I often actually find small gardens more fun to design than a large one. Many times a small garden can be done in more expensive materials because you are not trying to fill up such a large area within a certain budget. Jaliya’s Memorial Garden in my back yard is less than a quarter acre. However, it feels much larger.
For one, it does not have the typical lawn of most back yards. Lawns take up space and often allow you to see the whole space at once because of their openness. There are places for lawns and sometimes the shape of a lawn can add a design element.
One of the big keys for making a small garden seem bigger is to divide it into smaller spaces and be sure you can’t really take in the whole garden in one view. At the moment, Jaliya’s garden is not to that point yet. Most of the plants have been planted in the past 4 years and they have not matured enough to divide the areas up. It does however have themes in certain areas. There is the “tropical lagoon” with large leafed native plants surrounding a small pool of water that appears to be spring -fed. There is the dry outcropping, a dry meadow, a wt meadow, and the shady woodland area.
A gravel path leads the eye through the garden but you can’t see exactly where the path goes unless you walk it. The path says that there is more to see, come on and explore. The garden is also divided by the stream flowing between the two ponds. Once the path takes you over the stone bridge, you feel that you have entered another room of the garden. Paths are an important feature to most gardens. They add structure and allow the garden designer to present the garden in the manner he wishes it to be seen. The shape and material of the path also helps to dictate the speed at which the visitor explores the garden. The view points ahead of the visitor along the path are opportunities to showcase certain plants or features.
The small garden can also be divided up by changes in elevation. These can be subtle changes in slope as I created in Jaliya’s garden. A couple of spots along the path intentionally drop slightly to increase the feeling of entering into another space. Other ways are the use of retaining walls or rock outcroppings.
All of these ideas can be used in larger gardens. They are more necessary in the small garden.
One of the joys of a garden is the life it brings. Of course, plants are living things but a well-designed garden brings in life on wings.
I have discussed 3 of the 5 functions or types of plants in the well-designed garden. These different types of plants is also what makes the garden attractive to birds. Birds like open areas near protective cover. This is best achieved by planting layers of plants. Shade trees tower over understory trees with shrubs planted under those. These are all planted together alongside of a small open place make an ideal garden for birds.
Evergreen shrubs help to block the winds which also make for an inviting garden for birds. Trees such as hawthorn and service berry provide berries for food. Hollies not only provide berries for food but also provide great shelter for nesting. One native plant in this area that almost never seems to be found without a bird nest in it is the Yaupon Holly. The yaupon holly can get 15′ tall and wide. It has small evergreen leaves and the females have berries. But the twiggy stiff branch structure seems to be ideal for bird nests.
It also helps to plant flowering perennials that produce seeds that birds like. One of my favorite plants is a type of sunflower commonly called “Dumbo Ears”. It produces large leaves fairly low to the ground but shoots up flower stalks rising around 6′ tall. When it blooms, it is a yellow cone-flower shaped flower. But when it goes to seed, the gold finches flock to it. There are other plant/bird combinations but I will be honest and say I don’t know of many of them. I have learned that birds prefer our native plants over many exotics. This is because the natives are what they have eaten for millenia.
Another favorite sight is when hummingbirds visit the garden. Hummingbirds are attracted to bright tubular flowers. Cardinal flower, bee balm, and trumpet vine are some examples. There are many more that may be native in your area.
The biggest thing you can do if you want birds is to provide a water source. Many people keep bird baths for that purpose and they work. However, you must remember to keep them with water as the shallow bowls evaporate quickly. Water gardens work best for attracting birds. If the garden pond has a shallow area, the birds will love it.
Other winged creatures highly desired are butterflies. Butterflies add color and motion to the garden. They often hang around a little more than birds as they are so much slower and seem more care-free. The key to attracting butterflies is to plant the flowers or shrubs that are food for the larva of the butterflies you want. Many species of butterfly larva only feed on one or two species of plants. If you want that specie of butterfly, you need to plant that particular food source. You can find lists online to help you here. Again, native plants are preferable because that is what they have fed on for millenia as well. Be sure to limit pesticide use as well if you want butterflies.
Just before dark, the bats show up in my garden. Bats are very welcome as they eat loads of mosquitoes. I often see them dipping down to the pond to get a drink. The more bats and birds you attract to the garden, the less mosquitoes you will have.
As I have written before, the best gardens are ones that gradually reveal themselves to you. As you walk through a garden, it is fun to come across something unexpected. One of the most common exclamations I hear as I show the garden to first time visitors is “You’ve got ducks!” Introducing Graham and Chedda, my two quackers. I got duckings born on Easter morning for a surprise for a 4 year old son of a friend of mine. Nicholaus loves to spend time in the garden just exploring and being a boy. At first it was too cool at night to leave them outside so they lived in the bathroom until they were old enough. When I let them out to the pond, took it like “ducks take to water”. It was a lot of fun watching them furiously paddling their little feet around the pond. They strengthened their little legs trying to swim up the stream and usually ended in a splash into the lower pond. From these ducklings, only 2 have managed to survive to adulthood. The first suspects were the dogs or the cats although none of them had shown any inclination to harming the little guys. I would just come home and find I had one less duckling with no clue as to where it had gone. The mystery was solved one day when I came home in the middle of the day and spotted a red-tailed hawk perched on the grape arbor looking down on the pond. I jumped out of the truck and threw a handful of gravel at him to scare him off. I have not seen him in the garden since and have not lost another duck.
The type of duck I have is a Call Duck. They are small ducks. Personally I think my garden is too small for large ducks. Think of them as a “Bantam” Duck like there are bantam chickens. They get their name from the fact that they were used as a tame duck that hunters could take with them while hunting. These guys would “call” the wild ducks in. They were small enough to be handled easily. There are several different “types” based on color patterns and I wont go into that here as I don’t know enough about that. You can choose the color pattern that you like most.
Before I had gotten the ducks, I had considered getting bantam chickens. I was doing research and narrowing down my options when the duck idea came up. I wanted chickens to have fresh organic eggs. I’ve been told that duck eggs are edible however a little stronger in taste. Some people don’t like the difference and I may decide I don’t either. I’m waiting until spring and hope to be able to find out. I may be a little disappointed if I don’t like the flavor of the eggs, but I will always enjoy the fun of having ducks in my garden.