Spatial sorcery for small gardens

Small city lots in St. Louis can be developed into wonderful gardens--effective design the key. Plan every foot of available space to maximize efficiency and beauty. With the right plants and a good design plan, a tiny garden can be turned into a lovely and seemingly spacious refuge.

Backyard harvest
Jo Whittingham.
New York : DK Publishing, c2011.
From sowing and planting to growing and harvesting, "Backyard Harvest" covers storing, freezing, and preserving tips so that gardeners can enjoy their bounty into the winter months and throughout the early-spring gap when little is ready to harvest.
Big plans, small gardens
Andy Sturgeon.
London : Mitchell Beazley, 2010.
Sturgeon helps people make the most of their garden space, no matter how restrained the square footage. He shepherds the way to an urban garden that's private, comfortable, accessible, and beautiful.
One magic square : the easy, organic way to grow your own food on a 3-foot square
Lolo Houbein.
New York, NY : Experiment, 2010.
Houbein offers a charming and practical work that explains how to turn one square yard of soil into a nourishing, inexpensive, and Earth-friendly source of produce right at home. Illustrations throughout.

The design should use principles that expand space and make it interesting. One trick is to lay ground paving on the horizontal. This makes the space seem less boxy and closed-in.  Plants of varying heights provide interest that draw the eye toward the back of the garden, lengthening it. A focal point such as a garden fountain provides sounds of movement, adding a sense of activity to the garden.

Good for shade

Here are small shade trees that work well in city gardens. These have the added advantage of providing color interest during the spring bloom season.


Flowering Cherry

Flowering Crab Apple

Red Bud

Plants need to be the right scale for a small garden. Ornamental trees such as Japanese maple or weeping cherry provide a dramatic presence. Columnar or miniature apple trees give needed height.

Because each plant must have impact in all seasons to justify its space, long-blooming bushes or flowers with interesting foliage are good choices. A single specimen plant rather than a hodge-podge of small plants keeps the garden simple and uncluttered.

Consider space for human activities. Will there be seating? A barbecue area? A spa? Most small plots can support only one activity, so choose wisely. Incorporate existing colors or textures when choosing outdoor furnishing. A simple color palette with harmonious shades and textures will seem to enlarge the space.

Article by: St. Louis Public Library staff