Friday, April 16, 2010

Small spaces for gardens

It's such a treat to tour great gardens that it inspires a fresh look at the garden at home. But what if you come back from viewing elegant vistas, broad paths, and rolling lawns to face the scrappy little urban patch that is your garden?

Several gardens featured on the Theodore Payne Foundation Native Plant Garden Tour this past weekend were small urban gardens, and they showed what can be accomplished in a small space. Take heart, urban gardeners. You can do a lot with your yard.

This small city lot in Mar Vista in West Los Angeles has a tiny front yard. The area north of the center walkway was planted twelve years ago, while the plantings bordering the driveway are more recent.

The homeowner has been able to completely do away with a traditional lawn. A mature manzantia (arctostaphylus sp.) with its beautiful cinnamon-brown bark is underplanted with low ceonathus, sage, and penstemons.

This planting shows how pretty even small spaces can be - with an assortment of coral bells (heuchera) beneath a hyptis emoryi with its grey textured leaves and small blue flowers.

The design of this back yard is simple as can be. Fenced in corrugated galvanized steel, the tiny yard includes a garage and office at the back. Gravel paves the flat space between office and house, punctuated by stepping stones. A deck extends from the house, low enough to forgo railings or stairs. In the graveled area, drought-tolerant shrubs including sage, manzanita, and ceonathus are planted beneath a palo verde tree.

This small Hollywood lot takes a similar stark modern approach to its design. Much of the lot is paved. In the front a wide plaza enclosed by low walls leads to the entry of the home. The rest of the front is mulched or graveled, with narrow plantings of deer grass that waft in the breeze and native rushes whose brownish seed pods add interest.

This West Los Angeles garden goes in the other direction. It crams a lot of plants into a small space. Here a magnificent fremontodendron is the centerpiece of the front yard. Surrounded by sage, monkeyflower and ceonathus, it thrives, raising hundreds of butterscotch-colored blossoms in the sun.

My photo doesn't do this magnificent plant justice. Here's a blossom, shown against the deep blue of ceonathus.

The gardener makes use of every space, including this 18" strip on the north side of the house, where heuchera and white Pacific Coast hybrid iris bloom amid ferns.

Only slightly bigger, this front garden makes use of the sculptural trunk of a mature jacaranda, nestling flowering plants beneath. A path paved with decomposed granite winds between mulched plantings of pitcher sage, PC iris, flowering currants, mahonias and other shrubs. The billowing shrubs of the perimeter conceal secret oases where a bench and a birdbath offer quiet spots for contemplation.

This Culver City gardener has taken a sensible approach. The original foundation plantings and mature trees remain, as do groundcover of jasmine. The lawn, however, is gone, replaced by a curved plaza of decomposed granite bordered by planting beds that feature casual annuals and shade-loving shrubs.

The sunny backyard features a great specimen century plant, or agave that is blooming this year, surrounded by colorful annuals, penstemons and sages. Birds and butterflies love the plantings in this back garden. A neighboring yard's abundant morning glories show how "borrowed views" can add color and interest to tiny gardens.

This planting demonstrates how even the tiniest sliver of space can become a garden. In the space beneath a hose bib, a mahonia - its glossy evergreen leaves attractive against the golden stucco wall - a clump of maroon ornamental grass and chalky duddleyas combine together in a perfect composition.

These gardeners have all managed to create gardens of beauty and interest in small city yards. They've made livable yet private outdoor spaces to enjoy. In the bargain, they've elmininated water-hungry lawns, provided attractions to birds and butterflies, and cut their maintenance tasks down to the minimum.

Pretty good for the city, wouldn't you say?


Tristan Robin said...

lovely - most of those make those of us who live in condominiums think huge LOL.

but the one with coral bells is pretty close to the size of our "lawn." LOL I have even have managed to include a three foot metal sculpture of the Eiffel Tower in mine!

Anonymous said...

The century plant in bloom is incredible.
When I see these small-space gardens, I think, "I could do that." But in reality, it is my husband who would pull it off. Sadly, I am a bit of a black thumb.
Now I am going to go put my tomato plants in containers on the deck!

giorno26 ¸¸.•*¨*•. said...

questo modo di rendere unico un piccolo spazio è veramente fantastico...
sul serio un grande giardiniere può fare molto con un piccolo spazio.
Solo amore e fantasia producono molto !
Buona serata Myriam

Gilly said...

Those gardens are so interesting, - they have given me lots of ideas!

Do you (plural) in Ca get problems with weeds on gravel gardens? Or does the heat kill things off?

materfamilias said...

I love the variety you showcase here -- I'm always so grateful to urban gardeners who make their small front yards a gift to us passersby.

Nej said...

The chairs in that first picture, I must have those for my garden!! :-) :-) :-)

Garden tours are so much, and I always get so many ideas from them.