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How to Make the Most of a Small Garden This Summer

By Michelle Hopkins2016-06-01

Summer! It conjures up great memories of outdoor barbecues and parties. With Vancouver’s exploding proliferation of condominiums and townhomes, our garden spaces are shrinking. So what do you do to maximize your garden’s precious square footage?

“I always tell my clients first and foremost to look at their space and figure out its purpose,” says Glenna Partridge, owner/landscape designer of Glenna Partridge Garden Design. “If you want to have your best small garden ever it starts with the plan in order to achieve a cohesive look throughout.”

In the planning stage, the award-winning landscape designer says home owners should ask themselves questions such as: Do we entertain a lot? Or do we just want a quiet little oasis to read and enjoy the garden? Or do we love to have lots of casual summertime barbecues? Do we want to grow our own herbs?

“Once you have your purpose(s) then you divide your space into zones to really maximize the area you have,” adds Partridge. “For example, if you love to barbecue start with planning where you like to barbecue, then you can map out your other zones accordingly.”

How to transform your garden for blissful outdoor living

Create a gorgeous and (virtually) maintenance-free outdoor oasis

In pint-size gardens, you don’t want more too many different finishes – if you fancy terracotta planters and pots, then choose a selection of various sizes, heights and designs. “But don’t add a huge black urn amongst your terracotta pots because it will look too overly busy in a small garden,” she says. “Just like in your home, you don’t want too matchy-matchy.” That’s not to say you can’t have more than one finish, but keep your finishes to maybe two or three: “You don’t want a pizza.”

Ultimately, it’s about setting a mood in your garden that lures you and your guests into its fold – whether it’s a big English garden or a city-size one. “A well-thought-out, well-planned and well-scaled small garden will have great impact and will look fabulous,” adds Partridge. 

Glenna’s Ideas to Make the Most of a Small Yard or Deck

A planter with a large plant or tree: Most people think a large tree will make a small garden look even more diminutive, but that isn’t the case. It can provide height and privacy.

“With limited space, it’s important that you choose trees that are right for their surroundings, in terms of proportion as well as for their decorative value.” Partridge advises that you speak to an expert at your local garden centre for suggestions. Then underneath the tree, plant small perennials or even a few herbs to maximize your garden.

Vegetable garden: If you love to grow your own vegetables, you certainly aren’t alone. “It’s one of the biggest trends this year,” she says. Partridge is often asked by clients how they choose what to plant. Can you grow your staples and unique varietals that are hard to find on local market shelves together?  “You can plant a variety of vegetables to take advantage of the limited space you have by timing your plantings strategically.” Tip: Harvest your plants frequently to encourage production all season long.

Ketchup ‘n’ fries plant: Potatoes and cherry tomatoes in one planter? Yes, says Partridge. “This is a little tomato plant grafted on top and underneath you grow a white potato plant.”
She cites the reason this works so well is that tomatoes are part of the potato family (who knew?) and are therefore compatible.

Growing berries: There are now small raspberry and blueberry bushes that can be grown in smaller containers. Partridge likes to use a salad bowl type of container/pot to grow them in.

Groupings: First rule of thumb – you don’t want everything on one level. “You can use a pot for a pedestal by turning it upside down and placing it on another pot, or use a chair, a table or a variety of container heights to add visual interest. “You also want to limit your colour palette and choice of plants and flowers or your garden will look busy, messy or distracting.”

Go vertical: When space is at a premium, go up. Plant on a wall, a trellis or a divider.

Cover your fence: Covering your fence with different vines offers a privacy barrier. “Although lots of my clients love English ivy, you have to constantly cut it back because it grows so quickly,” says Partridge. “A good one is the Black Eyed Susan, which features beautiful flowers or the Jasmine Ivy … it’s a perennial that grows really quickly.”

Upcycle a flea market or vintage item: “When you have a small garden, think outside the box… incorporate a Baker’s rack filled with herb pots; an old table, bird cage or a beautiful watering can all double as planters. Unusual items in a small garden add contrast and visual vibrancy.”

Add items of interest: Light your tree from below, add faux candles to create a silhouette in your garden, hang weatherproof art work to cozy up a small outdoor room or balcony… all of which add tons of visual interest to a smaller garden.

Michelle Hopkins
Michelle Hopkins is a Vancouver-based freelance writer with extensive magazine, newspaper and online writing experience in home décor, new home developments, culinary adventures, wine, travel and more. Michelle writes for many notable publications including Real Estate Weekly and other Glacier Media Group publications, Western Living Magazine, Vancouver Magazine, Home Décor & Renovations, to name just a few. Michelle is passionate about anything to do with real estate.
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