Small-Space Gardening

PHOTOHere, Garden experts offer some suggestions for the small garden, whether an urban backyard or a rooftop, a border around a townhouse patio, or plant-filled pots on a balcony or deck.

Small outdoor spaces can be dramatic or charming or meditative. In small urban gardens, your goal may be to block a less desirable view or soften the building next door. In that case, according to Tim Johnson, the Garden's director of horticulture, choosing the right plants becomes more critical when space is limited.

Plants for Small-Space Gardens

Dwarf Conifers
• Picea omorika ‘Guenter‘ (Dwarf Conifer Garden)
Pinus sylvestris ‘Albyns’ (Buehler Enabling Garden)
Larix laracina ‘Blue Sparkle’ (Dwarf Conifer Garden)
Taxodium distichum ‘Peve Minaret’ (Sensory Garden)

Compact Shrubs and Trees
Hamamelis virginiana ‘Little Suzie’
(North America bed in the Heritage Garden)
Forsythia x intermedia ‘Mindor’ Show-Off™ only in the Garden’s nursery
Hydrangea paniculata ‘Little Lamb’
(Bernice E. Lavin Plant Evaluation Garden)
Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Donna Mae’ Little Devil (Garden Wall and Bern)
ercis canadensis ‘Little Woody‘
 Rosa ‘The Fairy’ (Krasberg Rose Garden)

Upright/Columnar Plants
Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Slender Silhouette’ (Spider Island shoreline)
Thjua occidentalis ‘Degroot’s Spire’ (Circle Garden)
Fagus sylvatica ‘Red Obelisk’ (Graham Bulb Garden)
Juniperus virginiana ‘Taylor’ (Dwarf Conifer Garden)
Buxus ‘Graham Blandy’ (Model Railroad Garden)

Perennials/ Ornamental Grasses*
Stachys ‘Pink Cotton Candy’ (English Walled Garden)
Echinacea ‘Pixie Meadowbrite’ (Lakeside Gardens)
Phlox ‘Forever Pink’ (Lavin Evaluation Garden)
Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Carousel’ (Trellis Bridge)


Read All About It

Open to the public seven days a week, the Lenhardt Library’s collection of volumes includes resources on gardening, botany, plant conservation, and landscape design, in formats from rare books to e-books. Visit Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday until 6:30 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4 p.m.

To learn more about small-space gardening, check out the following titles:

The Small Food Garden: Growing Organic Fruit and Vegetables at Home by Diana Anthony

Fast, Fresh Garden Edibles: Quick Crops for Small Spaces by Jan Courtier

Vertical Gardening: Grow Up, Not Out, for More Vegetables and Flowers in Much Less Space by Derek Fell

Vertical Vegetables & Fruit: Creative Gardening Techniques for Growing Up in Small Spaces by Rhonda Massingham

Small-Space Container Gardens: Transform Your Balcony, Porch, or Patio with Fruits, Flowers, Foliage & Herbs by Fern Richardson

Growing Food in Small Gardens by Barbara Segall

Big Plans, Small Gardens by Andy Sturgeon

Grow Great Grub: Organic Food from Small Spaces by Gayla Trail edible flowers.

"If you're planting a hedge, consider plants that are more narrow in habit. For example, Techny arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis 'Techny') is popular, but for a small area, pyramidalis arborvitae (T. occidentalis var. pyramidalis) may work better," he said. Plants that are narrow, dwarf, or slower-growing may require less pruning to keep them within the confines of the garden.

Don't overlook walls as opportunities to enhance your space. Growing vines on a fence or stair rail or creating an espalier—a fruit tree or ornamental shrub trained to grow flat against a house or a garage or a fence—also creates a sense of enclosure.

Consider planting a small space in layers so there is something of interest at all levels.

"There are many options for adding vertical elements to give height, such as really narrow columnar trees as well as using the horizontal ground plane," says Andrew Bell, Ph.D., curator of woody plants. He recommends spring-blooming bulbs, which add color and take up little space, and, depending on how much light the garden receives, using hardy disease-resistant landscape roses and smaller flowering shrubs, dwarf conifers, or smaller ornamental grasses.

A variety of plant shapes and textures can make the space more interesting as well. Don't overlook containers, he adds, which draw attention to small planting beds. They can also hold edibles, such as lettuce, herbs, or tomatoes throughout the growing season.

A small space may appear larger if you can work in an arbor to serve as a doorway or create a winding path, rather than a straight sidewalk.

Small gardens can also benefit from "found" objects, like ornamental ceramic tiles placed on the ground or on a wall, or a small sculpture that serves as a focal point.





enclosed by walls and hedges, it offers a variety of different garden styles from formal to informal.



features raised beds, dramatic containers and vertical walls planted with colorful annuals.



offers formal and informal herb gardens, a perennial border, a rock garden, an easy-to-grow mixed border, and other small-scale landscaping ideas.



raised beds highlight fragrant and colorful plants up close.



provides examples of ways to create garden rooms and features an ever-changing display of bulbs and annuals.



presents a dramatic display of espaliered trees and small planting beds filled with vegetables and edible flowers.