When it comes to plants, climbers are an obvious first choice. They soften lines and create a multi-tiered effect. Clematis, jasmine or honeysuckle can be trellised up a wall, through an arbour or along a fence, and can be pruned to fit a small space. Annual vines such as sweet peas, black-eyed Susan, Spanish flag (Ipomoea lobata syn. Mina lobata) and nasturtiums grow particularly well in containers. (Check the mature size of any vine to ensure your structure provides enough support.) Also, think carefully about planting vines near eating areas. Some, like Virginia creeper and hops, are susceptible to white fly; you won’t want to spray if there’s dining nearby.
Shrubs with loose, open habits, such as firethorn (Pyracantha), camellia and euonymus, can be espaliered for dramatic impact in small gardens, and White says plants grown as standards (bay, rosemary and waxed-leaf privet, for example) are a fabulous way to get a hit of vertical interest, especially when planted in narrow pots 90 centimetres to 1.2 metres tall by 30 to 60 centimetres wide. “People aren’t brave enough with scale,” she says. “There are tall buildings all around us, and obviously we have to be aware of wind. But my best advice if you want vertical interest is to be daring.” A grand impact, White adds, doesn’t necessarily require a big footprint.
Finally, gardeners sometimes think vertical when it comes to disguising an eyesore, an unappealing view, hydro poles, wires or an unsightly structure in a neighbour’s yard. While this can sometimes work, de Jong encourages people to be imaginative. “Create something beautiful on the opposite side of what you’re trying to hide,” he says. “And direct attention to that instead of the sore spot.”
Plant picks for a small space
Jeffry de Jong, instructor of horticulture:
Calgary Castor bean (Ricinus communis) for its beautiful red flowers; lax-stemmed roses such as ‘John Cabot’ treated as a climber; morning glory (Ipomoea) woven through a colourfully painted (try red or purple) metal trellis.
Lalieth White, garden designer, Vancouver
Five-leaf akebia (Akebia quinata) for its distinctive foliage and unusual brownish purple flowers; evergreen clematis (Clematis armandii) for year-round interest (but it’s a vigorous grower, so keep it in check); rosemary pruned into a topiary tree form and grown in a pot on a patio.