Design a Small Garden

03/16/2017 | Ken Davis In the Garden, Landscaping, Plant Care

By Ken Lain, the mountain gardeners

Small garden spaces are so much easier to design and decorate than big open spaces, but gardening in small spaces is generally overlooked in gardening manuals. Garden design is often presented as a list of principles or rules, and while there is value in the key elements of garden design, usually garden design principles are illustrated for gardens of grand scales.  Many of us don’t have the time or the inclination to undertake the maintenance of acres of gardens. Most of us don’t have acres of land to cultivate!

Gardening in a small space has its limits, but in a small garden, the gardener can pay attention to detail. With a small garden, it is easier to keep on top of maintenance, while still having time to sit and enjoy the well-earned results. In fact, many smaller gardens are designed around entertaining and sitting areas rather than the need to nurture plants.

Whatever your reasons for having a small garden, there is no reason it cannot be a well- designed show stopper. Virtually any plant or garden style can be worked into a small garden space.

The principles of good garden design still apply, but they’ll need to be tweaked slightly.

Small Garden Design Challenges

  1. The entire garden can be viewed as a whole. Some small garden spaces will be able to accommodate a hidden turn around a path or even be divided into garden rooms, but for the most part, an entire small garden can be taken in with one look. This means that a small garden will be viewed as a single composition.
  2. Limited space means having to make choices. You won’t be able to grow every plant you love. You’ll need to curb your inclination to buy a plant on impulse assuming you’ll find a place to plant it.
  3. Color should also be limited, to give your small garden cohesion. Less is more. Cooler colors will make the garden appear larger and give the garden a feeling of depth. You can compensate for the limited color palette with a variety of textures. The textural contrast helps blend the various plants and allow the garden to flow.
  1. Every plant or feature needs to serve a purpose. There is no room for wasted space or under-performing plants. Plants should offer at least two seasons of interest. Get rid of ugly plants and under-performers!

Small Garden Bonuses

  1. Design is easier when you take in the whole garden in one glance.
  2. Smaller gardens require fewer plants to make a dramatic effect.
  3. Gardeners get to know every space and plant in the small space. Any plant that is out of place or not thriving can be spotted and corrected quickly and easily.
  1. Small gardens lend themselves to being enclosed. You may not want to install a stone wall, but a flowering or evergreen hedge creates the illusion of a secret garden. A simple low boxwood edge transforms a small garden into a formal one. Stepping stones, paths, and fencing enclose and define a space for entertaining and/or children’s play.

A small-space garden lends itself to personal expression. Smaller gardens are extensions of gardeners’ homes, speaking volumes about the sensibilities and tastes of each gardener. And if those tastes and sensibilities should change, it’s much easy rework a small garden.

Spring Open House March 17-19
  A budding romance with Spring bursts into bloom with Watters Garden Center’s 55th Spring Open House! Watters is bringing farmers from the field to show off this year’s newest flowers, the brightest evergreens, and freshest new bloomers to start this year’s spring planting season.
Much of my own yard is a series of small garden settings.  I set up a Pinterest Board that showcases small garden designs.  Many of the photos are from my own gardens.

Friday, March 17th  kicks off the fun-filled weekend in honor of St. Patrick’s Day by offering free shamrocks with purchases of evergreens.

Saturday, March 18th the free class, Living Screens for Privacy, begins at 9:30.  Guest speakers will include Kent Broome, Bailey Nursery’s western grower. Kent will feature this year’s fastest growing privacy screen.

Sunday, March 19th continues the fun for all ages with giveaways, impromptu free

gardening classes, gorgeous new plants, corn hole, and face painting for the kids.

Experienced gardeners and those just starting out will delight in brand-new, first-time-ever plants, plus gifts, prizes, specials, and a chance to hang out with other people that think it’s awesome to get their hands dirty growing their own flowers and vegetables. It will be fun, so join us!

Until next week, I’ll see you at the garden center.

Ken Lain can be found throughout the week at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Rd in Prescott, or contacted through his web site at or .