Planning A Small Garden

I very kindly had a comment from ‘Claire’ this week that said:

“Brilliant…this is what I need! Someone to tell me exactly what to do when! I need shrubs that don’t grow too big and so I can keep a bit of colour all year round…is that possible?!”

Claire went on to say, the area was a triangular section about 12 ft wide and 6ft deep, with really heavy clay soil and the area is in full sun most of the day.

I would love to help Claire and anyone else that is interested, so I thought I’d write about small gardens today.

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The first house we lived in was a small terrace house.  This is the first house my two daughters knew and I have some lovely memories here.  We lived there for six years altogether.

After living there for a year, we purchased it from our landlord.  At this time, the back of the house had a small ‘yard’ with a large shed and a mixture of slabs and crazy paving.  The area also had quite a lot of weeds, which we cleared:

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With a bit of help we managed to turn the ‘yard’ into a ‘garden’.  In the next photo you can see the garden a couple of years later, with my beautiful eldest daughter in.  I think she was four years old here (approximately ten years ago):

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Though the garden was still very young, I packed it with plants, pots, hanging baskets and trellis, to give it an ‘established’ feel with some ‘height’.

I think it’s best to use every bit of space in a small garden, including the walls and fences where you can grow climbing plants such as clematis, honeysuckle or even runner beans (which have lovely red or white flowers before the beans start to grow).

Every plant needs to earn its keep.  It’s no good having a beautiful garden in summer, but a bare garden for the other three seasons.

The garden in the house we live in now

The garden in the house we live in now

My garden still isn’t very big in the house we live in today, but it is bigger than our old house.  I think there are some positive points to consider when you live with a smaller garden.  So if you are always wishing that you have a bigger garden, remember the following:

  • It doesn’t cost so much to buy plants and maintain a small garden.
  • It is less work to maintain a small garden.
  • It can be sheltered from wind and frost, so you can have a bigger range of plants.
  • Your boundaries are smaller, so it can feel more secure.
  • Smaller gardens have less grass, or no grass to mow.

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I have been thinking about the things I considered, when buying plants for my garden, now and when I lived in our old house.  This is what I have come up with:

  • If you have small children, it’s no good having the garden completely full of plants as they need a place to play, even in a small garden.  In our first garden, we managed to have a small sandpit, a ‘Wendy house’ and we screwed a small chalk board onto our house wall so my daughters could play.  If you use your imagination you can come up with all sorts of ideas.
  • Don’t forget you need somewhere to sit, even in a small garden you need to be able to enjoy it.
  • Don’t forget the birds.  If you don’t feel you have a space for a bird table, then try and include one plant that has berries when food is scarce for birds e.g. Pyracantha or Cotoneaster.

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  • If you can possibly wait, it’s cheaper to buy smaller plants which allow your garden to fill slowly.  You can use annuals plants to fill in the spaces (plants that complete their life-cycle in just one year or more, usually in one season).
  • Pick plants that earn their keep.  Evergreen shrubs give colour throughout the year, they are not always green, some are varigated and some are even yellow.  Try to have some ‘all year round interest’, so it pays to do your homework before you buy a plant.

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  • Try to keep colour schemes simple and try and use different leaf and plant shapes in your garden.
  • Use fences, walls etc. to grow climbing plants that will add interest all year round e.g. Clematis for spring, Sweet peas for summer, Boston Ivy for autumn, Ivy for winter.
  • Don’t forget to use pots and hanging baskets, to give height to your garden.

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  • Grasses are brilliant in small gardens as they are hardy and can be all different sizes and colours.  They also provide movement in the garden as they sway in the wind.
  • Don’t forget the use of bamboo.  Bamboo has been given a bad press over the years, as it’s invasive and hard to get rid of it once it is established.  I saw a clever idea once in a small garden; the owner had put the bamboo into a pot and put the pot into the ground, with just an inch of the pot above ground.  This kept the bamboo contained and it looked beautiful in the garden.

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  • Try and get plants that are different heights to give a bit of interest in your garden.  Put the tallest at the back of a bed, middle sized plants in the middle and the smallest at the front.
  • Tall plants that can be used at the back of a small bed are Echinops, Giant Michaelmas Daisy’s and Echinacea’s.

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  • Other plants that are good for a small garden include:
    • Euphorbia (as with all Euphorbias, do be careful as their milky sap can irritate your skin).

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    • Euonymus fortune ‘Emerald and Gold’
    • Hebe
    • Lavandula ‘Hidcote’ (English lavender)

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  • There are also loads of other plants you can use for small gardens.  You can find some here and here on two great websites.
  • Don’t forget that if you really don’t have the space for any of the plants above, alpines are great to grow in a small place:

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I hope I have helped you Claire, with your garden.  Now you have the hard work of looking at all the different plants that I have suggested and deciding what you would like to grow.  Look at the height and spread that the plant will eventually grow to and be careful not to plant all your lovely new plants too close.

Wait until the ground is not wet or frosted before you plant them.  It is probably best to wait until spring now before you start, but that doesn’t mean you can’t plan.

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Wilkinsons sell plants in Spring (sometimes before) which are cheap, but I do find some of their plants have not been kept very well, so do check them to make sure they are moist and do not show signs of dieing.

Look out for plant sales at school fairs etc. as you can get some real bargains there, but the only drawback is you don’t usually have any details about the plant, except the name.  Do ask if anyone on the stall knows the height and spread as you may be lucky.

  You can buy particular plants on line too, but I find the very best place to buy plants are plant nuseries and large garden centres.  Do ask for advice if you are at all unsure, as a good garden centre will know the answer.

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I hope I have given some good advice here today.

Thank you for reading my blog.

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11 thoughts on “Planning A Small Garden

  1. Hello Mrs Thrift, i wonder if you can help? we have a vegetable planter in our garden (home Made) which we have used the last few years but we seem to not be able to work out timings to plant and dig up the veg. We have four sections going up in tiers, the 1st being low to the ground only about 18″ wide, the 2nd is about 36″ wide and about 16″ from the ground, 3rd 18″ wide and 54″ from the ground and the last is 36″ wide and 72″ off the ground. Also we have a space for potato bags. In the pasted we have grown raspberry’s, strawberry, lettuce, carrots, onions, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes and chillies. We have a growing family with a one year old and one on the way soon to appear! so we could do with your help planning our fruit and veg for the year. we are open to growing all sorts.

    We look forward to hearing form you soon, and this is a great Blog.
    The Bodders Family

    • Hi boddz, (my lovely nephew), I didn’t realise you read my blog, thank you so much for your support. Before I start listing veg for you to grow, I think you would be wise to renew some of the soil. I would add at least a couple of inches of compost in the planters, which may mean removing some of the compost in them already (you can use this a top dressing over other beds in your garden). This will provide the vegetables in your planters with some nutrients, but more importantly it will help stop the build up of disease that can kill or stunt the growth of your plants.

      It’s too cold at the moment to plant any seeds outside, but at the beginning of February I will post ‘What to do in the Kitchen garden’, which will tell you what to sow during the month. If it was me and I was growing veg in a small area, I would grow things that are a bit more expensive to buy in the shops, but still easy to grow e.g. lollo rosso lettuce (a cut and come again lettuce that supermarkets sell in bags), beetroot, dwarf french beans, spring onions and maybe one courgette plant. Herbs are great too like coriander and mint (but always plant mint in a pot as it’s invasive).

      The one thing to consider, is to grow what you like to eat, as it’s no good growing something you don’t actually eat. Also, it is wonderful when Your children know where vegetables come from (instead of thinking they just come from the supermarket). I remember that last year you grew potatoes in sacks, and I would like to bet, that these tasted far nicer than the ones you buy.

      I’m here if you need anymore help. Can’t wait to see your veg in the summer. Good luck!

      P.S. I’m looking forward to being a great auntie again in February.

  2. Great post, and like you I’ve got a smallish garden I am trying to make a family veg plot in. I like the challenge of smaller gardens. It makes you think and plan more while at times being exceptionally creative! Size should never be an issue to having a fabulous garden. 🙂

    • I totally agree Sophie, it is a challenge but an exciting one too. Good luck with your vegetable patch…don’t forget that runnerbeans, climbing french beans and even climbing peas can be grown up walls and fences, provided it is not in the shade. Also veg easily can be grown on pots too.

  3. A small garden is how I got around my wanting the children to do some gardening but my relcluctance to let them into mine! They have three pots and a largish basin all with plants in them that they look after, and everyone is happy 😀

    • That sounds such a good idea for the kids. Even if children don’t show interest in the garden, they somehow retain the information and can become interested in later life. I never liked gardening as a child but I do remember going to my dads allotment…there is no stopping me now as I love it.

  4. This is a lovely post. It’s so helpful. I thought the garden you produced in your first house was quite charming.

  5. Thank you SO much for this….I’m sorry I haven’t read it before. You’ve inspired me to get planning for the spring. You’ve given me some ideas for plants which is great as when I go to Garden Centres I wander round not really knowing what to look for. I’ll make sure I post some photos when I’ve decided what to do. You have a great blog…really interesting and useful stuff. Thanks again for your help, Claire x

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