Tuesday, April 23, 2013


 The blog post below is from my former blog Sweet Home and Garden Chicago.  I had a typical small city garden and specialized in designing them as well for other clients.  I was contacted recently by Joe Lampl of the PBS show Growing a Greener World to ask if he could use this article for a presentation he was giving in Canada.  Being the generous person I am of course I said yes :-)

I used to be a member of the Garden Designers Roundtable before moving to North Carolina. You can follow the many talented members and their great articles at http://www.GDRT.wordpress.com


First word of advice :  If you have a small garden you need a small dog.  Just kidding. But do keep dogs out as they and gardens do not mix.  Unless its Jojo,  my mini-Schnauzer and garden companion.  I've taught her the difference between a flower and a weed and she is ever so mindful of them. Plus, she keeps the rabbits, possums and racoons away.  Well, most of the time.  She missed a bunny the other day that ate my asters down to the ground. 
For June's Rountable posting I am using my small city garden as an example to show the unity, creativity and texture I try to bring to each of  my designs. There are endless possibilities in designing a small space and while there are no set rules there are guidelines that will help you avoid the pitfalls along the way.  

It's a very short walk from the public sidewalk to my front porch so making the entrance to my century-old American Foursquare as inviting as possible was my first goal.   A container with seasonal color flanks the stairs and a  Japanese maple, ' Autumn Moon ', brightens the small corner planting bed on the right.  Every inch of space is packed with long-blooming perennials and annuals that provide color, texture and interesting foliage.  And BTW,  I've planted everything in my garden myself, including the trees, so it is truly my creation.

A path swings around to the back garden entrance and a  beautiful pink climbing rose graces the fence.  You can see how little space there is between houses.  My  neighbor's large bold-leafed Oakleaf hydrangea draped on the fence shares its  blossoms .

I had a client that planted thousands of dollars of annuals in her garden each year just for the wow factor.  It looked like Disney World !  I could fill my garden with mostly annuals for instant glamour but being an avid gardener I enjoy seeing perennials that I love come into bloom.   April and May is for tulips and daffodils, June is for roses and lilies, July for Phlox and Blackeyed Susans, August for Sedum and Asters, September for Mums, etc.  .  But how the garden looks when it's not in bloom is key to a good design and in a small space every plant must do its job.  Plants with interesting texture or form, colorful foliage that's effective even when not in bloom, evergreen shrubs that give year round interest, and colorful annuals will make your small space garden a delight.  Mine is so tightly packed with my favorites that a weed finds it difficult to enter and eliminates the need to mulch.

Below is the layout of my front garden made to go along with my last will and testament  which may give you an inkling of how I feel about  it.  And this is just the front.  My somewhat larger rear garden is my real paradise.

I encounter a lot of weekend warriors searching for ideas to use for their own small urban gardens and have enjoyed helping many of them at Gethsemane, Chicago's best garden center .  My advice to them is do your research before buying a single plant. Know how much sun/shade you have, your soil, the size of your plot, preferred style -formal or informal, plant likes or dislikes, etc. and how much maintenance you're willing to do.  Allocate a budget and try to stick to it.  Be prepared to put in a lot of sweat equity as well. 

In today's economy more  homeowners are doing their  landscapes themselves, whereas they would've hired a designer before the recession hit.  For these brave souls I say go for it but remember that a great garden starts with thoughtful planning.   Read gardening books and check out the many garden websites offering advice.  Take a stroll and seek out gardens that please you.

 Get in touch with the designer inside and turn that small space into your pride and joy.   The secret to a good garden is not how big or small it is but how you use it.

In his garden every man may be his own artist
without apology or explanation.
Each within his green enclosure is a creator
and no two shall reach the same conclusion ;
 nor shall we, any more than other creative workers
 be ever wholly satisfied with our accomplishment.
Ever a season ahead of us floats the vision
 of perfection and herein lies its perennial charm.

-Louise Bebe Wilder

For more on small space garden design visit these members of the Roundtable:

Jenny Peterson at http://www.jpetersongardendesign.com/
Laura Livengood Schaub at http://www.interleafings.blogspot.com/
Lesley/Robert at http://www.hegartywebberpartnership.wordpress.com/
Shirley Bovshow at http://www.shirleybovshow.com/
Susan Morrison at http://www.garden-chick.typepad.com/
Susan Schlenger athttp://blog.landscape-design-advice.com/
Tara Dillard at http://www.taradillard.blogspot.com/

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  4. Carolyn, I see that you are getting inundated by spam comments. I reverted to using word verification... and it has taken care of it. Either that or use comment moderation. The comments will be placed in the spam folder where you can review and delete them.

    Going to post a Muse day post. :-)

  5. Hi Carolyn,

    I am not getting your posts again. Have you moved into a house or are the photos from your lovely garden in Chicago?


    1. That post was just re-posted from my former blog, Eileen. Don't know why you're not getting my posts from my current blog, Sweet home and garden Carolina.


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