Making the Most of Garden Space
Many gardeners, faced with a tiny space to fill, will be quite content with a few carefully selected plants where arrangement is all-important. Others, perhaps more interested in plants than in design, will fret at the restrictions placed on them by lack of space. They need not despair, for there are ways to overcome these problems.
There are four principal avenues of approach:
To seek out plants that are naturally small.
To look for plants that grow upwards without a corresponding lateral spread.
To plan foror better still, two-tier planting which may double the capacity of the garden to produce beautiful flowers, foliage and fruit.
To grow plants in pots, tubs and so on.
Plants may be small by nature or they may be small varieties of normally much bigger plants. Many alpines and rock plants are of the former type, natural miniatures which could only survive in the native habitat they have chosen by remaining tiny, at any rate above ground. Below, the roots of these tiny mountain plants travel far in search of food and water.
of all kinds are very suitable for growing on , and in walls built with in place of mortar. Even in a tiny back yard you can pack in several hundred alpines this way, many of them growing in the crevices between the bricks or stones of the walls where they will find just the sharp drainage they most enjoy. There are many small plants, not actually alpines, that will thrive under these conditions, glad of the quick drainage in winter and the freedom from aggressive competition.
Small varieties of normally much larger plants occur in the wild and gardeners are constantly searching them out and introducing them to gardens. There are small forms of naturally large. For example, Campanula ‘Pouffe’ is a dwarf variety of the normally tall C. lactiflora, and there are dwarf Michaelmas daisies such as ‘Audrey’, ‘Lady in Blue’, ‘Little Pink Beauty’ and `Snowsprite’. There are also numerous dwarf varieties of normally large shrubs: ‘Bagatelle’ is a 30cm (12in) high form of Berberis thunbergii, which can reach 2m (6ft), or `Alpina’ and `Bullata’, both much-reduced versions of their parent Spiraea japonica.
In some ways, the most remarkable of all, are the dwarf conifers. A whole new industry has sprung up to satisfy the enthusiasts. Dwarf conifers look particularly good with heathers which form ideal carpets of green, grey, yellow or copper beneath. However, not all the conifers sold as ‘dwarf are permanently so. Some are very slow growing: they may appear dwarf for many years but will eventually become quite large. This may not matter if you are prepared to renew plants occasionally, but it is as well to know at the outset exactly what the plant is likely to do.
Upwards Not Outwards
Climbing plants have suffered from a considerable amount of misapprehension and misuse. Many people believe that they ruin buildings, bring insects into the house and are difficult to control. Under certain conditions all these things can happen, but it is equally true that, given proper selection and care, none of them need, or indeed should occur, so shattering your faith.
Damage to buildings nearly always results from choosing too vigorous . , vines and ampelopsis, planted against house walls and not kept under proper control, are likely to finish up under the tiles or blocking the gutters; yet climbing up an old and otherwise valueless tree they can be delightful. Ivy does not ruin modern mortar made with cement, but it can get into all sorts of unwanted places and its dense foliage does provide safe harbourage for many insects. It is better kept off house walls though it may be admirable on old tree stumps or ruined buildings.
But there is no need to court any disasters with, for there are plenty that are of moderate vigour and easily controlled. Their merits are that they provide the garden with delightful drapes and that they are space saving since they ascend more or less vertically, making use of areas which would otherwise remain empty.
True climbers ascend by different means. Ivy and ampelopsis (tricuspidata) cling, the former holding on to any firm surface by means of aerial roots, the latter with little adhesive pads. Honeysuckles and wistarias twine, lashing themselves around branches, poles, pillars and pergolas. The tendrils of clematis and vines (as well as the annual sweet ) twist around twigs, trellis, netting or stretched wires. Climbing roses and brambles are thrusters, pushing their strong stems through bushes or even into trees, finding necessary support among their branches.
In addition to these true climbers, there are numerous shrubs which are not really climbers at all but are readily trained against walls and can be almost self supporting if wisely pruned and given an occasional tie to a wire or vine eye to keep them from toppling forward. Some of the best are house-wall plants like pyracanthus, cotoneasters and ceanothus, for they are the least likely to get out of hand.
But don’t restrict climbers solely to use on buildings; they can grow on fences and screens, as live coverings for terraces, patios and barbecues, covering arches, pergolas and arbours, scrambling into shrubs and trees (the most natural location for many of them), and sometimes flat on the ground as dense, weed-smothering cover.
Like other plants, climbers may be evergreen or deciduous, grown primarily for their foliage, for their flowers or for their fruits, and with preferences for sun or shade, warm places or cool. Most will grow in any reasonably fertile soil and only a very few have any marked dislikes – lime-haters, for example.
When climbers are used to clothe walls they can easily become excessively dry because the wall willthe soil from a great deal of rain. Part of the remedy is to plant at least 50cm (20in) away from the base of the wall where the protection is a little less intense, and also to pay particular attention to the preparation of the site, digging in plenty of peat, leafmould, garden , rotted manure, spent mushroom compost or other humus-forming material. This will make the soil more spongy and therefore more able to draw water to it and to retain it without becoming waterlogged.
Apart from this, planting is the same as for other plants. Nearly all climbers are supplied in pots or other containers from which they should be removed carefully. Since the soil in the container is likely to be even more porous and humus-rich than that of the site, it is wise to prepare a planting mixture of equal parts garden soil, peat, leafmould or pulverized bark and coarse sand, and to work half a bucketful of this around each plant when it has been placed in its planting hole, which should be just sufficiently deep to allow the top of the pot-ball to be 1-2cm (½-3/4in) below soil level. If roots are wound round fairly tightly in the pot-ball, particularly at the bottom, they should be very carefully loosened with the fingers into this planting mixture.