Plants for small gardens

Although it's the world's largest annual flower show, Hampton Court Palace Flower Show was brimming with ideas for small gardens – here's a few worth trying at home

Cut-leaf elder 'Eva'An elegant elder

Small gardens shouldn’t be limited to just small plants. Larger shrubs, especially those with exciting foliage, can make a smaller space feel bigger. The deep aubergine, feathered foliage of the black elder, Sambucus nigra f. porphyrophylla ‘Eva’ (also known as 'Black Lace') stands out in front a simple white wall and is surrounded by bright summer herbaceous planting.

A feast for the senses

Make the most of space by adding herbs into herbaceous borders. The combination pictured includes fennel and thyme grown with geraniums, lady’s mantle, Mexican fleabane and daylilies. Planted next to a path, patio area or by a door the scented leaves and flowers can be enjoyed and easily picked.

Bright and tasty

It’s not just herbs that are suitable for growing among ornamental plants. Vegetables offer an unusual range of sizes, colours, shapes and textures from flowers, foliage and the crops themselves. Tall stems of tomatoes are a backdrop to a planting combination including pot marigolds, kale, nasturtiums, canna lilies, herbs and dahlias.

Drought-loving beauties

Containers bring colour and variety to even the tiniest outdoor space, like balconies or windowsills. Succulents are the perfect container plants, and although they may be small in size, their fascinating appearances and growing habits create an eye-catching focal point. Alpine sedums and semperviviums planted in a shallow terracotta pan (pictured) are a perfect miniature garden and centerpiece for outdoor tables.

Rose 'Star Performer'Small yet mighty

The rose ‘Star Performer’ is a miniature patio climber that only grows to 2m (6½ft). It produces an abundance of satin pink blooms with a heady scent. The size and habit makes it a perfect rose for a small garden, and suitable for growing up arches, obelisks, and narrow trellis.

Hemerocallis 'Irish Elf'Dwarf daylily

If your garden is too small for large clumps of plants, look for smaller-sized cultivars that have a similar appearance. Hemerocallis ‘Irish Elf’ only grows to around 45cm (18in), and is a lot more compact than many of its relations that can grow to over 1m (3ft). In summer it produces bright, sunny, lily-like blooms that would add a cheery splash of colour in a container next to a front door.

Hosta ‘Patriot’ and Astelia chathamica ‘Silver Spear’Shady spaces

Shady small spaces can seem difficult to plant and are often not inviting. Silver and variegated-leaved foliage – especially with hints of white – can bring these spaces to life. The white stripes of Hosta ‘Patriot’ and silver blades of Astelia chathamica lift the surrounding green planting and add contrasting leaf shapes and textures.

Pollarded willow (Salix alba)The kindest cut

Pollarding is a method of pruning that keeps trees smaller than they would naturally grow, making them ideal for small gardens. Pollarded Salix alba has a slender upright shape with a loose canopy of silver-tinted leaves that flicker when caught in a breeze. The narrow leaves of this willow create light dappled shade that is still suitable for growing plants underneath.

Words: Nicola Oakey, RHS Horticultural trainee

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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.