Saturday, January 1, 2011

Taking My Own Small Garden Advice!

Last June I wrote a post for the Garden Designer's Roundtable about small-space garden design; little did I know that I'd be testing my own advice when I downsized to a 6x10 apartment balcony six months later.

My rough concept drawing was done mainly to determine how many plants I could bring with me, and didn't focus much on where I might sit. I figured the space would be enjoyed mostly from inside; I didn't see how it could be private enough outside. Space for plants was the priority, and a small chair was drawn in as a placeholder.

But then I remembered my own advice about not skimping on comfortable seating in a small garden, especially since it really only has to be big enough for two. I spotted a loveseat on another balcony, and once I realized how nice the winter sun was going to be, and how quiet the complex is during the day, I knew I had to carve a cozy, private spot for myself into my balcony design. That's how my favorite outdoor loveseat was added to the mix...

And it is perfect. Placing it in the corner facing inward was the master touch. It blocks the view onto the balcony from nearby paths, catches the slanting winter sun all afternoon, and surrounded by plants I can curl up in complete privacy. I can be out there with my sweetheart or a cat and not feel on display. Since the balcony is completely sheltered, a cozy wool throw and a jute rug warm the space up further and can be left out year-round (although I'll opt for a lighter throw in summer...)

And look how my wooden crates (which hold frequently used tools and supplies) can be tucked underneath; sheltered and dry and easy to access, and freeing up lots of room in my storage closet.

In my Roundtable post I talked about imagining the space in three dimensions, mentally carving out the paths you need to use it effectively. On my balcony the curved swathe between the sliding door and my storage closet needs to be kept clear, but everything else is fair game (and remember, not just at ground level). I used tall specimens in the corner pots, and elevated other plants on upturned pots, small tables, even my coffee-tuffet.

Long streamers of ivy, which had been growing for years in some of the larger pots, are being trained all over the railing and will add their own lacy green layer of privacy as they fill in. A strand of white lights around the railing can be lit on festive occasions.

Traffic area nice and clear, and the rest of the available space is layering up nicely. I'm not a fan of hanging plants (keeping the ones on the ground happy is challenging enough) but wind chimes, bird houses and feeders, lanterns etc. can add a lot of interest, especially if you have sturdy overhead beams to work with.

I didn't discuss using storage space efficiently in my GDRT post (probably because at the time I had a two-car garage) but that was a huge consideration for this space, as I have many tools and supplies and one very small closet in which to store them. My two wooden crates under the loveseat helped a lot, and using one of my old garage shelves gave this small space structure. Another shelf mounted inside the door holds mason jars full of frequently used things, and silverware trays organize all the other odd bits from my garage and junk drawers. There's room for everything, with space left over. Nice...

It was so comforting to be able to create a new garden space using some old friends, some of which I have had for years. And it was also gratifying to put my own design principles to the test and find them solid.

Happy New Year!


  1. Very impressive design! And what a generous balcony size, I am so used to seeing those where you can fit a bbq and that is all. Also I think you've given me my fav words of the day "coffee-tuffet" did you just coin that phrase?

  2. Your patio looks so cozy and inviting. How awesome that it is completely sheltered. It's like having your own mini veranda.

  3. You are one smart lady!!!! Very nice indeed!!!

  4. I have been visiting your blog and enjoying what you post.
    I am giving you a blogger award today.
    I have two blogs
    This is my garden one
    This is my craft/art one

    I look forward to keeping up with what you are doing.
    Time to Create

  5. Hehehe, Loree, I guess I did. That's exactly what it is, you know...glad you liked it!

    Kat, I love a sheltered spot; will appreciate the shade in summer as well (but the winter sun is critical!)

    Thanks, Deb! Come visit sometime...

    Julie, thanks so much, glad you've enjoyed my posts (they've been a little scarce lately!)

  6. Very inspiring. I'll help spread the word.

  7. Laura I need to stop by for a visit it has been too long!! I gave you a little award on my blog today. You are the reason I started blogging. You have always been an inspiration to me. Thank you and Congratulations!!

  8. Pretty and inspiring!

  9. Happy New Year Laura! What a perfect example of how embracing constraints can result in a great design. I'm so impressed!

  10. I have always been very inspired by your designs, and this is no exception. Thanks for showing us what is possible with a small space.

  11. What a cozy, tucked-away garden you've made. I'd say this small space really energized you -- maybe you've found a specialty?

  12. Dear Laura, it is so wonderful to read your new adventures... you make down sizing sound inviting. The idea of getting rid of so much stuff is very appealing. I love how you include us in your journey. You've created a new beautiful sanctuary with your smaller space.

    All the best to you my friend in 2011. Looking forward to another get together. Judy

  13. Really nice use of the space--inspiration for those moving from big houses to smaller apartments or just plain 'ol city folks with limited space.