A crucial point to bear in mind when creating any garden is the overall size of your property. This particular area needed some focal point but I wanted to keep the area in proportion with the house and other gardens. For this project the work is minimal as the area utilized for the garden is approximately four feet by five feet. Two sides of the garden are straight edges as it borders on the retaining wall and the concrete walk leading to the front porch. For this reason I decided that curves would be a definite attribute to this small garden and the two curves created give an appearance of a larger area. Sometimes people believe everything must be squared or specimens planted in even rows. I think it better to stagger the plants and design gardens with interesting shapes as this lends to the individuality of each bed.
The next decision involves choosing appropriate plants for a small garden. Instead of looking through catalogues I thought the best idea was to view specimens at the garden centres. My first selection for the garden is a variegated Daphne (Thymelaeaceae). This shrub has a profusion of richly scented flowers along fairly thick branches making it look rather like a flowering candelabra. The variegated form is very elegant and more frost-resistant than other varieties. It is the most strongly scented of the Daphne's.
Behind the rock is an important area as this is the first part of the bed visible to the visitor. I planted Lady Slipper (Calceolaria) and Primrose (Primula). The Slipper Flower has bright masses of pouched flowers that provide a colourful display. Primrose are compact and available in miniature types for the rockery. The flowers nearly always have a Primrose shape and they either droop gracefully or are held erect.
The following graphic depicts the new bed with the Daphne in position coupled with the Calceolaria and Primula. The next task is selecting a suitable specimen for the other side of the rock and keeping in mind it has to compliment the items already planted.
Another trip to the nursery is in order. I am not sure what type of plant to purchase but a few ideas occur while driving to the garden center. The first thought is keep the specimen small, attempt to locate a certain species with an upright growth as opposed to bushing out. The reason for this thought is the Daphne provides the bushiness and the brightly coloured flowers give interest. Another plan is to obtain some type of plant with a varying height, the flowers are low, and the Daphne is approximately medium in height so perhaps something taller than the Daphne but not overwhelming.
This is a prime example of searching for a plant to suit a specific area. The best results are achieved by viewing plants at a garden center. My first trip proved futile, as there were no plants that would compliment this little area. Another point I should mention is that it becomes increasingly difficult to locate items for small gardens as they pose more of a challenge than large beds. The second and third nursery had less variety than the first. Okay I could settle for something that would be mildly suitable but I wanted a plant to jump out at me, a variety that screamed "Take me home". The day was flying by and I attended a fourth nursery as they carry the largest selection. This garden center is a long drive from my home but I was determined to find a complimentary plant for the new garden. Much to my surprise they didn't offer anything interesting or suitable for the garden. At this point I decided to wait as most of the stores were closing and I was disappointed with the days events.
Garden Centres stock up on new items and if you ask the nurseryman they can usually give you an approximation of when a new shipment arrives. I attended another garden center a week after my initial trips and once again the trip proved futile. I asked about new species and was advised that within two weeks there would be a bountiful supply of specimens. I waited two weeks, attended the nursery and much to my delight finally found a perfect plant for my new garden.
Well here it is. An Alberta Spruce (Picea glauca albertiana 'Conica') which is a dwarf conifer. They are valuable plants especially for the small garden requiring very little attention yet providing year-round interest. They can be planted as features in their own right, displaying their varied shapes, habits and often striking colours. This particular conifer has been clipped at the bottom an art known as topiary. This is the art of sculpting live plants. There is a demand for geometrical forms, balls, pyramids, cones, cubes and spirals which are well suited to the average garden. For my needs this little gem was the answer. The upright growth and height are perfect for the garden and the shape certainly adds interest to this tiny bed.
After planting the tree it became apparent that the section in front of the trunk needed another point of interest. I searched about and decided to purchase a few annuals but saw a striking plant that quickly changed my mind. Dwarf Lilies (Alstroemeria 'Princess Monica') that grow approximately eight inches high in well drained soil with plenty of sun. The pink and yellow flowers lasted all summer and they spread rapidly covering the area in front of the trunk with pretty blooms.
I like to share these stories so you can relate how difficult certain parts of gardening can be for anyone. Trying to locate a suitable specimen for that garden was becoming a chore. Sometimes it is difficult to envision a plant in the garden. At the nursery this is my method for choosing the correct variety. First I look for a good-sized plant and if possible a full-grown species as the success rate is almost one hundred percent. I dislike removing plants a year or two later and returning to the nursery only to start over again with a small specimen. Second I decide if the price of the plant is good value for the money but I will not disqualify a plant because it is expensive. Third I remove the plant which is usually squeezed among several varieties. Fourth I set the plant in an area where I can examine it from all sides. Fifth I look for pests, straight trunks, healthy leaves, etc. Sixth I stare at the plant while thinking of the garden. Seventh I imagine walking toward the garden looking at the shape, size and existing plants. Eighth I imagine the plant in the nursery positioned in the garden. Ninth I take my time considering the possibility of this plant being the best suited to the new location. Tenth I take into consideration the maintenance of the species and read the instructions for location, soil, etc. and determine if I have created the proper conditions. Let's be honest even the best gardener cannot make a sun lover grow in the shade. Finally if the plant meets the above conditions it is placed on the cart, purchased and planted immediately. Perhaps this technique is somewhat time consuming but purchasing in haste usually yields poor results.
In summation I can say with honesty that purchasing plants is normally a joyous occasion. This is the aspect of gardening where your personal taste creates that unique garden setting. You choose appealing colours, pleasing shapes and the finished product is a gratifying experience. Probably the most difficult task is beginning a garden. Follow the guidelines I have established and do try a small project for your first endeavour. With the proper tools, plans, location, soil and plants your garden is sure to be a success.