For anyone who has ever gardened, even the smallest outside space holds unrealized potential. Weeds poking through cracks in the sidewalk remind us of the immense vitality of growing things. The space you once decided was too small for a garden may merit a second look. Treat yourself to thinking about your garden in new ways and, literally, viewing it from new angles. That little space may not be too small after all.
Take Accurate Measurements
Look at your garden as though you were a designer hired to create a room. Pencil and paper help as you assess the problems, as does a yardstick or measuring tape. Make accurate measurements of the horizontal area, which may change your point of view. At first, what you are likely to see are limits. There may be no dirt--just paving, but your garden can be created with planters. Vary their sizes and heights to create interest. Use a long, narrow windowbox-style planter to create a micro-lawn; sow grass seed and keep it trimmed with scissors. Consider the outdoors feel of a sisal or hemp rug under your feet. Perhaps your space is heavily shaded--a porch with a roof and railings. Shade plants abound, and so do hooks and hanging baskets--get some, or think about using planters designed to straddle railings, to catch sun at the edge. Or enhance the shade and create a refuge from which to watch the hot urban world.
Use Your Vertical Space
Now that you have your garden's flat dimensions, it's time to look (and measure) upwards. Good small garden designs almost always have some vertical elements. Think about clustering flowerpots on the steps of an old ladder set against a wall or making a self-circulating fountain the central point of the space. Use any overhead beams to hang ferns in the shade or flowering vines in the sun. Make a trellis using bamboo poles and string, and add morning-glories, cardinal vine, cucumbers or pole beans. Turn wide porch steps into a vertical garden area by lining up identical plant containers, one to a step. Catch the wind with wind chimes, children's pinwheels, or a long bamboo pole topped with nylon streamers.
Pulling It Together With Color
One of the easiest ways to make your small space seem more coherent is to unify it with color. As in decorating a room, too many colors fighting for attention create visual confusion and clutter. Two major colors--green or shades of yellow, white or pink--along with small amounts of an accent color--deep purple, fuchsia, orange or red--work well to make a space seem visually calmer and therefore larger. If your plants are all in pots, using ones of the same shape, texture or material in different sizes may be the unifier you want. A screen, shade or trellis might take away some of your precious space, but it can provide privacy and a sense of definition that may actually make your space seem larger.
Making Your Garden Your Space
The critical element in turning a small outdoor patch of plants into a garden is making it a place for you to savor. A tiny spot may have room only for your yoga mat; that will do. A couple of big floor cushions that can come indoors when it rains allow you and a guest to enjoy the garden together. Two or three low stools and a folding tray-table could make the garden just right for drinks or tea. Add hurricane-shaded candles or a battery lantern to create a glow that will make your garden hospitable on warm summer nights. Your garden may be extremely small, but it can be a space where you find peace of mind amidst the beauty of nature.