Smaller spaces, both for living and gardening, are today’s reality. Unfortunately many folks simply give up gardening and resign themselves to a small bit of grass or ground cover and the odd tree or shrub as their green space.
Small spaces outdoors should be considered no differently than small spaces indoors. Many design elements can be used to create magical outdoor spaces.
From water and screen plants to architectural statues and vines, there are so many opportunities to create quite remarkable outdoor living areas.
One element, however, that is too often overlooked is the vertical effect. If we can’t go sideways, we can most certainly go up.
A vertical element, used appropriately in small areas, creates a unique dynamic. It provides a visual lift – optically, it expands a smaller area in a new direction. The more narrow the feature, the greater the effect. Tall, thin trees provide privacy, and they transfer eye focus in a very discreet way.
There are some amazing plants that pull off this vertical effect very nicely. One of my favourites is the tall, narrow Japanese flowering cherry, prunus serrulata “Amanogawa.” It has soft pink, semi-double, slightly perfumed flowers and grows from five to seven meters tall and only one to two meters wide. I love the way it flowers from bottom to top for the most delightful effect. There is now a more compact form on dwarf Giesela rootstock, making it even suitable for containers.
Another favourite is the narrow form of the quaking aspen, Populus tremuloides “Erecta.” Its tiny round leaves with slender compressed petioles cause the leaves to tremble with even the slightest air movement. The look and sound of this tree makes it invaluable.
The narrow-growing forms of beech have really found their place in smaller modern landscapes. Fagus sylvatica “Dawyckii” and “Red Obelisk” are two of my favourites. Growing anywhere from five to nine meters tall, these trees have intricately woven branches that wrap about the main stem for a beautiful winter look.
The hornbeam, Carpinus fastigata, grows into a narrow pyramid shape, reaching anywhere from six to ten meters tall. Its ribbed leaves are a dark green, creating a very appealing look.
For a bit of red-burgundy colour in the landscape, the more narrow growing sport of “Crimson King,” Acer platanoides “Crimson Sentry” is a great plant. Its branching creates an upright shape, and its leaves are very closely spaced for quite a dense appearance. It’s ideal for small planting areas and excellent for screening.
I’m a big fan of the eastern red maple, Acer rubrum, for a “wow” red fall colouring.
Oak trees are sentimental favourites, and now we have a great one for small spaces, Quercus alba robur “Crimson Spire”.
Brian Minter is a master gardener who operates Minter Gardens in Chilliwack.