The Magic of a Small Garden

The completed space of my client in Sautee Nacoochee, White County, Georgia, is lush, rich and verdant. It serves as a passageway that leads from the back and side yard to the kitchen, partially hidden from by a retaining wall. Walking through it is a refreshing journey of transition that is rich in texture and variety.

Small garden
The Small Magic Garden
(Image 1)

A number of challenges presented themselves in this small, 10 foot by 30 foot space. Some were problems with the terrain and layout, and some had to do with the relationship of the space to the house and its residents.

  • The space is visible from the kitchen window, so it needed to be pleasant to the eye.
  • It is the pathway for resident doggies to the fenced backyard. Meeting their needs was important to the owner.
  • Technically, it was a space that did not drain well. Moisture crept under the retaining wall, leaving the ground always muddy (Visualize those dog prints on the kitchen floor.)
  • The area is shady, and the lattice work under the porch was an easy place for animals such as racoons and mice to make their homes.

Now, in this verdant space, there are many solutions camouflaged by an Asian-style beauty.

Before picture… here is where we started (Image 2)

The Transformation

To address the muddy ground, we added drainage underneath the pathway. This was followed by grading the space so that water flowed to the drains underneath the stepping stones. The stones? These two inch-plus thick slabs of Tennessee boulder and flagstone, arranged in a gentle curve, are heavy enough so that dogs cannot move or dislodge them.

Chemical free fountain
Natural rock, chemical free fountain. Serves the soul and the dogs! (Image 3)

Speaking of the dogs, and keeping the owner’s needs in mind, we installed a water feature that the pooches could use as a drinking fountain (chemical free water feature). This bubbling rock fountain was created from very heavy, natural rock, big enough and designed so that the dogs could not damage or destroy it. Not only is it a perk for the pups, but the sound of the bubbling water is a balm to those on the kitchen porch and to passers-bye above the wall.

Dwarf Maple and Cryptomeria Japonica
Dwarf Maple and Cryptomeria Japonica (Image 4)

The lattice work under the porch was replaced by a stacked stone wall. It can be seen in the before image 2.

To create an ocean of ground cover, we used creeping jenny, a vigorous evergreen perennial. It is so vigorous that dogs can run over the creeping jenny with no problem. To it and throughout the space, a number other elements were added. Ferns, hosta, variegated Solomon seal, a selection of coral bells, and heuchera created variety. The fenced yard, and the dogs, keep the deer away, so the hosta are safe.

Two small trees were placed in the space to give it depth, a dwarf maple by the door (Image 4) and my favorite shrub, Cryptomeria japonica ‘Globosa nana’. Also known as a Dwarf Cryptomeria, this evergreen is a  traditional conifer used in many Japanese gardens. Smallish as trees go, (it can get up to five feet tall), it stays rounded with a soft texture to the touch.

The Design

So many elements in a small space, and yet. And yet, this overhead view of the garden (Image 5) shows the simplicity and clarity of its design. When seen from above, this hidden garden is clear and open with eye-catching points that provide splashes of contrast. Who knew that the busy-ness of all the elements work together to create clarity and simplicity?

Small Space garden
Overhead shot taken from the wall (Image 5)

Because the big picture – even for a small garden – is important, we created a complimentary space on the other side of the retaining wall. These elements put the finishing touches on the overall project, but they also impact the impression one gets in walking through the small garden. And, we can’t forget the view from the kitchen window and porch.

Side garden
The upper elements include pieces of the owner’s sculpture. ( Image 6)

The area along the wall, which is a defining border for the side yard, became a place for the homeowner’s sculptures. What a joy to display one’s work! Plantings include Gaura whirling butterflies, tall native rosemallow – Hibiscus coccineus – that blooms with huge red flowers.

There you have it. A small, “secret garden”, hidden behind the wall. Functional in every way, while also offering depth and texture, it is a transitional space. It serves the needs of the pups and sooths the soul of those that come upon it or journey through it.

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