Ideas for Using Plants in Small Gardens

Gardeners are often confronted with small confined spaces to landscape. Sometimes this is because your home is on a small plot of land; but other times, it might be because the space between your boundary and a building is restricted. If you choose the wrong plant for a confined area, it can potentially cause damage to pipes or buildings, create unnecessary routine maintenance (eg. needing to be pruned away from pathways), or cause other structural issues (eg. root damage to fences, walls, paving or other structures.

There are countless numbers of smaller versions of normally larger plants that can be used in a small garden. The ones listed below are just a few examples.

Fortunella japonica (Cumquat) is a glossy, evergreen citrus, with small, attractive, edible fruit. If you want a citrus but have limited space, this makes an excellent plant for a small bed or large container.

Miniature Roses
There are a huge variety of miniature roses available, in a stunning array of colours. These mostly prefer full sun to plight shade in a protected position. Like the larger rose types they have varying resistance (depending on variety) to the common rose pests and diseases. They make excellent container plants.

Syzygium australe "Bush Christmas' is a compact form of one of the native Lilli Pillys. It reaches 2- 3m tall, and about 1.5m wide. It can be readily pruned to keep it more compact, or into a hedge, or topiaried. The new growth is an attractive orange, and it has attractive, edible red berries which can be used for making jam. It makes an excellent container plant. There are several other attractive compact Lilli Pilly varieties that have become available, such as 'Lillyput'.

Hebe 'Rosie' is a compact, rounded, plant with bright, evergreen foliage, and masses of small pink to white flowers in the warmer months. It grows to about 30cm tall and 60cm wide. It enjoys full sun to partial shade, and is ideal for containers, window boxes, or massed displays.

Dwarf Deciduous Feature Trees For A Small Garden

The following are a short selection of deciduous trees that could be used as feature in a small garden. Being deciduous they provide some shade in the warmer months, and lose their leaves allowing better light penetration into the garden in the cooler months.

The 'Ballerina' Apple Varieties:
These are an upright, narrow, plant to about 3m tall, after about 8 - 10 years, with attractive blossoms in spring. They only reach about 30 - 40cm wide, but still bear reasonable crops of very tasty apples. They can be readily grown in containers, or in a narrow bed against a wall, or can be used like a living column to frame a scene, such as down a pathway. Varieties include: Bolero, Maypole, Polka & Waltz.

The 'Trixie' Range:
These are compact peach and nectarine varieties reaching about 1.5m x 1.5m after about 5 or 6 years. They have attractive spring blossom, and bear good crops of tasty fruit.
'Pixie' is a dwarf peach variety, while 'Nectazee' is a dwarf nectarine.

Prunus Varieties
There are a wide variety of attractive foliaged, and/or flowering, weeping prunus varieties that are available as standards of varying heights (e.g. 1m tall). There are also dwarf upright varieties such as Prunus glandulosa 'Alboplena' which has attractive white flowers, and P. glandulosa 'Sinensis' which has attractive pink flowers.

Indian Summer Trees
These are a range of dwarf Lagerstroemia indica (Crepe Myrtle) varieties with a range of different coloured, attractive flowers during the summer months. For example the variety 'Victor' has bright red flowers, and reaches a height and width of 1 - 2m.

Birch Varieties
A wide range of weeping, standard birches are available, including Betula pendula 'Youngii' the weeping silver birch.

Acer Palmatum Varieties (Maples)
There are a large variety of both upright and weeping (grown as standards), compact  Acer Palmatum varieties, including 'Red Pygmy' which has attractive red, weeping foliage, and reaches around 2m x 2m at around 20 years, or 'Villa Taranto' which is an upright variety reaching 2m x 2m at about 20 years.

You can also have a full and rewarding hobby by choosing some form of intensive gardening, including bonsai, hydroponics, and topiary. Bonsai, in particular, can create the impact of a much larger garden.

Trees with Narrow Canopies
(ie. don’t spread much, so can fit into narrow spaces)

  • Calocedrus decurrens
  • Carpinus Betululus Fastigata
  • Cupressus sempervirens
  • Juniperus chinensis “Mountbatten”
  • Juniperus scopulorum “Skyrocket”
  • Hymenosporum flavum
  • Pinus strobus “Fastigata”
  • Pittosporum phylleraeoides
  • Populus nigra “Italica”
  • Sophora japonica “Princeton Upright”
  • Taxodium distichum

If you choose to use shade cloth, it's easy to control the degree of shade, because such products usually come with the amount of shade stated. 50% or 70% shade cloths are common.

If the garden is shaded heavily, you will need to be more careful in your choice of shrubs to grow below that shade.

Shade Tolerant Shrubs

  • Abelia grandiflora
  • Andromeda polifolia
  • Berberis spp. (evergreen species but deciduous types)
  • Buxus spp
  • Cornus alba, florida, mas
  • Coylus spp.
  • Daphne mezereum
  • Euonymus europeus    
  • Fuchsia varieties
  • Hydrangea macrophylla, quercifolia
  • Kalmia spp.
  • Kerria japonica
  • Lonicera nitida
  • Mahonia spp.
  • Nandina domestica 'Nana'
  • Pieris spp.
  • Rhododendron spp.
  • Viburnum spp (many but not all)