An extraordinary small garden

It’s late November and I just returned from a visit with garden designer Louise Poer in her extraordinary courtyard. Rich in every season with color, texture and form, this long, narrow garden is only 15’ x 50’. Louise has taken maximum advantage of her limited space and created an elegant oasis. My first visit to this gem was eight years ago (at that time the garden was six years old) and it only takes me a minute to realize that since that time, Louise has been busy. While the dimensions are the same, a rectangle defined by wooden fences on either side, a 10’ tall concrete wall along the back of the property and the brick house opposite the wall, the garden has changed and aged with style and grace.

What strikes me as I look around is the sense that the garden seems much larger than it actually is. One of the techniques Louise uses is to have lots of plants in containers of different sizes and heights as well as plants in the ground. Her palette includes many colors but white and green in its many shades is the major player in this year-round production. Boxwoods work well and for contrast she uses a cast iron plant, Aspidistra elatior, with wide linear blades of foliage. Although evergreen foliage provides the largest amount of color, other plants include hydrangeas, camellias, Rosa 'New Dawn,' trained up against the house and Rosa 'Zephrine Drouhin,' a thornless selection with fragrant cerise pink flowers. In spring, masses of perennials like phlox, Kalimeris pinnatifida and Astilbe abound.

Louise says that she loves whimsy in the garden and this is evident with the topiary bear, bird and other creatures shaped out of boxwood and the Carex 'Evergold' planted at the bottom of a topiary boxwood which makes me think of a beard. Mature conifers and camellias as well as other plants that have been limbed up over the years, provide additional height.

One of the challenges of gardening in a small space is air circulation or lack of it. To remedy this Louise prunes all the trees and shrubs hard at least once a year. This also gives her more room to group plants of different sizes, tucking smaller plants under larger ones. This layered look adds a richness to the overall space. Personal touches like her collection of statues add structure and are fun to discover as you stroll through the garden. The more you look around the more you will see, whether it's a rooster or a small stone squirrel resting under a boxwood. Other additions include two waist-high brick pillars at one end of the garden which support a wooden gate painted a soft shade of turquoise. An oversized palm in a large pot creates a focal point in the center of a brick path. Not surprisingly, there are vines for vertical spaces too, including Confederate jasmine and the evergreen Clematis armandii. A small fountain surrounded by plants provides the welcome element of water. The recent addition of a garden room with walls of windows off the back of the house means that they can spend even more time in the garden.

What I took away from my visit with Louise is bigger is not always better and that with a bit of imagination, planning and lots of work, even the smallest garden can offer year around beauty.

Erica’s Pick: Variegated Boxwood

Botanical name: Buxus sempervirens 'Aureo-Marginata,' Buxus sempervirens 'Marginata,' Buxus microphylla 'Golden Dream'

About the plant: Variegated boxwoods both American and little leaf are versatile evergreen landscape plants. Some have gold and green variegation and others have green and white leaves.

Use in the garden: Great for containers, hedges or topiary.

Planting and care: Boxwoods thrive in a moist, well-drained soil. Plant them in full sun or part shade.

Sources: Ashe-Simpson Garden Center, 4961 Peachtree Industrial Blvd., Atlanta, GA 30341, 770-458-3224, GardenHood, 353 Boulevard SE, Atlanta, GA 30312, 404-880-9848, Land Arts, 809 North Broad St., (Hwy ll at 78), Monroe, GA 30656, 770-267-4500

Erica Glasener is a horticulturist and host of "A Gardener's Diary" which is currently on hiatus. Fridays on HGTV. For questions, visit Erica Glasener's Web site.

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