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Skinny Shrubs for Tight Spaces

Skinny Shrubs for Tight Spaces

When I realized that my post Skinny Conifers for Tight Spaces has been read over 40,000 times, it inspired me to create a  free booklet for my newsletter subscribers; Top 10 Skinny Trees for Tight Spaces, which expanded that selection to include deciduous and flowering trees as well as conifers. That too has been well received, so here is the next installment: Skinny Shrubs for Tight Spaces.

Why Skinny?

There are times when you need a vertical element to break up a river of mounding shapes. Or to stand sentry at an entrance point. Or to create a living dividing wall between garden areas. Perhaps you have a narrow side garden and need screening from the neighbors’ yet do not want to erect a fence? Or you are just looking for a centerpiece for a container that doesn’t get too wide. Basically skinny shrubs are useful where you only have a small footprint to work with yet need some height.

The selection here is far from all-inclusive, but includes many I have used in designs over the years as well as a few newer ones that I’m still testing but look promising. For my garden they also have to be drought tolerant and deer resistant! Here are my current favorite skinny shrubs:

Fine Line buckthorn

Stunning waterwise design by Loree Bohl, Portland, OR

Stunning waterwise design by Loree Bohl, Portland, OR

I’ve used Fine Line buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula ‘Fine Line’)  in containers, to create a deciduous hedge, and also to establish a living wall adjacent to a pathway.

This versatile shrub retains is columnar shape without pruning, is deer resistant, drought tolerant, will grow in part shade or full sun and is sterile – so none of the invasive concerns of older varieties of buckthorn. The finely textured green leaves turn bright yellow in fall and the brown woody stems  are speckled with white spots, so even  after the leaves have fallen there is a sculptural quality and beauty to this shrub.

One of my deer resistant container designs featured in Country Gardens magazine, spring 2017

One of my deer resistant container designs featured in Country Gardens magazine, spring 2017

Ultimate height is given as 5-7 feet tall and 2-3 feet wide but mine have yet to get that big. Hardy in USDA zones 2-7. (There’s another really cool combo featuring this in our book Gardening with Foliage First)

Columnar barberries

Sunjoy Gold barberry with Pistachio hydrangea, Bellevue Botanical Garden

Sunjoy Gold barberry with Pistachio hydrangea, Bellevue Botanical Garden, WA

Not for everyone, as barberries (Berberis) are invasive in some states, but where these can be grown, consider Sunjoy Gold Pillar (gold) and Helmond’s Pillar (burgundy). I’ve used these in the impossibly small planting beds in front of garages, in containers, to mark the entrance to a woodland path, to create a living fence between neighbors, and as exclamation points in the landscape. They can be planted singly or in groups to great effect. Fall color and berries add to the display.

Using Helmond's Pillar to break up a mass of black eyed Susan. Design by Joanne White, Redmond, WA

Using Helmond’s Pillar to break up a mass of black eyed Susan. Design by Joanne White, Redmond, WA

Incidentally I have seen Helmond’s Pillar 6 feet tall and 2 feet wide so the size cited here is rather conservative. Conversely, I have found the golden form to be smaller and slower growing.

A semi-transparant screen between neighbors using Helmond's Pillar, clematis. My design

A semi-transparent screen between neighbors using Helmond’s Pillar, clematis, standard roses and columnar evergreens, rising from a carpet of Profusion fleabane. Design by Le jardinet.

You’ll find more design ideas using both of these in my latest book Gardening with Foliage First.

Drought tolerant but needs moisture retentive soil to avoid defoliation during extreme summer heat, and has proven to be deer resistant (YAY!)

Barberries are hardy in zones 4-8.

Moonlight Magic crapemyrtle

The dark chocolate foliage of Moonlight Magic crape myrtle means this stunning shrub looks good even when not in bloom

The dark chocolate foliage of Moonlight Magic crape myrtle means this stunning shrub looks good even when not in bloom

Crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia cvs.) and Washington state – especially colder regions of the state – are not usually considered compatible as it rarely gets warm enough for the shrubs to bloom. That becomes irrelevant when you have a  variety such as Moonlight Magic, with dark chocolate colored foliage in a much narrower form than the better known Californian street trees.

Moonlight Magic grows just 4-6 feet wide yet still gets 8-12 feet tall, so more slender and well-toned rather than truly skinny – but worth your consideration for sure.

Beutiful white blooms on Moonlight Magic. Photo courtesy First Editions Plants

Beautiful white blooms on Moonlight Magic. Photo courtesy First Editions Plants

I’ve had success with this in a container for several years now. In landscape designs I could see using Moonlight Magic as a focal point within a vignette or where I might otherwise reach for a purple smoke bush but don’t have the space.

Purple Pillar hibiscus

Reliably upright yet densely clothed in foliage and covered in blooms. Photo courtesy Proven Winners

Reliably upright yet densely clothed in foliage and covered in blooms as shown in the test garden at Spring Meadow nursery. Photo courtesy Proven Winners

Hibiscus are those shrubs with tropical-looking flowers that are so eye catching in late summer, yet many are too large for the average garden. Purple Pillar is the answer at just 2-3 feet wide. If you plant them 2 feet apart they quickly form a dense summer screen as shown in the photo above.

Photo courtesy Proven Winners

Photo courtesy Proven Winners

Don’t let lack of a garden spoil the fun. Purple Pillar will grow happily in large containers. These can be placed together to create a privacy screen from the neighbors or hide ugly utilities.

More ideas

There are also several broadleaf evergreen shrubs that are tightly columnar that you might consider, including

Sky Pencil Japanese holly (Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’)

Columnar Japanese holly (Ilex crenata ‘Mariesii’) which is more sculptural than Sky Pencil but can be harder to find.

Green Spire euonymus (Euonymus japonica ‘Green Spire’)  – slightly slower growing and not quite so tight at Sky Pencil

Graham Blandy boxwood (Buxus sempervirens ‘Graham Blandy’)

 

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.

 

The Less is More Garden – Book Review & Giveaway.

I recently asked a group of gardening friends, if they could change anything about their garden, what would it be. The first – of many comments read ” Make it bigger, much bigger! So many plants, so little space…”

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A common lament,  yet having a modest sized garden does not mean compromising on function, style, or beauty. Designer, author and friend Susan Morrison makes this abundantly clear in her inspiring new book “The Less is More Garden – big ideas for designing your small yard” (Timber Press, 2018). She explains the less is more philosophy as one where there is

  • Less space, more enjoyment
  • Less effort, more beauty
  • Less maintenance, more relaxation
  • Less gardening-by-the-numbers, more YOU

If you are looking for doable, practical ways to make the most of your garden you need this book. With superb photography to illustrate her points, Susan begins by walking the reader through a series of important considerations to help them determine how much space – and budget to allocate for key design components, with suggestions on how to accommodate a family’s needs as children grow up, or strike a balance between creating an intimate space for two homeowners who occasionally need to host a much larger event outdoors. But that is just the start.

The Magic of Illusion

Tantalizing glimpses into the space beyond these green walls creates the illusion of greater depth while a calming, monochromatic color scheme allows the tapestry of layered textures to shine. Photo credit: Doreen Wynja

With suggestions for ways to include disappearing paths, maximizing the diagonal sight line, incorporating permeable walls (what I the call scrim effect), borrowed views, and artistic ways to use mirrors, this book offers a magicians hat worth of illusory tricks to make a small space  appear larger.

Lawn or Not?

Have you been considering what your options might be if you remove the lawn? Need to get a sense of what your garden would look like without one? Susan has you covered with ideas for strolling gardens , ecological lawn mixtures (no-mow grass alternatives) and an array of groundcovers – all beautifully photographed to help you decide.

Design Ideas To Copy

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Susan’s personal garden retreat – a curvaceous wall breaks up the corridor effect and helps to create distinct spaces.

I especially like the section on Design Templates where Susan has used a mix of photographs and sketches to show how she transformed her own narrow backyard into an intimate jewel box garden with a capped, serpentine sitting wall, a bubbling fountain, multiple sitting areas and a bounty of colorful plants that bring fragrance and texture to the patio.

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A clever linear patio design brings plantings up close while also organizing the footprint. Photo credit: Saxon Holt.

Another design in this section that really appealed to me was the one above where contemporary geometric lines have been softened with a bounty of foliage and flowers. Breaking up an expanse of patio with promontories of plants is an ingenious way to create unique garden rooms separated by low hedges without enclosing the spaces fully.

Signature Style

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Artist Keeyla Meadows is known for her bold use of color both in her artwork and her garden.

If you are concerned that with so little space there won’t be room to personalize the garden to reflect YOU, the chapter “A sense of Place, Regardless of Space” should allay such fears, as Susan takes you on a tour of several very individual gardens including that of artist Keeyla Meadows shown above.

Less Maintenance

Susan and I are in total sync with this, which is interesting considering that we design in different states using different plants. Just goes to show you that the principles we use to design your low maintenance gardens are solid. Her book provides tips on selecting plants that are lower maintenance, tips for redefining what a four season garden means in a smaller space, and oodles of photos to get you thinking about your own garden plants in a new way. (And if you’re interested in knowing more about selecting lower maintenance plants be sure you sign up to receive my newsletter as I’ll be inviting subscribers to enjoy my new mini online course on that very subject – at a special introductory price!).

Enter to win your copy!

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This is so good I’d recommend it to professional designers as well as homeowners – we all need fresh inspiration and this book has that in abundance. In fact I’d put “The Less is More Garden” right up there with Julie Moir Messervey’s classic “Outside the Not So Big House” (Taunton Press, 2006), a book I constantly reach for.

If you can’t wait any longer you can order your copy of The Less is More Garden here.

If you’d like to be entered to win a copy just leave a comment below telling me why you need this book! The winner will be drawn using a random number generator at 9pm PST, Tuesday January 30th

The boring small print.

The winner will have 48 hours to respond to my email notifying them that they are the winner. After that I will draw another winner.

Comments left on social media posts will not count.

Comments must appear in the comment thread (not on images) to be included in the drawing.

Entries limited to USA and Canada 

GOOD LUCK!

BONUS! Meet Susan at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show next month! Details here.

Disclaimer: This post contains some affiliate links

The winning name has now been drawn and the person notified – thank you to everyone who took part!

New Year – New Opportunities; join me!

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The Christmas decorations are packed away in the barn for another year and I’m back to work, excited for all the things ahead.

I’m not one for resolutions, except for perhaps re-committing to myself, my family, and to you to always give my best. My parents instilled their sense of integrity and strong work ethic into me by daily example and it’s a lesson I took to heart. It means that I sometimes say “no thank you” to invitations or opportunities that come my way, knowing that for whatever reason I cannot give myself 100% to that project. But you can bet that leaves me raring to go and give 110% to everything I say “YES!” to.

Here are my 2018 “yes’s”

Peeking into one of the gardens that will be featured in my new book

Peeking into one of the gardens that will be featured in my new book – designed by Pam Penick, TX

  • Completing the manuscript and photography for my third book Deer Resistant Drama (Timber Press) by August 1st. So excited to visit gardens in Michigan and New Jersey to wrap things up!
  • Speaking to many groups large and small in WA, DC, ID and beyond. Check out my event listing to see if I’ll be near you or see how to schedule a talk.
  • Writing a new series of articles for Sunset Plants (LOVE some of their treasures,  especially the Platinum Beauty lomandra and Clarity Blue dianella)
  • Scripting and acting as Assistant Director for a series of new gardening videos to be filmed in the UK in August. Will share more as I’m able – so excited about this project!
  • Traveling to the California Spring Trials in April at the invitation of the National Garden Bureau and All America Selections (can’t wait to share all their new plants with you!)
  • Launching my new series of short online courses  to help gardeners be successful. (See my sneak peak video) An invitation to register for ‘Secrets to Selecting Low Maintenance Plants’ will be going out to newsletter subscribers soon. Are you a newsletter subscriber? Don’t miss out – sign up here.

A New Look

You may have also noticed a change in my logo. Le jardinet started as a custom container garden design business in 2006 but that has since evolved to include a blend of services and resources that help gardeners, from landscape design to gardening books, seminars and even online learning opportunities.

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What do you think? I’ve also updated the menu for the website itself to better reflect this evolution, now using headings Designer, Speaker, Author to help you navigate more easily.

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I commented to a friend last summer that I felt as though “I was where I was supposed to be”. This balance between hands-on design/creativity and teaching (whether orally or in writing), is one that energizes me. I feel I am truly sharing my passion and empowering others, and that in turn means I’m giving my best – which is where we started.

Thank you for joining me on this journey. I’m honored that you take a few moments out of your day to both cheer me on and to see how I can help you in your endeavor to create a garden that you can be proud of, can manage with a smile, and becomes your oasis.

In my next blog post I’ll be getting back to garden design ideas and it’s one you won’t want to miss. I’ll be reviewing Susan Morrison’s latest book The Less Is More Garden – big ideas for designing your small yard (Timber Press, 2018) as well as offering a copy to one lucky winner. It’s beautiful, imaginative, inspiring and practical.

Here’s the video trailer!

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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.

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