Garden Makeover – 4 Tips on How to Design a Small Garden

I found these old pics of the garden. I though that I would share them and also share my learnings from designing a small garden.

First year in the new house was all about cleanup. We removed all things broken and old. Among them was an arbor with “sticks” stuck to it. Turns out that the sticks were a climbing rose.

Tip #1 – Do not remove any plants the first year in a new garden!
Wait it out a whole season and see what you’ve got. You might be lucky enough to inherit a garden full of lovely plants! Some of them, like bulbs, you won’t even be able to see at first.

Next step was to get grass! I had a romanticised idea of walking out into the garden in the morning and feeling the grass between my toes. What I didn’t know was that grass requires drainage. Rain water needs somewhere to go or otherwise the grass roots, and any plant roots really will have no air and die. Our soil was hard clay with no drainage what so ever. Rain would cause water puddles to form and the grass looked miserable.

Tip #2 – Check the soil type and drainage. Don’t spend money plants before you’ve got those two in place.
The solution in my garden was raised beds. I’ve build 20-50 in (25-50cm) high raised beds out of wood. I’ve lined them with plastic and filled them with well draining soil.

Year two was about planting. Since I didn’t know much about plants I started off small. I planted a shrub in one corner and a handfull of perennials here and there. I remember feeling a bit disappointed. The end result wasn’t what I had imagined. The garden looked cluttered.

Tip #3 – Small gardens need big plants or big groups of plants for impact.
Choose one type of perennial and plant groups of 8-12. It might sound a lot but that’s how many you’ll need to avoid it feeling cluttered. Also, repeat the same groups throughout the garden. For example, I use red Heucheras in several places to create a coherent impression.

Eventually I got fed up of stepping around in wet soil. I wanted a material that I could walk on that felt soft and dry. Wood met that criteria and also was easy to work with. So I built a wooden boardwalk all though the garden and behind the pergola. I’ve described why I put it on the diagonal in a previous post, a design choice I’m very happy with.

Tip #4Challenging parts of the garden like wet areas or shade can become the most interesting with some imagination and creative ideas!

Before and After

My Little Helpers 🐰🌳💛

Spooky Halloween Mini Garden 🏚🕷

Halloween decorations are so much fun! This year, I put together a spooky mini garden – with a mist maker!

Haworthia ‘Attenuata
Pebbles from my garden turned into grave stones with the help of a black marker. Spanish moss adds to the spooky look. ⚰️🏴‍☠️
Little house on the hill, Jade plant (Crassula argentea), Haworthia, sheep moss and spiders 🏚🕷🌳

What I used

Container – I picked up a metal bowl for 2 dollars at the second hand store. It didn’t have drainage so I drilled 4 wholes in the bottom with a regular drill.

Decoration
– Miniature house
– Plastic spiders
– Miniature sign
– Branches form Corkscrew Hazel – you can use any branches that look a bit spooky
– Green sheep moss
– Spanish moss
– Pebbles (gravestones)

Plants
– Jade plant (Crassula argentea)
Haworthia ‘Attenuata

Mist maker – To top it all off I got a mist maker that I placed insed a plastic cup full of water. It might seem a bit over the top but I figured I’ll use it out in the garden later on.

Sunny Fall Morning

Mums drying after last night’s rainfall

We’ve had rain for many consecutive days. It’s been wet and dark, but this morning the sun finally peaked though. The light and the fall colors were just amazing. To top it off we’ve started getting guests at the bird feeder.

My neighbour’s glorious dogwood in the foreground, Magnolia ‘Loebneri Wildcat’ to the left, evergreen bamboo grass behind the sofa. Bird feeder from Wildlife Garden.

Shrub for fall color – Highbush Blueberry (American Blueberry)

Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum)

Highbush Blueberry provides delicious fruit in the summer and gorgeous color in the fall. They don’t need much space and can easily be tucked into a small garden.

Highbush Blueberry turns deep red in the fall. The color adds pretty contrast to any space. But that’s not all! These shrubs produce big, juice blueberries mid to late summer! This is the most popular part of the garden among the kids. Especially since the blueberry shrubs are underplanted with strawberries.

Pants two shrubs of different variety for best fruit crop

Highbush Blueberry gets 3-4ft tall and wide (90-120cm). They need full to part sun and acidic soil. To get the most berries make sure to give them plenty of fertiliser.

Although blueberries are self-fertile, cross-pollination produces the best fruit crop (larger berries and larger yields). It’s therefor recommended to plant at least two shrubs of different varieties.

Simple DYI Fall Wreath – Video Tutorial

I got asked to show how I go about making my wreaths by an online garden store. So I went outside of my comfort zone and made a video tutorial. I figured it was easier to show the process though a video than with photos.

The wreath is simple. The base is made out of dried ferns. For extra decoration I added dried Hydrangeas, Agastache, grasses and artificial acorns. The acorn were the only thing that did not come out of my garden.

Dried Ferns, dried Hydrangea ‘Annabelle’, Agastache blooms, grass and acorns

Limelight Hydrangea After Frost

The garden is slowly taking on more and more fall colors. The first frost made the blooms of the The Limelight Hydrangea turn from pink to brownish. I think that they’re absolutely beautiful. They will keep this shape and color though the winter.

If you’re going to get one shrub for your garden make it a Limelight Hydrangea!

Limelight Hydrangea peaks up from behind the pergola
Fall colors in the garden

Giant Bird Feeder

Giant Bird Feeder from Wildlife Garden

I love wildlife in the garden! We get quite a lot of birds, butterflies, bees and occasionally a mouse and a toad. Since the garden is small and can’t fit that many things at once I usually swap the bee boxes for bird feeder in the fall.

This year I’ve got this giant bird feeder from Wildlife garden. I hope to pack it full so it will last more than a few days before I need to go out and refill it.

Giant Bird Feeder from Wildlife Garden
Giant bird feeder
Giant Bird Feeder from Wildlife Garden
View from the pergola. The bars are there to keep our bunnies out of my plants =)
Giant Bird Feeder from Wildlife Garden

Late Fall Porch Decor in Deep Red Colors

My porch all set for late fall!

We had a first frost this weekend. The cold temperatures knocked out most of my fall containers with plants like Coleus and Begonias. The plants went to the compost and I cleaned up the front porch for late fall.

I usually do arrangements with three to four types of plants per container. But this year I thought I would try just one type of plant per container and instead to group the containers. It turned out really nice and clean!

Mums are such wonderful late fall plants!
Heuchera, I don’t remember the variety
Creeping Wire Vine
Helleborus Orientalis ‘Viv. Victoria’

First frost of the year

Fern Leaf Japanese Maple ‘Aconitifolium’

We had our first frost of the year. Night temperature went down to 25 °F (-4°C).

The garden looked different this morning. The feeling of greenery and lushness has begun to disappear. While most of the perennials are still hanging in there, they have changed shape and color during just one night.

The ferns have begun to turn color
Mums can take some frost
Heuchera ‘Obsidian’ will keep most of its foliage throughout the winter
Frozen bird bath
The Hostas have begun to look tired. They will soon disappear altogether. Hakonechloa to the right and Heaucheras in the front will keep their shape during winter.

I’m happy to have a lot of winter interest in the garden. Heucheras, Hallabores, Yews, Boxwoods – all of them keep their shape and most of their color all year round.

The hostas though will disappear altogether. They will leave empty whole in the flower bed. I haven’t figured out what to put there. Any ideas?

Smooth Serviceberry “Snowflakes’ – a tree for a small garden

Amelanchier Laevis ‘Snowflakes’

The serviceberry glows in the morning sun. It has just begun to turn color and the orange and red leaves are looking beautiful.

We planted this tree in early spring. It’s still quite small but has already given us a taste what it will bring in terms of year-round interest: pretty white blooms in spring, red berries in the summer and gorgeous colors in the fall.

It’s a perfect tree for a small garden since it only gets 13-15 feet tall and wide.

It can grow in sun to part shade. I did read that it needs full sun to get the prettiest fall colors. However, mine get only 6h sun a day and it doing just fine.

Baneberry ‘Pink Spike’ brings contrast and drama to a shady area

Actaea simplex ‘Pink Spike’ (Baneberry) has grown quite a bit in just a few months. In a uear or two it will get 3-5 feet tall (90-150 cm) and 1-2 feet wide (30-60 cm). The size and the dark foliage bring drama and contrast to the garden.

Most Baneberrys prefer part sun. However, the ‘Pink Spike’ variety can grow and bloom in full shade. The delicate pink blooms glow in a shade garden.

Oh, and the blooms smell like strawberries!

Hakonechloa Macra – Japanese Forest Grass

Hakonechloa, Heuchera ‘Sweet tea’ in the front and Heuchera ‘Obsidian’ in the back. Iris and Hostas peaking up form the right.

It’s hard to describe how beautiful the Japanese forrest grass is with just a photo. The picture is still while the beauty of this grass lies in its movement. When the wind blows it looks almost like these settle green waves flowing around in the garden.

Hakonechloa, Heuchera ‘Sweet tea’

I’ve planted it together with Heucheras for contrast. The combination makes both the plants stand out.

Hakonechloa gets 12-18 in. (30-45cm) tall and 18-24 in. (45-60cm) wide. It prefers part shade, although in my garden it gets only 3-4 h of sun. It’s a slow starter and grows very slowly for the first two years. Year three it takes off and proves it was well worth the wait!

Hakonechloa, Heuchera ‘Sweat Tea’, Sweet Woodruff and Clethra alnifolia ‘Hummingbird’ (Summersweet) in the background

My plants are three years old so they have just begun to do their thing.

Succulent Arrangement in Bonsai Pot

Another weekend with dull weather – another succulent arrangement. This time I used a pretty bonsai pot at the local garden center. I chose succulents that go well with the color of the pot – concrete grey with touches of red.

Panda Plant (Kalanchoe Tomentosa)

Succulents need good drainage. That means letting water rinse quickly. Here’s how you keep them happy:

  1. Use a container with drainage whole. My container didn’t have holes so used a regular drill to make two – one on each side of the pot.
  2. Use succulent or cacti potting soil. It’s basically potting soil with sand and grit that allows quick drainage.
  3. Water moderately, especially during the winter months. Every 10-14 days is usually enough.
Echeveria pulidonis (Pulido’s Echeveria), Sedum ‘Aurora Blue’, Silver Sparkle Pilea

Make a Small Garden Look Bigger – Incorporate the Surroundings

At the end of my garden is a green boxwood hedge. The green color of the hedge is similar to the color of the large trees in the background. They blend together so well that if you look quickly, it almost looks like they are the same. The hedge adds an impression that these huge trees are part of the garden – making the garden appear much bigger.

Take advantage of you surroundings and incorporate the colors, structures and plants into you garden, especially to the borders.

Behind the boxwood hedge is a small road that the hedge hides so neatly. All you see from the garden are the gorgeous trees.

Dried Hydrangeas Fail and Another Fall Wreath (out of Hydrangeas)

A few weeks back I dried the blooms from my Hydrangea Limelight. To my surprise, they all died. They lost color and shape and I had to toss them. So what went wrong? Well, I cut them too early. They hadn’t begun to dry on the shrub yet so they still needed a lot of moisture.

In order to retain color and shape, you will need to let flowers partially dry on the shrub first. Cut them when the color begins to fade but while they still hold their shape.

My second attempt turned out better. The blooms dried beautifully since I waited until later in the season before I cut them. I followed the steps that I describe in my previous post on how to dry hydrangea blooms.

A blend of Hydrangea ‘Limelight’ and Hydrangea ‘Annabelle’ turned into this simple, yet gorgeous fall wreath.

Planting Helleborus Orientalis Viv. Victoria

Helleborus Orientalis ‘Viv. Victoria’, Heucherella ‘Sweet tea’, Japanese Maple ‘Orange Dream,’ Boxwood

I’ve been looking for a plant to match my newly planted Heucherellas. To get some inspiration I made a visit to the garden. I didn’t have to look long before I found the Helleborus Orientalis ‘Viv. Victoria’. What a beautiful perennial! It matched the Heucherella perfectly with the purple and orange/yellow colors.

The Helleborus and the Heucherella are both evergreen. They will keep their foliage all year-round. They will bring winter interest to the garden when all other plants are sleeping.

Helleborus Orientalis ‘Viv. Victoria’

Helleborus Orientalis ‘Viv. Victoria’ is a perennial. It grows 10-15 inches (25-40 cm) tall and preferens half shade.

The amazing thing with Hellaborus is that they bloom in the winter for 3-4 months!

This variety will bloom sometime between September and April. It will keep blooming for 3-4 months!

The purple flowers look pretty next to the deep purple Heuchera ‘Obsidian’ as well

Hosta ‘Francee’ – a Perennial for Sun or Shade

Hosta ‘Francee’, Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’, Hakonechloa, Yew ‘Hillii’

There’s a spot in my garden that gets sun for a few hours during spring and fall. In the summer, however it’s in shade. To meet that type of light requirements I’ve planted Hostas ‘Francee’. This type of hosta can take full sun to shade.

About Hosta ‘Francee’

Hosta ‘Francee’ is wonderful perennial that gets around 18-20 inches (45-50 cm) tall and 35-47 inches (90-120 cm) wide. It takes a few years for it to reach that size but when it does it’s quite a sight. It’s also one few hostas that doesn’t get eaten by slugs.

Companion Plants for Hostas

Heuchera ‘Palace Purple looks pretty in front of the hosta since they contrast in color. For further interest I’ve added Hakonechloa and Iris “Snow Queen”. While they have a similar color as the hosta, they complement each other in texture and form.

Hosta ‘Francee’, Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’, Hakonechloa, Iris ‘Snow Queen’

Fall Arrangement in Terracotta Pots

White Heathers and Cyclamens

It’s mid september and the days are getting cooler. As the temperatures drop I add things to the garden that will last all the way into winter. Cold tolerant decorations like moss or pine cones and plants like Heather and Cyclamen.

Heather top-dressed with moss and pine cones will look pretty all the way though winter

The days are shorter days and longer nights during fall and winter. The darker season feel less dull with white and bright colors in the garden.

Water Cyclamens from the bottom by placing the pot on a saucer with water

Virginia Creeper Climbing Vine

The foliage of the Virginia Creeper goes from deep green to deep, dark red in the fall

In a few weeks the foliage of this Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) will turn deep, dark red. It will look even more dramatic than it already does against the black trellis. This is one gorgeous and tough climber.

Virginia Creeper to the left and Boston Ivy to the right. The two intertwine and will bring year-round interest

I planted the Virginia Creeper just a few months ago and it has grown like crazy, despite half bad conditions. It’s in a shady and dry spot where other plants have died. This one doesn’t seem to mind at all.

The Virginia Creeper can take full sun to shade and pretty much any type of soil

Climbers are a must in a small garden. They bring lushness and coziness even to the smallest of spaces.

Virginia Creeper to the right and Boston Ivy to the left