Tips and Tricks: Techniques for Big Potential in Little Gardens

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Gardeners who live in urban or suburban areas often become discouraged by what they perceive as less-than-enough planting space. I promise you that this is an unnecessary worry. In fact, it’s often easier to create the “wow” factor in a smaller garden, especially of you take advantage of some simple design principles.

Simple Garden Design Principles

The following design rules of thumb work for any garden size, but are perhaps most important in small-space gardens. Utilizing some basic strategies will pull everything together and bring cohesiveness to your garden.

Use Repetition

One of the simplest design practices you can implement is repetition throughout the yard. This can be done with any element you choose, whether it’s repeating a shape, color, or plant variety.

Repetition is a useful technique for any design (garden or not), but it’s key for small-space gardens. When there’s too much variety going on inside a small space, it tends to overwhelm the senses. Eyes appreciate balance and patterns. Repetition brings unity, organization, and tranquility.

Don’t overlook man-made structures and garden decor to connect elements with repetition. Furniture, paving stones, garden art, fabric, walls, arbors, trellises, statuary, and containers can be used to connect elements together.

Adjust the Scale

Scale is basically all about the size of one thing in comparison to the size of another thing. In fact, our eyes make comparisons between our own bodies and everything else all day long.

In a yard or garden, we typically compare (or “measure”) everything to the largest thing around. That largest thing in a small-space garden is typically our house. Using scale in your design can bring the feeling of a larger garden in a smaller space.

In an ornamental garden, one of the best ways to pull this off is to have one to three large specimen plants to act as focal points, a lot of medium-size plants, and a handful (or more) of dwarf varieties. This technique will bring balance and structure to your garden.

Think about this: If large plant varieties are all you have, they’ll end up overwhelming a small space and potentially shade out other plants. That said, if you have all dwarfplant varieties, the scale will also be off and create a “dollhouse garden” effect.

Here’s a nice garden design trick: Plants that are medium-size but have large leaves can offer the feel of a larger plant. Hostas, small elephant ears, and cannas are good examples.

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