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 least “green” thing you can do in your yard is to have a grass lawn. Being green is a buzz word today but it is an important way to live. We must take care of the earth and that is no more true than in your own yard. You may not have the influence to clean up the entire earth. However, you can make changes right at home.
The U.S. style of the suburban lawn is a good place to start. Our cars have all these gadgets to help reduce emissions to help keep our air clean. Our gas-powered lawn mowers, weed-eaters, and blowers do not. Add to that fact, a lot of lawn care equipment also uses two-cycle engines. Two-cycle engines have oil mixed with the gas. This is all burned together which is why most of them noticeably smoke when used.
One solution is to not have a lawn at all. That was the solution I used. I have a small piece of property that is long and narrow. It made little sense to put any grass near the house as the widest of any area was 15′. Add to that the shade caused by trees it made no sense.
However, families with children may want a lawn for play. That is understandable. However, not every square inch of the property needs to be covered with grass. Only use grass where it is a large enough area for play or maybe along parking areas where you might need the room to get out of the car. Smaller areas of grass in the front yard may help to set off the plants better than a large expanse. Generally speaking, less is more.
The other problem with lawns is the amount of chemicals usually used to keep the lawn thick and green. Weed killers and fertilizers are often used in ratios that cause them to runoff into gutters and streams. Some of these chemicals also cause severe reactions to kids and sensitive adults. A “healthy” lawn usually is not. Most people strive for a monoculture of grass with nothing else growing in it. This is also opposite of nature. If you’ve ever watched the opening of “Little House on the Prairie”, Laura Ingalls is running through a field of grass and many wildflowers. That is nature’s idea of a lawn to play in. Until the 1950’s it was a badge of honor to have clover in your lawn. Clover was recognized as beneficial to the soil for the fact it releases nitrogen into the soil. Once the chemical companies got going, they convinced people that this was undesirable.
If you choose to have a lawn, try to find organic lawn care products. There are companies out there that focus on using only organic products. Check them out carefully. For cutting your lawn, you might check out electric mowers and equipment. There are lawn care companies that use electric equipment that the charge up using solar power.
Back briefly to the idea that a lawn is necessary for children. I have a friend who has a five year old son. He used to live with me but now has his own place. His home has a lawn which Nicholaus loves to play in. However, when Nicholaus is here where there is no lawn, he is still out there playing and exploring. He says he likes my yard more. My garden is an adventure for him.