Big ideas for small gardens



Big yards and big gardens provide a variety of options to enjoy all year long, from weekend parties to small gather-rounds with family and friends to quiet strolls amongst the flowers, plants and hardscapes.

Small gardens, on the other hand, are a special place unto themselves. Every plant, flower and outdoor touch of Lowcountry ambiance are nourished with love and attention to detail.

Although limited in space, they can unlock the imagination to create big statements. After all, season-long living in the Lowcountry begs for an outdoor oasis that titillates the senses, from color to fragrance to flowing water to unique textures in furniture to pinching herbs for sublime or bold flavor in your favorite foods.

They can be a place of solitude or casual lazing with a friend. “The past couple of years we’ve learned that you can be outside and have peaceful contemplation that is healthy, or a conversation,” said Janet Fanning, nursery manager at The Greenery on Hilton Head.

Flowers and plants create the foundation on which to build outdoor living space.

“There’s two different ways of seeing it: There’s the garden bed and the space as an outdoor ‘room’ that you create for cocktails or white wine in the summer evening,” she said.

“The first thing you need to consider is plant choice, which hinges on light exposure, direct sun,” Fanning said. “You need to decide if you want the garden space to have annual color that you need to change out two to three times a year, plants that are green all the time, perennials that will die in the winter or do you want a combination of those things?”

The checklist of considerations for creating a small garden includes sun, shade, exposure, maintenance, a water source, deer prevention, hardscapes, visual drama, sound and movement, privacy, color, materials, textures, height, bordering and more.

Free-standing horizontal pergolas or vertical trellises with arches of wood or metal anchor vines creeping up the side and on top greet guests to the garden walkway. Garden gates with welcoming potted flowers in front give an inventive flair to the environment.

Statues of all sorts—animal, religious, historical or symbolic and materials like stone, ceramic, cast iron or metal—can increase the aesthetic appeal of the garden space.

Water, whether it’s a pond, waterfall or fountain, has unlimited ways to embellish the space.

Fanning likes a hardscape that allows water to trickle or flow steadily. “The whole point of having water is for the movement,” she said.

A single or multi-tiered fountain achieves that, especially when stones are added to create a unique display. The soothing effect of water is a pleasant sound in an otherwise quiet outdoor retreat. Wind chimes also achieve the same effect.

A pond liner and pump will set up any homeowner for a small haven. Water lilies and white-water snowflakes add some color and float on the water like nature intended them to do.

Complete the outdoor ensemble with a bistro set of comfortable chairs and table and a water-resistant rug. Infuse the scene with subtle or bold lighting.

“A big statement can be done with hardscapes or decking to put your furniture on,” Fanning said. “There’s uplighting for your plants or specimen trees, which is nice to have at night.”

Decorative lanterns also can make the private garden glow after the sun sets.