How To Create a Small Space Garden

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By Kelsey Keith
Don’t have ten acres to stuff full of perennials? Fret not! Gardens can make a big impact even on a small scale. Four designers share their visions of how to landscape within a tiny footprint.

Paula Hayes Studio: The Mind Garden

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Designer Paula Hayes points out that surgical tweezers are a terrarium builder’s best friend, since a blunter object could break the fragile glass of the container. Her go-to online retail source for tools is Black Jungle Terrarium Supply.

Paula Hayes is an artist and landscape designer; in addition to publishing books and designing residential gardens for the art world cognoscenti, she’s known for turning terrariums into miniature earth sculptures. Hayes imagines a one-square-foot garden as a wild patch of raw nature. "Tending to your terrarium, the most diminutive of living landscapes, is about being its animal. You are its aerator, its creature who keeps things in motion, creating the critical veins down into its body. You dig and poke gently amongst such good terrarium plants as Ficus pumila Variegata and Selaginella with your fingers, long wood dowels, or oversize surgical tweezers. For this tiny land, your touch and your imagination of the interrelatedness in nature is part of the nurturing."

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Imagining its allotted ten square feet as vertical space, Greenlab Studio suggests a living wall of succulents and hardy plants growing in a wood, stainless-steel, and wire mesh frame.

Greenlab Studio: Urban Survivor Garden

Greenlab Studio’s bailiwick is creating resilient environments for plant life by using reclaimed, found, and industrial materials as structural elements. Founder Wendy Andringa’s signature vertical gardens can be scaled up in size but pack a punch in a small footprint. "A typical urban garden is usually small in size and enclosed by walls or fences. [Planting vertically] is a smart way to activate a blank wall and maximize green area in a small space. This modular vertical garden is designed to tolerate urban stress. The module is a simple frame made of wood, stainless-steel angles, and wire mesh to contain the soil. Sedum, prickly pear cactus, and dwarf yucca provide year-round interest and have colorful blooms that complement the industrial look of the wood-and-steel frame."

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For Dirtworks, a seating area is a must for a 100-square-foot garden, providing “a place to pause, and perhaps look deeper.” A variety of leafy ferns play well with the gritty texture of stone pavers.

Dirtworks PC, Landscape Architecture: A Garden for Everyone

Led by David Kamp since 1995, Dirtworks has taken a holistic view of landscape design. Exploring how design can improve the human con- dition, the firm has won a spate of awards for its civic, health care, and private projects that promote the concept of healing through nature. "A garden can be both a symbolic portal and a place to experience the present. Welcoming everyone regard- less of ability, our garden lets visitors experience nature on their own terms, at their own pace, and in their own way. A curved path captures the view and creates a connection to the larger world. Special features like a plant shelf and a water feature engage multiple senses and heighten the experience of the present moment, rewarding visits in multiple seasons."

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A sophisticated plan for a 1,000-square-foot yard, designed by dlandstudio, includes a lilac hedge around the perimeter, espaliered fruit trees next to the fireplace, and a folly made from an existing structure that blocks north winds and shelters a pool.

dlandstudio: Just Add Water

Susannah C. Drake of dlandstudio is as adept at problem-solving for large-scale urban environments as she is at creating thoughtful moments of repose for residential clients. Inspired by Totems, photographer Peter Kayafas’s book on abandoned buildings in the American West, her garden concept evokes a mix of realism, optimism, and spatial clarity. "The structure becomes a garden folly that blocks north wind and enables ground- water recharge, collects rain in gutters and cisterns, and shelters a pool that is heated by photovoltaic roof shingles. A lilac hedge, evoking the presence of early settlers, surrounds formal and informal garden spaces. Harnessing wind, water, light, and air make the landscape productive, be it on the high plains desert or an urban garden."