patios

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.

geometry

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!

Morrison author.photo

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!

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!

Small Garden Re-Imagined: Buffalo Style

Do you like garden tours?

I try to go to a few local ones each year, but this summer I had the opportunity to attend what can only be described as a garden tour on steroidsGarden Walk Buffalo. More than 400 private and public gardens in Buffalo, NY are open for self guided tours – FREE  – to the public, each July. Each garden is different – some are whimsical, some appear to be a set borrowed from Hollywood, others feature native plants, but all are creative, and the open arms concept is encouraging a greater  sense of pride in this community.

While I didn’t manage to see all 400 gardens I did visit 15, along with 350 or so of my friends attending the Garden Writer’s Association symposium- and this was one of my favorites. If I was giving awards this would receive the award for Best Design as it makes such wonderful use of a small lot, adding function while reducing maintenance, and significantly increasing the home’s value.

Front Garden

The yellow signs welcome visitors from across the country - this is an event you NEED to go to!

The yellow signs welcome visitors from across the country – this is an event you NEED to go to! Garden Walk Buffalo

A peek at the neighbor’s garden to the right will help you understand the ‘before‘ – a postage stamp sized lawn, concrete path to the steps and a driveway. Possibly a shrub or two.

This is a stunning transformation that makes the space look much larger, has oodles of curb appeal, enhances the home and creates a usable space. It was designed by Joe Han, The English Gardener.

The raised, block planter enables the homeowner to have year-round color (boxwood) and structure. No more soil washing off into the street – the slope is managed beautifully by the retaining wall which doubles as casual seating thanks to the capstone.

IMG_5749 A central urn invites seasonal drama, while being surrounded by perennials that cope with Buffalo’s harsh winters. The clipped boxwood hedge gives a sense of order and an important connection to the strong rectilinear architecture of the home and the medallion detail on the portico.

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Each corner of the planter is filled with sweetly fragrant alyssum backed by silver foliage. How often have you heard me remind you of the importance of foliage?!

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Tucked into a shady corner a simple fountain brings the element of sound to this delightful patio, also enjoyed and appreciated from the front porch.

IMG_5744 A dark charcoal border around the lighter grey patio emphasizes and defines the unique shape, making the space seem even larger than it really is.

Planted window boxes and urns add the finishing touch, their color scheme connecting to the larger raised planter while adding drama to the dark porch railings and wide staircase.

As you can imagine, I was excited to see the back garden and wondered how the designer and homeowner had made use of that space….

Back Garden

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As anticipated, it was stunning both in its simplicity and in its details. Remarkably it was designed by the homeowners themselves, Don McCall and Jeff Lach.

Window boxes on the second story take the garden up high, the color scheme repeating that of the front and back landscapes. Notice how the two units read as one – they are mirror images of one another.

A small lawn suggests a calming space, bordered by billowing, white peegee hydrangeas and grasses, while a hibiscus introduces the lavender accent note. A small deck next to the home is just one sitting area of three, however.

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At the back of the lot is this charming dining space, the clean-lined furnishings echoing the contemporary aesthetic of the overall design. Overhead ambient lighting is possible thanks to a convenient branch. There was another seating nook opposite (where I was standing to take the photograph). The only trouble with garden tours is PEOPLE! Yes, there were folks sitting in the seating area – of course – so it didn’t seem right to take a photo.

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While there are flowers in this garden, it is primarily a textural foliage feast – my kind of space. I loved this monochromatic dance between the weeping pine and hosta.

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This different angle helps you see the sliver of lawn, narrow gravel pathway and wonderful addition of a Japanese maple. Truly this garden is a jewel.

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Every detail was considered – love the repetition of these three simple pots on the dining table.

Garden tours are a great way to get ideas for your own garden. Which ones have you been on this year?

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