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Create Garden Structure
Structural drama. Plants need to work overtime in small gardens, perhaps providing more than just one benefit. Crocosmia 'Lucifer', zones 6-10, has fresh, green sword-shaped leaves that provide great architectual interest when contrasted against other plants. Its magnificent late summer flowers of burning paprika red provide much-needed drama in a limited space.
Planting note: Crocosmia 'Lucifer' can be grown from corms planted in early spring. They form large clumps over time and need to be divided and reduced to prevent them from taking over. Crocosmia 'Lucifer' is possibly the best variety to grow, but others worth growing include Crocosmia 'Emberglow', a deep dark red, and Crocosmia 'Solfatare', which has yellow flowers.
Accent plants. Structure in the small garden is not just about solidity of dense evergreens, but also includes the use of striking accent plants such as Flaxes (Phormium spp).
In a small garden, Phormiums can be the key ingredient of the planting. Their straplike leaves not only offer a wide variety of foliage color — from traditional green to variegations of yellow, green, red and deepest purple — but also provide movement, that other vital feature in small garden design.
One of the most stunning of all gold grasses is Hakonechloa macra 'All Gold'. It is a one of the best grasses for containers in sun or shade, as it makes wonderful clumps or mounds.
As a ground cover, it isn't perfect, as it is not fully evergreen and will die to an untidy mess in winter. This aside, it is still a great grass for small gardens.
The most popular of all blue grasses, common blue fescue (Festuca glauca), zones 4-9, is made for the smaller garden. It punches above its weight, bringing not only superb color but also movement with the discreet rippling of its blades in the wind. The foliage is a metallic blue during the spring and summer, though a touch greener in winter. It has the most delicate of flower heads in spring, held well above the foliage.
Planting note: Festuca glauca can be easily grown from seed sown in the spring. They make great plants for hanging baskets and containers — especially when underplanted with dwarf bulbs, such as Grape Hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum), for spring flowering. Plant in groups in a sunny, well-drained position to bring out the color.
Lower Maintenance with Ground Covers
Although not one of the grasses, Black Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens') is a grasslike perennial that's always linked with them. One of the only true black plants that grows, it makes great ground cover and provides wonderful contrast with neighboring planting.
It clumps but will spread if planted in moist soil in a sunny or semi-shaded situation. One bonus is the delightful bell-shaped, pale purplish white flowers that are produced in summer and followed by shiny blue-black berries.
Golden Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea') is an old favorite in any garden, but it is especially useful in smaller gardens, where it can soften hard edges of walls and paving.
It is a great ground cover and loves being planted in full sun, where its color really shines. Although rampant in nature, it is easily controlled and directed where it is required. It also gives us the bonus of summer flowers — in this case, cup-shaped bright yellow blooms.
Make the Most of a Small Garden