Tag Archive: small gardens


Now is the perfect time to plant trees and shrubs. Recently, I’ve had a question from Charles Windsor, who lives near London:

“We have a small garden with little space, but would like a tree

to emphasise the vertical dimension. What would you suggest?”

It’s amazing what putting strong verticals into small spaces does- somehow it defines the space and it looks bigger! Trees that have a narrow profile- otherwise known as fastigiate– would be best in your garden, Charles. Some possibilites include:

  • Prunus serrula ‘Amanogawa’– a flowering cherry with double pink flowers and good autumn colour

  • the ‘Maidenhair Tree’ (Ginkgo biloba), in its fastigiate form, the leaves of which are larger versions of those of the maidenhair fern and which turn yellow in autumn

  • Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Alumii’– a blue-grey form of of the Lawson Cypress

  • Taxus baccata ‘Fastigiata’– a narrowly growing Yew

If you have a garden which is a little bigger (it can take trees with a wider spread), for trees with good all year round interest, try:

  • Arbutus unedo– the ‘Strawberry Tree’- shining evergreen folioage, clusters of white flowers in autumn and early winter, and red fruits which change colour slowly through the year until they mature the following autumn. It grows to around 4 metres tall and needs a mild climate, though it can withstand gales.

  • Ornamental Crab apples (Malus) grow to between 3.5m and 6m tall, are hardy, easy to grow and attractive for most of the year, with crimson, red, pink or white spring flowers, yellow or red fruit and good autumn colour, wiht purple leave sin sowem varieties.

  • Amelanchier lamarckii (‘Snowy Mespilus’)– white spring flowers followed by black berries and wonderful autumn leaf colour, this and other species/cultivars (we have Amelanchier canadensis here at Old School Garden) grow to a mature height of between 6 and 10 metres.

Further information:

Trees for smaller gardens- RHS

10 Best trees for smaller gardens- The Guardian

Trees for Small Gardens- Gardeners’ World

Old School Gardener

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Rosa rugosa 'Frau Dagmar Hastrup'- shrub rose growing at Old School Garden

Rosa rugosa ‘Frau Dagmar Hastrup’- a shrub rose growing at Old School Garden

What an appropriate question for St. Valentine’s Day, from Minah Petaly of Lincoln:

‘I’ve heard that old roses and shrub roses only flower once a year and that shrub roses would be too big for a small garden like mine. And what would you suggest I grow to get large, decorative hips (no sniggering please)?’

Ha, ha, Minah! It’s true that all the old garden roses will flower once a year but there are some notable exceptions: most Bourbons, the hybrid perpetuals and China roses. This is also true of the wild (species) roses, however, a high proportion of modern shrub roses raised during the last 100 years are recurrent flowerers.

As to size, it’s by no means true that all shrub roses are too large for small gardens. Some of the modern ones developed in the past century will reach only 1.2m (4′) high or less. And the varieties ‘Yesterday’, ‘Frank Naylor’, and ‘Saga’ could also be added to these.

R.'Yesterday'

R.’Yesterday’

Of the older roses, most of the Gallicas and China roses grow within this limit too, as do a few examples from other groups. Particularly suitable for smaller gardens are the alba roses like ‘Felicite Parmentier’ and ‘Konigin von Danemarck’ while the species or wild rose ‘Canary Bird’ (pause for a chant of ‘Come on you Yellows’- the canaries is the nickname of Norwich City F.C.), can be kept to a moderate height if grown as a standard.

Looking at hips (!), for their sheer size and redness, pick members of the rugosa family that have single flowers, such as ‘Frau Dagmar Hartopp’, R. rugosa alba, and ‘Scabrosa’. Another good one, growing here in Old School Garden is ‘Frau Dagmar Hastrup’. As they are recurrent flowerers, the hips from the first flush of flowers appear with later blooms.

A hip on Rosa rugosa

A hip on Rosa rugosa

Many of the wild (species) roses have hips in varying colours from red through to orange and yellow, and some even black. R. roxburghii has prickly hips resembling the fruit of the Horse Chestnut (conkers), while those of R.pomifera resemble large red gooseberries. Perhaps the most spectacular hips are those of R. moyesii and its various hybrids; they are bottle-shaped, bright red and each may be up to 50mm long. To continue with the footballing (soccer) theme, this is perhaps one for Manchester United supporters – both on grounds of colour and name!

Old School Gardener

IMG_6620Whilst on holiday near St. Ives, Cornwall, recently I took the chance to visit the Tate Art Gallery – something of an ‘icon’ of the town – and the Barbara Hepworth Sculpture museum and garden. The Tate is an impressive building, but I found it a little disappointing, mainly because of it’s relatively small display areas. There are plans afoot to expand the place and that should help to further strengthen its impact.

The Hepworth Garden, by contrast was a rich, intense experience and one which, despite many visitors, I was able to enjoy on a beautiful summer’s day. The Tate website provides the following background information:

‘Barbara Hepworth first came to live in Cornwall with her husband Ben Nicholson and their young family at the outbreak of war in 1939. She lived and worked in Trewyn studios – now the Barbara Hepworth Museum – from 1949 until her death in 1975. Following her wish to establish her home and studio as a museum of her work, Trewyn Studio and much of the artist’s work remaining there was given to the nation and placed in the care of the Tate Gallery in 1980.

Finding Trewyn Studio was a sort of magic’, wrote Barbara Hepworth. ‘Here was a studio, a yard and garden where I could work in open air and space.’ When she first arrived at Trewyn Studio, Hepworth was still largely preoccupied with stone and wood carving, but during the 1950s she increasingly made sculpture in bronze as well. This led her to create works on a more monumental scale, for which she used the garden as a viewing area. The bronzes now in the garden are seen in the environment for which they were created, and most are in the positions in which the artist herself placed them. The garden itself was laid out by Barbara Hepworth with help from a friend, the composer Priaulx Rainier.’

I particularly liked the way sculpture and planting are treated as complementary, the masses, textures and forms of the plants being used to echo or contrast with those of the sculpture and vice versa. There is also an amazing sense of space in this relatively small garden, achieved by the winding, gently rising and falling  path which opens up views across the garden to the sculptures which, together with some impressive trees, bamboos and shrubs provide height which draws your eye away from the boundaries of the garden, themselves clothed in plants.

A classic design trick for smaller gardens this – using features with height inside the space to draw the eye inwards, coupled with a masking of the boundaries to convey uncertainty about where the garden begins and ends. I hope that you enjoy the photo montage I snapped on a sunny day in August.

Further information:

Tate St. Ives and Hepworth Sculpture garden website

Old School Gardener

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