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Big Ideas for Using Color in Small Spaces

So much color, so many ideas, so little time! That’s the Northwest Flower and Garden Show in a nutshell. Thank goodness for my camera because that’s how I can look back on special visual highlights to glean ideas for my own garden and share some of my favorites with you. In this post I’m focusing on some of the details from the City Living displays that caught me eye. These displays are created within an 12′ x 6′ footprint and intended to represent a typical city size balcony or condo patio, showing that a small space doesn’t mean compromising on style.

If you enjoyed my last post on Fearless Design – secrets for using bold color in the garden but wondered how those ideas could be translated to even smaller spaces, this post is for you

Crayola Colors

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Vibrant scarlet and golden-yellow tulips set the theme for the garden called “Seattle Style

Camden Gardens won the award for Best Design in the City Living Displays this year and I can understand why.  A border of glossy, golden yellow containers framed the space and brought instant sunshine to this petite grey Seattle patio. These were planted with a simple repeating combination of chartreuse conifers, vibrant red and gold tulips, yellow begonias and bi-color primroses.

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Award winning display “Seattle Style”  by Camden Gardens

Clusters of tall, white, circular containers were the perfect counterpoint to the linear display while one single bronze vessel with unique geometric lines took the container display from well done to exceptional. The red and yellow color scheme was continued in all the containers – except a single bronze one, which included blue flowering accents.

A unique bronze container added blue grape hyacinths (Muscari) as an accent color

A unique bronze container added blue grape hyacinths (Muscari) as an accent color

I also loved the use of a sculptural piece of driftwood inserted into one of the tall containers, its organic shape acting as a  frame for several colorful glass balls while also introducing the juxtaposition of a natural element within the man-made.

All the finishing touches were pulled together with an artistic eye for both repetition and contrast. It’s a perfect oasis for an Seattle couple – and their pampered pup, as this patio includes a comfy dog bed and water bowl for the furry family member too.

Color for Cocktail Gardens

Dee Montpetit is no stranger to the Northwest Flower and Garden Show, and her display this year, “A Botanical Soiree” had all her usual hallmarks of  great use of color, interesting container combinations, and attention to detail.

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“A Botanical Soiree” designed by Dee Montpetit

 

The silver chairs, table, and buffet had an airiness to their design, the transparency enhancing the sense of space on the small patio.

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A wall-hung, mosaic framed mirror reflects the taller plantings opposite, suggesting a much larger garden space.

Turquoise is the key color, featured in containers, a tall bubbling fountain, the mosaic mirror frame, and soft furnishings. Being used on different elements throughout the patio, the eye  moves from one splash of blue to the next – a key design trick to create a sense of cohesion but also making a small space seem larger.

Silver reflects light, and grey Seattle days  – and evenings – need all the help they can get, so it was a wise use of color for the furniture while matte black containers anchor the design.

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Great use of space: oval pots and light-wrapped tree branches

Against one wall, in place of a traditional screen or fence Dee wrapped tiny LED lights around cut birch branches. I’m seriously going to copy that idea somewhere!! Can you imaging the tiny twinkles of light at night?

Notice her use of oval containers too – they take up a smaller footprint than round or square pots so are ideal where space is at a premium yet can still be planted with trees, shrubs, perennials, succulents and bulbs – all top-dressed with sparkly blue glass pebbles.

Charming color and plant combinations

Charming color and plant combinations

A restrained color palette of silver, blue, and pink  doesn’t translate to boring when Dee is let loose! I loved her intriguing textures and unique combinations that included fragrant lavender and hyacinths, with spring daffodils and primroses all nestled within a gorgeous foliage tapestry of astelia, spurge, cushion bush (Calocephalus brownii), succulents and more.

Spring isn't spring without hellebores

Spring isn’t spring without hellebores and fragrant sweetbox.

Dee chose colors for the container plantings that would work well after dark as well as being beautiful during the day . White, pale pink, and soft lavender all glow softly at dusk, which together with the twinkling lights and silver elements ensure this patio is ready for any soiree.

Final Shout Out

I have to commend Grace Hensley for this fun detail in her City Living  garden. You KNOW you want to copy this idea. If you have kids, grandkids – or are a child at heart, don’t you want to tell the story of the little mouse who lives behind the teeny tiny black door…..

Design by Grace Hensley

Design by Grace Hensley

 

Are you ready for spring now?

More Ideas

If you want more ideas for designing for small spaces check out Susan Morrison’s latest book The Less is More Garden, You can also read my review here.

 

Your 2018 Gardener’s Gift Guide

Carefully curated gifts for the garden lovers in your life.

For the Book Lover

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You can’t possibly go wrong with this; five star reviews, recommended by the Royal Horticulture Society, sold in all the best bookstores and botanical gardens:  Gardening with Foliage First (Timber Press, 2017) is suitable for beginners or experienced gardeners alike. I can even send you signed bookplates to include if you order soon! Just email me with your mailing address and tell me how many you need.

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This may be called a magazine, but I can tell you Garden Design most definitely comes into the ‘book’ category in terms of quality, stunning photography, in depth articles and lack of advertisements. Order a subscription as a gift and you’ll get FIVE issues for the cost of FOUR when you use this link or call (855) 624-5110 Monday – Friday, 8 – 5 PST and mention this offer.

 

For the Container Gardener

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My brand new online course  Container Gardening to Suit Your Style launches on December 4th and can be purchased as a gift  for yourself or a friend! With over two hours of ‘watch when you like’ instruction, plant lists, resources and interaction with other students and myself in a private group, this is a fun way to gain confidence and improve your skills as a designer. Suitable for all levels of experience from beginner to professional.

Full details of this Garden Gate magazine course plus a video trailer can be found  HERE. (Once you enter the basic email information you’ll be taken to the purchase page where you have the option to purchase this as a gift).

And as a special gift to MY readers and subscribers, I’m giving you a $50 discount!! Just enter KCHAPMAN as a coupon code.

 

For the Urban Homesteader

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We all know someone who keeps chickens, has bees, or grows vegetables – check out the many useful and fun gifts that Stumpdust has to offer. Honey pots, garden tools and chicken ornaments are just a few of these handcrafted gifts turned from salvaged wood in our very own barn here in Duvall, WA. Yes, that’s right, the Stumpdust Santa is non other than my super-talented husband Andy. He has even agreed to offer friends of Le jardinet a special discount. Type the coupon code SANTA10 at checkout to receive 10% off your order of $75 or more. Coupon expires December 7th so don’t wait too long!

For the Garden Photographer

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As digital cameras  have become easier to use and less expensive, more and more gardeners have discovered the delight of taking high quality photos of their gardens to create cards, e-books, wall art, or simply to share with friends.

A tripod is an indispensable piece of camera kit, enabling you not only to avoid camera shake, but also to take superior low-light shots and frame up the scene in a more deliberate way. I LOVE my lightweight, super-portable MeFoto RoadTrip tripod. It fits easily into my carry-on or can be strapped to my camera back pack, is sturdy enough to manage my 18-135mm lens, is fully adjustable AND even converts quickly into a monopod for those scenarios when there isn’t room for a full tripod (think garden tours, narrow paths…). Lots of pretty colors too! Highly recommended and great value.

 

Congratulations – shopping complete! Time for a cup of tea and a warm mince pie.

Disclaimer: this post contains some affiliate links

Lessons from Chanticleer – when a Path becomes an Experience

The Teacup Garden features exotic plantings

The Teacup Garden features  plantings with a tropical flair

Have you ever visited a garden that literally took your breath away? The sun was barely cresting the horizon when I drove into Chanticleer Garden, affording the merest glimpse of what I would ultimately see. Although I had enjoyed slide presentations, photographic blog posts, and books on this unique place I still gasped a little as I entered the renowned Teacup Garden.

Yet as a designer I was looking for more than just photo opportunities – I was looking for ideas that the home gardener could glean and re-interpret to suit their budget and style, and that is where Chanticleer both excels and sets itself apart. So with that in mind, I’ve distilled my 500 images down to a handful to illustrate some of the many design tips that inspired me, focusing in this post in what is often overlooked for artistic expression – paths.

Pathways

The simplest path can be made more interesting by the addition of a sweeping curve

The simplest path can be made more interesting by the addition of a sweeping curve

Every garden needs paths as a means of getting from A to B. Whether utilitarian (getting the garbage cans to the sidewalk), leisurely strolling paths or directional (the primary path leading guests to the front door for example), there is an opportunity to add a level of detail and artistry.

Obscuring the final destination by curving the path and adding billowing plantings adds intrigue as shown in the photo above.

If the path necessitates a more abrupt change of direction, why not enhance that? In the photo below, notice how the spiral theme is repeated on the low stone wall, the pavers and the handrail. The introduction of new materials (stone pavers cut into the path) adds interest which is especially appreciated since one needs to slow down to turn the corner.

Why merely turn a corner when you can do this?

Why merely turn a corner when you can do this?

Incorporating new materials or a design element at a transition in the path can also help visitors find their way, such as the circle detail indicating a side path to the Tennis Court Garden. Notice how this secondary path continues in pavers, again distinguishing its purpose.

The circular motif makes it clear that this is an intersection

The circular motif makes it clear that this is an intersection

Bridges

What happens when your path needs to cross a seasonal stream, dry creek bed or culvert? Do you head to the nearest box store for the ubiquitous Japanese style bridge? Chanticleer designs and creates far more exciting ideas to get us thinking of the possibilities!

The stone-topped bridge shown below is in the Asian Woods. Notice the bamboo-inspired detail on the railing. This combination of metal and wood craftsmanship is a recurring theme at Chanticleer.

Asian-inspired brudge

Asian-inspired bridge

In another area, the organic form of the surrounding forest inspired these trunk-like posts. Notice the cobble detail in the pathway enhancing the experience and transition.

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Tree-like posts support the railing on this bridge

 

Steps

Changes in elevation necessitate a series of steps or a ramp. Once again Chanticleer seizes the opportunity to add artistic detail.

The Gravel Garden was alive with color and movement when I visited late October. Billowing clouds of pink muhly grass competed with bold stands of seedheads from black eyed Susan’s (Rudbeckia sp.) for my attention, as did architectural specimens such as beaked yucca (Yucca rostrata) and late blooming asters. Clearly I was not looking where my feet were going – my head was on a swivel!

Glorious color and exciting textures in the Gravel Garden

Glorious color and exciting textures in the Gravel Garden

This garden is carved out of a hillside. The designers at Chanticleer knew they needed a clear, safe path to navigate the steep, rocky terrain – but they also knew how to make it beautiful.

Creating a journey - not just a path

Creating a journey – not just a path

Wide, shallow steps, clearly defined by stone ledges help the distracted visitor explore the garden with ease, while the casually curved route transforms this from a flight of steps to a memorable experience.

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View of part of the Gravel Garden from above

Plants are allowed to encroach lightly onto the pathway, softening the hardscape  while the choice of materials integrates the steps into the gravel-topped landscape.

Steeper flights of steps may need a handrail – an opportunity for the Chanticleer artisans to get creative once again. Just one of many examples is depicted below, organic plant forms inspiring the design.

Creating a journey, not just a pathway

Inspired design

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Fern fronds, woodland mushrooms – and a snail adorn the base of this delightful railing

Chanticleer is not just a garden. Every detail, every moment is memorable. Yes, there are wide open vistas, remarkable foliage combinations, pleasant walks, colorful flower-filled borders, an inspiring vegetable garden, reflecting pools, portals, outstanding use of ‘borrowed views’ and axial sight lines. Chanticleer is all that and more. It is an experience.

When to Visit

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Notice the detail on the bench that overlooks the cutting and vegetable gardens….

I was fortunate to be able to visit before the gardens closed for the winter and am grateful to my friends Bill Thomas and Dan Benarcik for granting me early morning access. The gardens re-open to the public on March 28th 2018. Full details and directions here

Perfect Holiday Gift

This is a garden you need to visit often. Check out the website to get a sense of what each season offers – and still expect to be surprised.

If you live within easy traveling distance of Wayne, Pennsylvania, I recommend you treat yourself and a friend to a 2018 season pass.

Live farther away? I love their latest book The Art of Gardening: Design Inspiration and Innovative Planting Techniques from Chanticleer (Timber Press, 2015). It would be a truly inspiring gift for any occasion and any gardener and is choc-full of dreamy photos by the talented Rob Cardillo. Use my affiliate link to find out more and to save a few pennies:

The Little Purple House

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There are whimsical gardens and then there is Lucinda Hutson’s “Texican” garden – an unapologetic explosion of color that is pure FIESTA. Brought up in El Paso, Texas she regularly traveled to Mexico and central America whose colors and traditions continue to influence her. Lucinda loves to make everday life a fiesta and encourages others to do the same, whether it’s with festive cocktails…vibrant garden-to-plate dishes…or creative design ideas from her “Texican” artisan cottage and gardens.

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Set amid a row of more typical Austin homes, the vivid purple facade of her 1940’s cottage offers a hint at what lies both within and beyond but nothing could have prepared me for the extravagance of lush tropical vines and billowing flowers that both framed and engulfed a series of garden rooms.

The front garden was a jungle of rampant plant growth where dozens of flitting butterflies added to the vibrant display.Of course Lucinda had to take this a step farther and introduce her  own life-size version….

A guardian butterfly flutters in the breeze

A guardian butterfly flutters in the breeze

I wonder if Lucinda ever takes a moment to bushwhack her way to this cozy nook and contemplate her magical kingdom?

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Themed vignettes

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Succulents reminiscent of seaweed frame a mermaid, swimming in a seashell adorned grotto

Each themed room was reminiscent of a fantastical sidewalk painting, straight from Mary Poppins. My hurried snapshots, taken on an intensely sunny day cannot even begin to do justice to these kaleidoscopic displays but I’ve given you some great links at the end of this post which include Lucinda’s own images taken in optimal lighting. Be sure to enjoy those!

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Decorative plates edge the kitchen garden

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Every party needs music!

One of Lucinda’s offices is in the garden. Opening the door is an invitation to enter her Stairway to Heaven, a remarkable mosaic showpiece.

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“Stairway to Heaven”

Colored walls

Heading deeper into the back garden a cluster of buildings painted in equally bold colors provide Lucinda a series of additional canvases for her artistic touch

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Colorful oil cloth was used to cover these shelves, instantly waking up the dark purple wall

A weathered wooden curio cabinet holds

A weathered wooden curio cabinet holds Mexican tiles

 

One of my favorite wall displays was the collection of Mexican children’s chairs, which Lucinda uses to perch tools or coffee cups as the need arises.

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Using vines

Vines play an important role in this garden, taking the eye skywards while introducing more color and framing scenes.

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Bougainvillea catching the morning sun

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Why grow one vine up a birdhouse when you can grow two????

The perfect color echo

The perfect color echo

Tiny details

No opportunity is lost to add party flair.

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If you’d like to learn more about Lucinda, and see fabulous photos of all her garden check out her website.

You may also enjoy her book Viva Tequila!, a festive blend of inspired recipes for fabulous drinks and dishes, lively personal anecdotes, spicy cultural history, and colorful agave folk art proverbs and lore. It would make a wonderful gift for the party lover in your life, or anyone interested in anthropology. Check out my affiliate link below:

Pathway Transitions: Designer Details

Every garden needs pathways for navigation. Whether it is a means to get from the driveway to the front door, a short stretch from the back door to the garbage cans or a meandering trek through an abundantly planted border, each pathway has a distinctive role. That role in turn determines the paths width and the material it is likely to be made from: frequently traveled routes being wider and offering a reliably firm footing while a narrow woodland path may be just a 2-foot wide strip of mulch.

What fascinates me as a designer is the place at which paths intersect, change direction or change in function: what we refer to as transitions, which in turn become exciting design opportunities.

A Transition to a More Intimate Space

A visit to the Japanese Garden in Portland last week offered several wonderful examples of how to execute such transitions.

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A transition created by an archway, beyond which the path becomes narrower and more intricate – Portland Japanese Garden

In the photo above, a simple archway invites the visitor to linger briefly under its protective roof. Underfoot the previously linear footpath (in the foreground) becomes a mosaic of both the rectilinear slabs  and some newly introduced, random flagstone. Beyond this stone carpet the pathway continues on the same axis but is now narrower and the incorporation of flagstone continues, creating a more intricate pattern. This suggests to the visitor that care must be taken, they are entering a more intimate space and that taking slower steps would be wise. Yet this transition is smooth. There is no jarring change of materials, rather the incorporation of just one additional element and a change in dimensions. Assisting in creating a sense of unity, a narrow border of black stones held in place by interlocking tiles flanks one side of each section. drawing the eye through the entire space.

This marvelous yet simple attention to detail creates a change in atmosphere and therefore the visitor’s experience.

Frierson residence, Atlanta, GA

Frierson residence, Atlanta, GA

The private garden shown above demonstrates the same principles but using different materials. Here the visitor is invited to leave the primary herringbone brick pathway and walk up two, transitional grassy steps into a much narrower space. The bricks in this smaller path are laid in a running bond pattern so while the material suggests continuity the design details are unique.

How can you use this idea in your own garden?

Can you widen the path into more of a carpet under an archway to make it a stronger transition? Or create a patio space within the path as in the example below:

The original flagstone path has been intersected by a grey cobble patio, the pattern and change of material emphasizing the new function in this transitional space. Read the full story here.

The original flagstone path has been intersected by a grey cobble patio, the pattern and change of material emphasizing the new function in this transitional space. Read the full story here.

Can you adjust the width of the path before/beyond a transition point?

A Transition at the Top of Steps

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A flagstone landing at the top of a flight of steps – Portland Japanese Garden

Landings at the top of a flight of steps offer an opportunity for creativity. This is a space where we adjust our stride and reach for the handrail as we head down, or stop to collect our breath when we reach the top! Either way, this is a location where we might pause for just a moment or two longer than usual. In the photo above, the designers switched from concrete paths edged with rectangular stone slabs to a flagstone motif on the landing.

How can you use this idea in your own garden?

What about installing a mosaic detail on a landing?

Conlon residence, Pasadena, CA

Conlon residence, Pasadena, CA

Dunn residence, Atlanta, GA

Dunn residence, Atlanta, GA

A perhaps a special tile?

Better Homes & Gardens test garden, Des Moines, IA

Better Homes & Gardens test garden, Des Moines, IA

Share your ideas in the comments below or on my Facebook page – I’d love to see what you do!