect light. She recommends Variegated shrubby honeysuckle (Lonicera nitida ‘Silver Beauty’), Variegated hebe (Hebe glaucophylla variegata) and Variegated beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘Franken’) as good variegated plants for small gardens.
Choose plants with movement instead of blocks
Whether you’re choosing plants for colour or greenery, think about how the plants move, advises Posy. For example, she has a gracefully weeping bamboo (Himalayacalamus falconeri), an airy Stipa tenuissima and a type of hollyhock that has tiny flowers on tall stems that wave in the breeze (Althaea cannabina).
Her flower choices also have movement, with small profuse flowers. She calls this ‘soft focus’ because the flowers and foliage can be almost transparent, like a layer of gauze over the border. For more about this, see part 1 of Garden planting ideas for small gardens).
Astrantia, nicotiana, salvia, Nigella and bronze fennel all have combine many good planting characteristics for small gardens. Salvias, bronze fennel and nicotiana are tall but they don’t block the view. And the small flowers of astrantias and Nigella also add colour without being too solid.
Contrast with scale – put large next to small
This tip can apply to leaves, flowers or whole plants. Although Posy thinks that small flowers generally work well in small gardens, she also thinks that it’s important to have some large plants or leaves in a small garden. This year she has had two giant echiums at the bottom of the garden, reaching over ten feet into the sky. The pollinators have loved them.
More small garden design help
Find out more in this post with part 1 of 10 small garden planting ideas. There is also good small garden planting inspiration in the small town garden transformation carried out by Great British Bake Off finalist and garden designer Jane Beedle.
See here for Posy Gentles’ garden design.
It’s worth having a couple of useful books that help you think about what to plant in your garden. Keep them beside your bed and flick through them for inspiration. Two of my favourites are The Bold and Brilliant Garden by Sarah Raven and Colour for Adventurous Gardeners by Christopher Lloyd. Note that links to Amazon are affiliate, see disclosure.
I also found The New Wild Garden by Ian Hodgson, both inspiring and informative. Although not aimed at small gardens, the wildlife-friendly plants on its pages have the airy characteristics and vertical spires of good plants for small gardens. And they are loved by pollinators.
I’m often asked for recommendations so I’ve put together some useful lists of my favourite gardening books, tools and products on the Middlesized Garden Amazon store. For example, if you want a list of essential garden tools, I’ve listed them with the brands I use.
This week’s video – the secret of growing dahlias
Steven Edney, the award-winning Head Gardener of the Salutation Hotel & Gardens, comes from a family of professional dahlia growers. He tells us what we need to know about choosing and growing dahlias, in the gorgeous gardens of The Salutation.
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