A landscape, no matter its size, is not just one contiguous area filled with growing things or concrete. It is divided into ‘rooms,’ which can contain different elements according to use, space, and growing conditions. And even if you live in a smaller space, you can still bring in some great—and personal–design to that courtyard, or corner. Creating something unexpected is the point, and it’s not hard at all.
Here, you see a typical garden wall and gate. Functional design, varied and hardy plantings, lighting and security in place. Ho hum. But see past the gate? What lies within is key. It’s a small space, so an easy design. We used Chinese elements here, installed fairly simple plantings, provided a water feature for real interest, and an imposing pagoda to anchor it all. Design theme, water, plants, architectural element, rock and stone. That was the checklist. Notice it isn’t a long list of requirements. Start out with one connecting idea, then implement it with plantings and other elements.
Because it’s a small area, we wanted to make use of sound as well as sight. Hence, the flowing water. It cascades down the rocks and collects in a pool at the base of the Japanese maple. That maple is the workhorse of the design because it gives a great show twelve months of the year. The foliage of these small landscape trees are what gives them value. You’ll find hybrids with leaves that pretty much run the color wheel between black red and pale chartreuse. Even in the depths of winter, a Japanese maple’s trunk and bare branches provide interest. It always works in corners and small spaces because, depending on the cultivar, will never outgrow its space. Use of a small tree with brilliant foliage also meant we didn’t have to rely on annual plantings for color, which further simplifies the design. Just some water-loving grasses were all we needed to finish this part of the design.
Contrast, which you’ll want to be aware of, comes in the use of natural rock slabs, river rock, and pavers. Don’t forget to incorporate texture into your design. Natural juxtaposed with manmade, straight lines versus what’s found in nature.
And the best kind of contrast comes with the interplay of light and shadow. The kind of shade cast by elements of our small garden means it looks great at 6 AM, as well as 6 PM.
A touch of whimsy is always welcome. This globe was used because the fire engine red color can be seen from afar, and is merely the outline of a circle; the plants can grow through and over it. Let your plants run free every time you can, but give them something in the way of support.
Pools call for frogs, and this one’s no exception. Stylized and amusing, he splays out on the rock sunning himself, and adds that element of personality you’ll want in your design. I write a lot about showing your personality in the landscape, but that doesn’t mean you have to create a major production and spend a lot of money. Often, just one element, like our metal lounging amphibian, will do the trick.
The stone pagoda adds gravitas, yet also a bit of fun. Plus, it telegraphs the importance of Chinese elements in our design. It anchors the space year-round and, while formal, is welcoming. Find one large piece to serve as focal point like this one, and your design comes together. You can design a small garden around something you already have, or you can look for something as you go.
It’s really fairly simple to put together a small garden in a small space. Limit your design and its elements. Think functionality, but don’t forget whimsy and the occasional piece that will delight you and your guests. Don’t be afraid to experiment. After all, you aren’t creating a five-acre park. Think of it more as an inviting little space where you make unexpected use of what you can find all around you.
Live Life to the Fullest,
Chris H. Olsen