In the garden with Shobha Vanchiswar
June 29, 2012
Downsizing the Super-sized
There’s all sorts of downsizing going on. Companies, meal portions, space on airplanes, electronics, houses etc., So its natural that gardens too will follow suit. Whatever the reason to downsize a garden, the gardener is invariably a bit sad to give up the habit of years of puttering around in a larger space.
But despair not. It just needs a slight shift in attitude and outlook to create a lush, productive albeit smaller garden. The amount of care and maintenance required in such a space depends on the design and ambition of the gardener. In other words, don’t let size curtail your horticultural dreams.
First and foremost, determine the purpose of having the garden. Is it just about making a beautiful space full of flowers or do you want to grow vegetables and fruits as well? Seasonal or all year interest? How much space will be taken up by a patio or deck? You do after all want to spend time outdoors during the warmer months. All the criteria and uses of course depends on the location of the property – how much sun, surrounding trees or structures, town ordinances etc., But perhaps the most important factor is your own lifestyle. If you’re crazy busy and hardly ever at home, then perforce you need a very simple garden. Being over ambitious is the gardener’s first deadly sin.
To make a small garden appear larger, break it up into ‘rooms’ or areas so all of the garden is not visible at once. Force the eyes and legs to wander in order to enjoy the whole space. A well placed simple hedge or trellis will create intrigue about what lies beyond as well as direct the flow of traffic. Likewise, areas at different levels but connected by steps or paths will provide the illusion of space while at the same time prevent visual monotony. And don’t forget the ‘borrowed view’ – when you incorporate whats beyond your property so it appears as though its part of your garden. Think neighboring fields, woods or pond.
Each ‘room’ can have a specific purpose or theme. A plan like this permits more creative indulgence and experimentation.
These days, dwarf or smaller versions of many trees and shrubs are available and hence one can plant with variety and diversity. Plus, there never needs to be anything that overpowers the small space.
Espaliers, vertical gardens, tiered beds, trellises and arbors are all aesthetic and practical ways to grow many types of plants and trees in a limited area. They naturally expand the garden. Pots of every size can be employed to not only increase the available space but can be easily moved around to create new layouts. The pots themselves can do double duty in being sculptural art.
Speaking of double duty, a small bird bath whilst inviting avian guests can also be the garden’s water feature. And vegetables can be grown together with flowers. Similarly, early blooming clematis may be permitted to scramble up a tree. It’ll finish blooming before the tree is fully leafed out.
Much effort has gone into growing everything larger. But, bigger is not necessarily better. Large flowers need frequent staking and propping up, super-sized vegetables and fruits are often full of seeds and simply not as tasty. My recommendation is to go with heirloom varieties. They might be smaller ( think normal sized) but are prettier, sweeter, hardier and usually more disease resistant.
A small garden can very easily do away with lawn space. This happily translates to less cost and energy in the upkeep of lawn and more available space to grow desired plants. Of course, even such a garden does not mean there’s no maintenance. One still has to weed, deadhead, water, fertilize, control pests, prune, mow, blow, clean up and such. But it is much more manageable and less overwhelming. A well designed and planned garden should be beautiful, fruitful, enjoyable and yet not make one a slave to it.
Small is beautiful indeed.