All Spaces Great and Small

I begin with a quote from a show I used to watch.  “Bigger, Badder, Awesome” was the unofficial tagline of the “Ace of Cakes”.  If you’re not familiar it is a show about the creative, over the top cake designers of Charm City Cakes in Baltimore, MD shown on the TLC network.  In their world, over top equals career success.  Often times, in the landscaping world the same is true, or so many think.  “Smaller, Badder, awesome” doesn’t sound quite so exciting, but in reality a little space has some advantages over their larger counterparts and I really enjoy designing them. For one, smaller spaces can mean using higher quality material without a huge jump in price.  Also, the design can be more cohesive, utilizing a style or theme from edge to edge.  If you have a small space to work with, here are a few creative ideas.

1.  Using a water feature featuring a basin system…

A piece of pottery, stone, urn, etc. can be uses as a water feature sitting atop an underground tub that houses all the necessary pump and accessories.  There are various sizes of basins, but the smallest is about 3’x3′ and can fit in a space about 5′ across.  Below is a water feature from Ceramo Company Inc.  I purchase most of my pottery used in water features for my client at Ceramo. They had a local distributor in West Chicago, IL, but it is no longer being sold there.  I will have to find another option, as the shipping from their out-of-state location may prove cost prohibitive. Note:  The basin seen in this picture would be hidden underground and covered with decorative stone like mexican pebbles.

Ceramo company

2.  Using lattice fencing or garden wall systems for screening…

No space for an evergreen screen can mean more creativity in how to block views.  Earlier in the year, I was able to check out some planted screens.  These systems can even have their own irrigation to keep the maintenance down, but watering needs of the screens must be taken into careful consideration, or the plants will suffer.  I saw these screens at a annuals panel discussion at Ball Horticultural in West Chicago, IL. They had one made that looked like their logo made out of sedum and begonias.  Also featured was another using tropical house plants.  Below is that screens at Ball Horticultural.  It is thickly planted with tropicals and does feature the above mentioned watering system.

Betty Earl

3.  Using higher quality material…

Swap out concrete pavers and retaining wall material for clay or natural stone.  Concrete block and pavers do have some disadvantages over natural stone in that their color fades over time, they can break up under conditions of salt, and moisture.  In other words if it is possible to use the real thing, the look is much more subtle and material will last longer.  Below is a drywall retaining wall made from Lannon stone, out of Wisconsin.  This wall is used in a small backyard to elevate a space for a patio in a space that would otherwise be too sloped to accommodate one.  The pavers are Pinehall clay.

Becca LaBarre

4.  Using planters to add color and provide a space for vegetables…

If you crave something homegrown and don’t have the space for a vegetable garden, planting in pottery can be an alternative.  Herbs such as mint, basil, oregano, or rosemary work well or vegetables like lettuce, or tomatoes.  Tomatoes can be a bit trickier, as it seems that they do not produce quite as many tomatoes and can easily be over watered.  Also, some small spaces need to maximize patio space and can leave spaces void of greenery.  To achieve a spot of color, add planters of hot colored annuals like Coleus, Impatiens or Supertunias.  Even large-leaved tropicals can provide a lush backdrop and the larger leaves creates the same illusion as large tiles in a small kitchen.  Just remember to take them inside in the winter.

5.  Using creative planting spaces…

Here are a couple of ideas of places to stash a little bit of green.  In a small space, every inch counts.  Outside the normal planting bed creativity can be used in many capacities.

Saxon Holt

Above is a lettuce and beet garden planted in between flagstone.  A great multitasking space.

The previous photo depicts a very well designed small space that incorporates a lot of focal elements including the diagonal table, the bird bath, and balanced plant design along the arch of the circle shaped lawn space.

In a small space sometimes hardscape is needed more than plant space. Dare I admit that!  However, here is a creative use of plant space in the unused portion of the driveway.  In the midwest climate, I would opt for some well-traveled, tough as nails groundcover like creeping thyme.  They can handle dry and hot conditions like the concrete jungle of a driveway space.

So for Duff, the lovable, laid-back chef of Charm City Cakes, his claim to fame comes in the form of flour, sugar, and the occasional pyrotechnics. I’d never discount the use of pyrotechnics in a landscape if ever there was an appropriate opportunity, but for now, the challenge of small space design and creating a unique outcome will suffice.


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