University of Illinois Extension

Welcome Home to Your Garden

“Think ‘why not’ when designing your garden to say ‘welcome home.’ Don’t let small space limit your imagination,” said Greg Stack, University of Illinois Extension horticulturist. “Small spaces tend to sharpen your imagination and allow you to think the question of ‘why not’ in a different way.”

Stack quoted renowned horticulturist and botanist Liberty Hyde Bailey, who says space provides no limitation for garden design. “Everybody can have a garden,” Bailey said. “If there is no land, there are porches or windows, balconies or small green spaces attached to houses. Wherever there is sunlight, plants can be encouraged to grow, and one plant in a tin-can may be a more helpful and inspiring garden to some than a whole acre of lawn and flowers to another.”

Stack agreed, noting that a garden is “very personal. What you put into it reflects your likes and preferences.”

He offers some techniques to consider when looking at garden space that will allow it to say “welcome home.”

“The first thing guests see when they come to your home is the entry. This is the front door to your home. It should welcome everyone with simple design, a minimum of busy elements, and should be complimentary to the home.

“Make paths and walks at least wide enough to accommodate two people walking side by side. Keep the basic function of the entry in mind--to frame and guide guests to the front door--and strive for simple design.”

One thing to avoid, he added, is the common mistake of including a lot of unrelated plant material into a very busy combination. And don’t over plant.

“Less is often more when it comes to entry planting,” he said. “The entry can often be an effective combination of textures that will lead the guest to the front door in an unhurried way. The use of greens of varying textures can make a very strong statement.

“You might also consider the use of some architectural feature, be it a plant or hardscape that draws the visitor along and may even make him or her stop to enjoy the feature on their way to the front door.”

Making gardens all the more pleasurable are patios or other hard surfaces. These provide a place to sit, eat, cook, or just plain think about what is going on around you in the garden.

“There is a phrase that says, ‘When in the pursuit of happiness, one should stop and just be happy.’,” Stack said. “You create a garden for you and your guests to enjoy and be happy in. Why not have a space that can make that pleasure a reality.

“Sitting areas can be constructed from wood, concrete, brick, or other paving material. For small spaces, a simple pattern is preferred to complicated designs that can become busy.”
The patio serves to get people outside. It should be surrounded by plantings to give it a sense of enclosure and intimacy.

“If you don’t have a lot of space around the patio, include clusters of different size pots planted with colorful annuals or foliage,” he said. “Your patio becomes your oasis. We have all seen oasis out in the middle of deserts that say, ‘Come on in and sit.’ That is what sitting areas do.”
Side yard is the term for spaces between buildings. These long, narrow areas are often the last to be developed as gardens. They can also be the most challenging.

“Instead of turning these spaces into a dog run or garbage can storage, think how they might be turned into minimal space garden gems,” Stack said.

“With the addition of an arbor or suitable path, the area can become a sheltered microclimate for growing all sorts of shade lovers such as ferns, broadleaf evergreens, and other perennials. The area that once was just a ‘side yard’ now becomes a lush piece of the Pacific Northwest and a transition between the front garden and back garden.”

Simple designs of bark chip walks along with medium-sized shrubs can be easy to accomplish and inexpensive. Getting a framework established first can allow the addition of plants as you go toward creating a very specialized garden setting.

“The backyard is an area that takes on the personality of the owner/gardener,” he noted. “It is here that you let yourself enjoy growing things, because they are your favorites. It can incorporate elements that are just plain fun. While these ideas might be a bit much for the front yard, they can make the backyard garden truly yours by incorporating sparkle and whimsy.

“This can mean indulging a passion for a certain group of plants or certain colors. Maybe you just want to be daring and put in a few bowling balls instead of traditional gazing globes.”

Kitchen gardens work well in small spaces. They can be both useful and decorative. Incorporate salad greens and herbs into informal drifts. Place them close so you can enjoy fresh salads without going too far from the back door. Use containers and maybe an architectural feature such as an old antique stove planted with an assortment of salad essentials.

Small spaces can lend themselves to just about anything. All that is needed is to match the plants you like to grow with the space you have to grow them.

“Do a little research and find out how plants grow,” Stack urges. “Don’t incorporate something that may get out of hand to become too large for the space. Compact dwarf varieties of many trees, shrubs, perennials, fruits, and vegetables are available. These can fit nicely and don’t need a lot of cutting to make them ‘behave.’”