I did not have a really big garden before moving to Chester County. I had decent sized gardens over the years, but mostly small gardens.
You can create a lot of beauty in a small space garden, you just have to use your imagination. Pots play a larger part, sometime pots on walls and fences. And you can put almost anything in a pot.
My great aunts had a house in South Philadelphia that was a big row house – and basically the entire rear “garden” was concrete. And every spring / summer/ fall it was loaded with flowers and herbs and tomato plants…and even grape vines! And a lot of what things were planted in were actually old pickle barrels and containers. But it worked!
And one of my grandmothers who lived in another area of the city (North Philadelphia, actually and they call part of where my father grew up “Brewerytown” but all the factories weren’t breweries) near the factory my one grandfather owned with his brothers had an amazing garden. It actually had a great deep garden that was narrow but long. I remember as a little girl being out back there and looking over low fences at the neighbors’ gardens too. Gardens like that can be super cool!
When my sister and I were little and my parents lived in Society Hill, we had a wonderful city garden. In retrospect, it was probably smaller than I remember it (I was 11 when we moved to the Main Line), but it was along one side of the house and behind the house. My father had to excavate the privy pit from the early 19th century to plant it.
My first garden was carefully laid out. I remember two trees, and one flowered but I am not sure of what they were (maybe a Magnolia, but too long ago). There was a sand laid brick patio in the back and the bricks were old. In those days when houses were being torn down in Society Hill you could get just about anything out of the demolition sites, most times for free: brick, stone, windows, shutters, doors, hardware, trim, flooring, etc. we even ended up with an antique doll house as a result.
Around the patio in an almost circular fashion were planting beds. Shrubs, my first rose (hybrid tea John F. Kennedy had recently been introduced), herbs, flowers. Along the side of the house was another side garden and a brick path leading to a side door with more shade loving plants like rhododendron and azaleas.
The entire garden was walled in. Neighbors houses on either side, and high city garden walls where houses weren’t. There were also pots filled with annuals. I wish I had more photos of that garden, but few survived. The one photo I am about to post is of the garden a year or so ago off a realtor page when the house was most recently for sale. Today, the side yard part of the garden and other parts no longer exist because of additions subsequent owners added. But you still see part of my late father’s and grandfather’s handiwork and that is pretty cool.
My parents then had larger gardens with suburban homes, and with two I was mostly conscripted slave labor, and the final one I planted easily 80% of it.
My parents final suburban garden was around their late 19th / early 20th century clapboard house. There I recreated essentially a period garden and for the most part plants you would have found when the house was built. It felt a little bit like Sissinghurst’s white garden because my mother the benevolent dictator had a thing about essentially all white gardens. I was able to work in some very pale pink and yellow antique garden roses everytime they went on vacation or traveled, but that was about it for color other than white.
But I still loved that garden. It was marvelous I thought. I had over 50 different rose cultivars. And wonderful white hydrangeas, and Japanese maples, and a giant puffy flowering Kwanzan cherry tree in the front, and boxwood and azaleas and hollies and Itea. Piers Japonica and host as as well. Herbs in beds and in pots and a rose arch that also had the white clematis Henryii along with the Meilland rose “Eden Climber” that I had bought from Witerthur when they used to sell plants. I wish I had more photos of that garden, it was cool.
Unfortunately, the people who bought my parents’ last suburban house tore it all out. Even the Kwanzan Cherry Tree. I wish I could remember the name of the landscape company that did it. I still think they probably made a fortune re-selling the plants. Nothing was distressed or over grown and so much was specimen planting. The company had “new” in the name. Their design was uninspired and somewhat dumb for a clapboard house with original clapboards. We never planted right up to the house because it was clapboard (wood). We always kept air circulation.
After that garden I had two much smaller gardens before Chester County. They were small like little city gardens. But you got creative and you could plant all sort of things. I utilized a lot of pots, but I still had my favorite garden elements, even Japanese maples I grew from seedlings. I hope those trees still survive, they were lovely.
Smaller gardens can pack just as big a punch as a big garden. And almost anything you can plant in the ground you can plant in a pot.
I will admit every garden I have had I have layered. For season, for bloom time, for effect. I like a lushness of plantings, not the constipated shrubbing I see that has become trendy and makes everything look like you are living in a Toll Brothers development. I don’t want predictable little plant soldiers all lined up in a row, I want a riot of plants; sensory overload.
And you can do that in small spaces. With my current garden, it’s large, but I still maintain the intimacy of smaller gardens in different corners of it.
Design your garden so you see something new every time you step out into it, large or small. And take the time to figure out what inspires you for your garden space. Your garden, like your home, is your sanctuary, so make it count.
Thanks for stopping by on another rainy Saturday. I think if it doesn’t stop raining soon, I will be spending the rest of the summer weeding…..