Everyday Gardeners

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small space gardening

The following is a guest blog post from Susan Morrison, a Northern California landscape designer and blogger. 


Small gardens offer many advantages over their larger cousins—less weeding comes to mind—but having less space to work with brings a unique set of challenges. If you’re a plant and accessories lover, you might be torn between the desire to cram in every bright bloom or vivid pot that catches your eye, and the knowledge that too many competing colors can lead to chaos. With a little planning, however, a small garden can be colorful without being overwhelming.

Plan for container colors in advance

When Amy Stewart, author of The Drunken Botanist, asked for my help designing a new cocktail garden for her narrow side yard, I knew we’d be relying heavily on containers. To satisfy Amy’s desire for bold color, we chose a palette of rich blues anchored by deep purple on one end and lime green on the other – before purchasing anything. Instead of endless days spent shopping in an effort to find containers that conformed to her swatches, Amy asked a local handyman to build them to her specifications out of unfinished wood—then painted them herself. (You can also find unfinished wood containers online.) If choosing a color palette seems daunting, sites like Adobe Kuler provide a range of color palettes, and a menu of easy-to-use tools that allow you to experiment with an infinite number of combinations, while still ensuring your ultimate choices will coordinate.

Build your beds around pastel blooms

When it comes to flower color, an exclusive palette of pastel blooms will blend together much more harmoniously than one that mixes soft colors with bold ones. Pastel shades always combine well with one another, no matter how many different flowers you include. As the speaker at a recent talk on color that I attended explained it: if you washed all your clothes 200 times, they would eventually fade to the point where you could wear anything with anything. Sticking to the paler shades found in the innermost circle of the color wheel is a great strategy for impulse shoppers, as it gives you a substantial number of plants to choose from, with no need to worry that the ultimate effect will overpower the garden.

Keep accessories and plants cohesive

On the other hand, if you’re the type who wouldn’t be caught dead planting pale pink anything, it’s possible to make a bold design statement without sacrificing harmony. Once you’ve chosen the colors that speak to you, the secret is to repeat them everywhere, including accessories like furniture, containers and artwork.

Artist and garden designer Keeyla Meadows is not the type to shy away from splashy shades. Sizzling reds, bright oranges and shocking pinks dominate in her small, sunny garden, but by pulling these colors through in her handmade benches and containers, the end result is harmonious.

In their small, showcase water garden, Potomac Waterworks choose only two high-contrast colors, red and chartreuse, then repeated them not only in a range of foliage plants, but in the accessories and artwork as well. The ultimate effect is a garden that is simultaneously energizing and restful.

Whether your style is softly romantic or outspokenly edgy, stick to a few simple color strategies for a garden that reflects the real you—without sacrificing harmony.


Susan Morrison is a Northern California landscape designer with Creative Exteriors Landscape Design,  blogger at Blue Planet Garden Blog and the co-author of Garden Up! Smart Vertical Gardening for Small and Large Spaces, an Amazon “Best Books of 2011” selection.

Susan knows first-hand the challenges and rewards of gardening in a small space. Her own 18 by 50 foot back yard serves as her laboratory for fresh ideas, and is the inspiration for her iTunes garden app Foolproof Plants for Small Gardens.

The following is a guest blog post from Briana Johnson, Marketing Communications Specialist for Garden Debut® and Greenleaf Nursery.


When shopping for my first home, I had grand illusions of the gardening space I’d have available. I vastly underestimated the cost and maintenance associated with a landscape that rivaled the local botanical gardens. Thankfully, I came to my senses before I purchased and made a realistic choice in terms of lot size. My small in-town neighborhood lot isn’t quite the ultimate of small space gardening that an apartment balcony or a townhouse patio constrains you to, but even suburban gardeners have small space gardening dilemmas.

My first dilemma was porch height. I purchased my house for its beautifully large, covered front porch. I’d again had grand illusions of a gorgeous, raised, wrap-around porch, and while my porch is large, it is a scant 6 inches from the ground to the threshold. When it came to selecting plants for the mixed beds in front of said porch, I knew a 6 to 8 foot shrub would debilitate my views from the porch swing, so I set a 3 to 4 foot height limit on my plant selections.

New plant breeding, such as that done by crapemyrtle enthusiast Dow Whiting, is often aimed at introducing smaller more compact versions of a garden favorite. Dow’s four varieties of Princess Crapemyrtles, introduced by the Garden Debut® collection, range in size from 18 to 48 inches tall by 30 to 36 inches wide, fitting perfectly within my range of selections. Not to mention they offer another feature every gardener loves: an extended bloom season from midsummer to fall that is improved by deadheading spent flowers.

The largest of the collection, Princess Holly Ann™, produces cherry red clusters of flowers and matures at 4 feet tall by 3 feet wide. Princess Zoey™ has two-toned blooms that emerge cherry red with splashes of hot pink, and it also grows to 4 feet tall by 3 feet wide. These two crapemyrtles are perfect choices for the back row of a mixed garden bed and can be under-planted with a variety of small shrubs and perennials.

The two smaller varieties also work well as a mid-level mixed garden bed selection. Mounding Princess Kylie™ has brilliant magenta flowers and grows 3 feet tall and wide, and tiny Princess Lyla™ matures at 18 to 24 inches tall and wide with light pink flowers. Their mounded shapes also look great in a cluster of mixed containers around a porch or patio sitting area where the delicate flowers can be observed closely.

I’ve found that with new breeding programs and new introductions each year from collections such as Garden Debut®, gardeners can expect solutions to a variety of gardening dilemmas, not just space limitations. Visit www.gardendebut.com to view the collection or call 1 (877) 663-5053 for questions.


Briana Johnson is the Marketing Communications Specialist for Garden Debut® and Greenleaf Nursery in Park Hill, Oklahoma. She is a first-time homeowner and amateur gardener with big ideas for her new landscape.

Briana relies on Great New Plants™ and Trusted Selections™ from the Garden Debut® collection to create a home where she can connect, share, enjoy and inspire. Discuss new and exciting features about these plants with Briana each day by following Garden Debut® on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.


The following is a guest blog post from Chris McLaughlin.


If you’re interested in gardening on any level, it’s nearly impossible not to notice that vegetables are once again enjoying the gardening spotlight.  Like everything else, the gardening trend has taken a twist. Large expanses of cultivated land have been swapped out for raised beds, containers, and one of the easiest and rewarding veggie gardening practices — vertical gardening. Take advantage of the prime real estate located above the soil! It just might be the perfect produce practice.

Naturally, the first reason that gardening vertically makes sense is that many of us are limited (sometimes drastically so) as far as gardening space and we’d like to make the most of our small-space gardens. In fact, when I lived in the suburbs, I started gardening vertically because most of my life was spent living in the suburbs and I had very few places around my home for a vegetable garden.

In my book Vertical Vegetable Gardening (Alpha Books, December 2012) I get into the nitty gritty on why those of us that have started growing vegetables and fruits vertically instead of horizontally have never looked back. In a nutshell, vertical gardening will have you:










Using Less Garden Space
Typically the first reason that gardeners consider growing up instead of out is due to lack of space. This may seem like a no-brainer when speaking in terms of urban, apartment, and condominium living. But you would be amazed at how little land suburbanites have to work with, too. Vertical gardening opens doors for almost anybody.


Spending Less Money
You’ll save money from the get-go on purchasing soil if you’re building raised garden beds. This is because your beds won’t have to be very large because the plants and fruit will be hanging around happily above the soil.  You’ll need only enough soil to accommodate plant roots.

Smaller beds (smaller growing surface) means you’ll be watering less. Combine this with a watering system that delivers water directly to the root zone such as a drip system, plus rich, loamy soil (for moisture retention) and you’ll have a smaller water bill, too.


Doing Less Work in Less Time
I don’t have to have met you to know that you lead a very full life. We’re all moving right along at a fast pace just to stay afloat; so planting a garden may feel like a big endeavor. But I’m here to tell you that there’s less time commitment involved with vertical gardening.

First of all, there’s very little soil for you to deal with — especially if you’re using containers. Less soil, means less time watering and weeding. In fact, pulling the one or two weeds that pop up takes minutes or even no time if you’re planting in just enough soil for the vertical plants. Plus you’ll harvest vegetables and fruit in a flash when it’s at eye level and can be easily seen and picked.

Gardeners in wheel chairs or those with other physical challenges find that growing up makes their hobby that much easier — or perhaps even possible where it may not have been before.


Dealing with Less Weeds, Pests, & Disease
This perk is a biggie — you’ll have very few weeds and you’ll have those yanked out in seconds. It’s simple; less soil surface = less weeds, plus your soil will most likely have come bagged as opposed to outside soil that can potentially be riddles with weed seed.

Plants grown vertically have the advantage of excellent air circulation. More air circulation around plant foliage means less trouble with pests and disease than thus, creates a  stronger plant and more unblemished fruit. Much less food wasted due to rotting, as well. Plants grown up instead of out limits their physical contact to neighboring plants (that might carry disease).


Harvesting More Crops than You Thought
Gardening vertically can actually increase your vegetable production and offer you a bigger bounty. All that air circulation and sunlight helps maintain healthy foliage and healthy plants (with little or no pests and disease) offer bigger yields — even if it is in a smaller space.

By the way, vertical gardening isn’t just about vining plants. Hanging baskets, stackable containers, and wall pockets are all ways to grow non-climbing crops such as lettuce, strawberries, and radishes up.


Beautifying Your Yard
If you haven’t noticed that vegetable plants can be downright beautiful, take another look; veggies can be botanical eye candy, too! Tomatoes not only come in bold red, but also yellow, orange, purple, white, green, white, and striped; Eggplant offers white, lavender, purple, and striped varieties; cabbages come in blues, grays, and greens; lettuce are red, green, purple, and all shades between.

Another ting that many gardeners notice is the leaves of vining plants such as zucchini or squash grown along the soil in the traditional way become yellow, sparse, and scraggly. Grown vertically the bottom of these plants are full with leaves. In fact, your vining and fruiting vegetables can actually be a surprising focal point in your garden landscape.

Along with the various colors the shape, size, and texture of plants and fruit will add to the view. Upright crops such as espaliered fruit trees and grapevines offer many months of structural beauty in the garden, as well.

Even today, on five acres and I can honestly tell you that I grow more vegetables vertically than I ever did when I had much less land. The space above the traditional garden bed is underused as a growing resource, yet it offers some surprising benefits! You just have to stop looking out and start looking up.


Chris McLaughlin has been gardening for over 35 years and became a California Master Gardener in 2000. She’s the author of four gardening books including Vertical Vegetable Gardening (Alpha, December 2012). Her work can also be found in Urban Farm Magazine, Hobby Farm Home Magazine, The Heirloom Gardener and is a staff columnist at Vegetable Gardener.com. 

Today, Chris is working on her current book project for a spring 2014 release, getting ready to launch the Mother Lode Seed Library in Placerville, California, attempting to keep up with her own site, A Suburban Farmer.com, as well as practicing home ag in Northern California’s Gold Country.

The following is a guest blog post from Kathleen Hennessy.


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, average lot sizes in the U.S. are getting smaller and that means less space for landscaping. As a result, many plant breeders are working to create smaller, more compact shrubs for homeowners.

That breeding work is developing great new varieties that create big impact without taking up a lot of space in your yard.

Bailey Nurseries, the company that brings you Endless Summer® Hydrangeas, Easy Elegance® Roses and the First Editions® new plants brand, has several new varieties that fit. “These shrubs pair low maintenance with great color, all wrapped up in a smaller package,” says Natalia Hamill Brand and Business Development Manager at Bailey’s. “Best of all, they’re really easy to grow.”

First Editions® Little Devil ninebark is the perfect example of smaller size shrub creating a big statement. Typical ninebark varieties can reach 6- to 10-feet tall. Little Devil tops out at just four feet. It offers all the great attributes of ninebark including beautiful burgundy foliage and white-pink flowers in June.

Little Devil is easy to grow and needs little pruning. Its compact size makes it the perfect fit for any landscape. I love Little Devil in containers too. Little Devil can be grown in Zones 3-7.

The First Editions® Magic crape myrtle series offers great disease resistance and richer colors. Midnight Magic blooms with stunning, dark pink flowers backed by deep purple foliage. It’s more compact, growing from only 4- to 6-feet, and keeps a nice rounded shape in Zones 6-9.

For Southern gardeners, Zones 7-9, First Editions® Crimson Fire fringe flower is a small space star.  Neon-pink flowers cover the plant in spring, while the deep, ruby foliage adds interest all season long.

Its compact, low spreading form makes it a great foundation plant. Since it only grows 2- to 3-feet in height and width, it’s also a stunning in a container.

For more info, visit FirstEditionsNewPlants.com.


Kathleen Hennessy has been writing on gardening and DIY topics for more than 15 years. You can read more about her Zone 3 and Zone 4 gardening challenges in her blog at 29minutegardener.com, or follow her on Twitter @29mingardener.

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