Thoughts on how to create a well-designed garden retreat.

Posts tagged “small gardens

Southern Summer-time Slowdown


Many people stereotype southerners as slow or living a slower paced life.  With the heat and humidity of the South, it’s not laziness, it’s survival.  The biggest garden chores in the summer are watering and weeding.  You can plant year-round in the South but a lot of people hold off planting in the summer.  Summer heat is stressful for plants.  It takes a lot of water for plants in their first year in the garden and especially so in the summer.  You will always have a “first” summer for any plant in your garden.  This is often the most critical time in getting a plant acclimated to your garden.

The other main chore of the summer is weeding.  Tree seedlings can soon turn your garden into a forest.  I also make sure any invasive exotic plants that are seeding into the garden are removed immediately.  My definition of a weed is “a plant out of place”.  Some ornamental plants are appreciated when they seed in and fill in a space.  Others can take over a planned garden.  When I first moved into my current home, I removed every invasive exotic plant from my rear garden.  When I was done, I only had one tree left.  It was a jungle of invasive plants.  In many urban areas, it is a constant battle keeping out these types of plants that someone in the past thought it was a good idea to plant.  Even if you don’t have them in your yard, they often seed in from the neighbors.  Education is important.  Gently encourage your neighbors to also remove invasive plants.  They may or may not listen.  The more people who understand the damage done to the environment by invasive exotic plants, the better for future generations.

During the summer, take notes on any time period that your garden doesn’t seem to have blooming flowers.  You can sit in the comfort of your air conditioning and plan for buying plants to fill those gaps.  You might notice that you have too much of one color and not of another.  You might find areas where you have a lot of weeds because your garden isn’t planted thick enough to discourage weeds.  Sit back with your favorite cold beverage and look at the plant catalogs and online information to plan what you want to plant at the first sign of cooler weather in the fall.  If you can plant early in the fall, you will get some good new growth before winter and the plant will be further established by the time next summer rolls around.  Then when the heat and humidity of the next summer has you feeling lazy, you can look at your garden with more enjoyment and less work.


Spring break?


So it’s been quite a while since I’ve posted anything here.  Spring for any garden designer is busy along with the time spent on one’s own garden getting ready for a tour.  So there has really been no Spring break,

We’ve had a pretty good spring so far in Durham.  We haven’t hit 90 degrees yet which is a little unusual and have had many days below 80, also unusual.  We’ve also had a bit more rain than normal so everything is growing very well.  Some years it seems that spring is only 2 weeks long because we go from cold to hot in a very short time.

Spring is also a time for historic home tours in Durham and I’ve made it around to my share this spring.  Of course, many times I am more interested in the gardens than the houses but no one really needs to know that.  Preservation Durham’s home tour party was held at a home with an extensive garden on a corner lot.  This allows the garden to become sort of a public garden.  Nothing like touring someone’s  garden other than your own to put your plant identification skills to the test.  Truth be told, I have a couple of plants in my native garden that I have forgotten what they are.  Nothing wrong with discreetly leaving a plant tag near the base of a plant to remind yourself later what it is.  I’ve spent some time recently tagging some of the larger trees and shrubs with aluminum plant tags that hang by thin wires.  These can be moved easily as the plant grows to allow you to find it later.  I went through a pack of 50 of these tags and had to order another 50.  Perennials are not conducive to this technique so I’ll have to either remember them or do the tag in the ground thing.

I have shown the garden to more people this spring than probably the past four years combined.  I’ve always told my customers that most gardens really seem to come into their own on the third year.  This has held true for Jaliya’s garden.  Of course, I know what is left in my mind to be done at a later date but new people to the garden do not know.  Seeing a garden in this stage followed by pointing to the jungle in the back yard next door let’s them know that they too can have a beautiful garden in just a couple years time.  My own back yard looked just like the one next door when I moved in.

Before the blood sweat and tears.

It will take some time for the trees and shrubs to reach their prime.  That is where perennials do such a good job in creating interest in a garden.  Too many landscapes focus only on trees and shrubs and are missing out.  Or they will throw in a few daylilies or some other common tough perennial and stop there.   We’ve talked before about the five design functions of plants and these pictures help to bear that out.  The perennials give a lot of interest to the garden while the larger plants grow.  In five years, this garden will look so much different because the shrubs will be showing their form and the trees will change the sun/shade patterns.  But that is the fun of garden design.  You have an idea in your mind of what you want to create.  You then go to work and let nature bring it to fruition.  A garden is never really done.  It just grows and develops along with you.


Dwarf Fruit trees in the garden


Many people today are concerned about where their food comes from and whether or not it has been sprayed with chemicals.  One of the best ways to do this is to grow your own food.  A long term investment in your food supply is to plant dwarf fruit trees.

With Spring having arrived here in Durham, NC, dwarf fruit trees are also blooming right now.  The added bonus of spring flowers is a hint of juicy goodness later in the year.  The following is the fruit trees I have in my garden.

I have two dwarf apple trees.  I planted two because I have heard that apples must cross-pollinate.  My trees are young therefore I have not had any fruit on them yet.  Apple trees would prefer a little cooler weather than we have in this area.  However, since I only planted them for my consumption and any friends I might share with, that does not concern me.  If I was trying to sell enough to make a living on them then that might be an issue.

I have a dwarf peach tree called Belle of Georgia.  Peach tree buds can often get nipped by late freezes in this area but last year I had a great little crop of peaches.  I had so many peaches that a large limb in the tree was broken by the weight.  I learned my lesson there and will go into pruning fruit trees a little later in this post.

In the native garden, I have a native plum.  these are naturally small trees and the plums are also small.  However, they are great to snack on while enjoying the garden.  I cooked some of them down into a plum sauce which was very good on baked pork chops and even some baked chicken.  New trees easily pop up around the parent plant allowing you to dig them up to share.  They also seem to have a tendency to send up new shoots from the roots.  These must be removed if you don’t want a thicket of plum.

I also have a native cherry.  It has bloomed great this year.  Last year I don’t remember how much it flowered but I do know I had very few cherries on it.  We will see how they do this yer.  I have been told that cherries also would do better in a little cooler climate as well.  My view is the same as it is with the apples.

One tree that I also have but will not be dwarf is a pear tree.  This tree has already produced quite a few pears.  However, I still haven’t eaten one because it seems the squirrels know exactly when to pick every last one off the tree before I can get them.  It’s tempting to sit out there with a BB gun and reduce the squirrel population so I can enjoy some pears.

Another native fruit tree that I have but you don’t see a lot of is the PawPaw tree.  This is also known as the Hoosier Banana because the fruit is said to taste somewhat like a banana.  These trees look a little tropical with their large leaves.  Pawpaws can grow into large colonies.  However for fruiting, you need to have trees from different colonies.

The way to prune fruit trees except for the last two on this list is to prune any limbs which are growing straight up and let the tree grow wide.  This helps to make it easier to pick the fruit.  You also want to prune branches back so they are stubby.  This allows the structure of the tree to be strong enough to support the weight of the fruit.  It also helps the fruit that does develop to be fewer yet larger.  Generally prune the tree to be open and sturdy.  It does no good to let the tree go big if it can’t support the fruit and you end up losing some due

Native Cherry in bloom.

to broken limbs.


Small spaces don’t have to seem small.


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.

The viewpoint on this spot of the path is the waterfall into the lower pond.