Often, as you push your chair further to catch the last square foot of winter sun on the balcony, your eyes stray to the patch below. The small space is lit up by a single rose. A common red floribunda, the kind you would find virtually all over the country. It may not find a place of honour at the flower shows that dot our calendar this time of year. But holding court in its own little space, you’re suddenly struck by its beauty.
That’s what small spaces bring with them: the ability to hold up just one star which may otherwise be lost in a larger garden. For all of us who despair over the lack of space to convert into a garden, this is reason enough to celebrate our tiny balconies and handkerchief lawns.
Of course, less space means you cannot have an expansive baroque or a Zen garden. Instead, you need to be careful with the plants you pick. So, if you are visiting a nursery, spend a few minutes before you set off, taking stock of what you have and what you lack. As you only have a small area to work with, don’t give in to impulse buying.
You also need to be careful with your plan. Topiaries in pots are ‘in’ once again. These are woody plants that have been trained and trimmed to shape, sometimes fanciful but often, simply geometric. Plants such as wisteria, ficus and azalea lend themselves well to a topiary.
Although some enthusiasts don’t believe in sculpting their plants, topiaries add to the drama of a small space. Their long stems raise the attention a little higher and give you a focal point or simply, height. They can be used as a two-tiered garden, with the ground level of the tub planted with tumblers or very low herbs such as mint. Topiaries, of course, will not retain the shape for very long. Learning how to prune them once a month, or asking for professional help, may not be a bad idea. You can have a little of everything. If you love flowers, plan for something different each season. A couple of pots of chrysanthemum for November and December can give way to one rose in January and February, and so on, with something blooming through the year.
Planning is essential if you want to utilize space prudently. One free-flowing bougainvillea can give both height and fluidity and flowers at least twice a year. You don’t need to look at a shade card, but it helps to be a little careful with colours. Perfumed whites such as jasmine and gardenia in summers are an excellent idea.
Garden furniture now comes in compact and even collapsible designs that you can simply stash away when not in use. It should be light. Or, you could use a broad ledge. Permanent planters in small spaces can be built with a broad rim that can be used as seating. In a small garden, investing in the best material and just what you want can be a little expensive, but it pays off because everything is under such intense and constant scrutiny. Design-wise, it is advisable to go for simplicity.
(Benita Sen writes on gardening every alternate Thursday. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org)