Gardens - Small Gardens

Space savers

Beckie Box
Photography by
Mark Burstyn

Turn a small horticultural wasteland into a delightful part of the garden

Long, narrow strips of leftover space—commonly found running between the front and back gardens beside the house-are too often neglected. Assuming these spaces are too small to landscape, many people spread a layer of gravel (stark and boring) or plant grass (soon trampled from repeated foot traffic). But with the right plant list and some creative thinking, these uninspired areas can become a verdant jewel in a gardener's crown.

Space savers

In this case, an inviting garden gate opened into an uninviting, sparsely planted passage, which slopes from the gate down to the steps of the deck. The space (shown above) is 6.3 metres long by just 1.35 metres at the top end and 1.65 metres at the bottom. It receives about three hours of midday sun. Plant life consisted of invasive, grow-anywhere variegated gout-weed (Aegopodium podagraria 'Variegatum'), some ho-hum violets (Viola spp.), a couple of patches of golden creeping Jenny and a young upright cedar. Red crushed brick allowed runoff to percolate into the soil but perversely stopped midway down the path.

Here's what we did to bring out the best in this small, narrow space, which is in Zone 5:

To make the path more appealing and connect with the deck's steps, a few large, grey, rectangular patio stones were mixed in with red, 30 centimetre  square ones, creating a checkerboard pattern and a strong graphic element. Placing the patio stones in a loose, irregular mosaic and angling the path toward the fence, then back to the deck side, broke up the long line and provided decent-sized planting pockets on both sides. More crushed brick stabilized the patio stones and facilitated drainage.

The goutweed and weedy violets had to go, but the golden creeping Jenny and cedar near the deck stairs remained. Weeds and grass were also removed to give new plants a competition-free zone. Soil in the planting pockets was cultivated and amended with triple mix-a combination of loam, peat moss and aged manure.

To add height and break up the long expanse of wooden fence boards, a chocolate vine was planted halfway down the side, and an upright 'Hill's' yew was placed to soften the jog where the wall of a storage area beside the house meets the deck. Both tolerate shade. The chocolate vine climbs thin wires stretched between eye hooks screwed into the fence-a simple way to create an unobtrusive trellis.

A few large rocks were grouped in a couple of areas on either side of the path to add more visual interest and lead the eye down the space. A small glazed bird bath brightens the area, too.

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