Great plant picks for small spaces

By Pam Roy | Mar 29, 2013
Courtesy of: Pam Roy There are ways to "live big" in your small garden.

Big Impact in small spaces! Great Plant Picks is an educational program of the Elizabeth Carey Miller Botanical Garden. Each year, a committee of horticulturists and plant experts gather to assess merits of noteworthy plants and create comprehensive plant lists of hardy reliable plants for the Pacific Northwest.

Here are a few of their suggestions for small space gardens.

Trees provide structure and interest in the landscape, and all too often in the small garden outgrow their space.

Acer circinatum “Pacific Fire” growing to 15 feet tall by 10 feet is a striking selection for the small garden. This ornamental variety of the Vine Maple has incredible bright red twigs guaranteed to brighten the darkest winter day.

The pale green leaves are a nice contrast and turn golden yellow in autumn. If you are planning a small wildlife garden, Amelanchier x grandiflora “Cole’s Select” will provide fruit for birds in autumn. With attractive shiny green summer foliage, a profusion of white flowers in April and red/orange fall color, this tree provides three seasons of interest.

Acer shirasawanum “Autumn” features glowing golden foliage, sure to brighten up an area of dappled shade. This diminutive tree reaches 6 feet tall in 10 years.

Abies koreana, a dwarf evergreen grows slowly to 7 feet tall. Preferring full sun, the deep green needles have an interesting white stripe on their underside. Stunning violet blue cones appear at an early age. Plant with Hebe topiaria, Nandina “Gulf Stream”, Berberis darwinii, Mahonia nervosa.

Who hasn’t seen a shrub, hacked back into unrecognizable shape because it’s gotten too big for it’s place? The Great Plant Picks website offers a comprehensive list of excellent shrubs for small spaces. One beauty is Enkianthus campanulata “Red Bells.” This elegant shrub has incredible yellow flowers with deep red tips in late spring and deep scarlet fall foliage.

Growing to 5 feet tall by 3 feet wide, it fits even the smallest gardens. Spirea japonica “Magic Carpet” is a cheery foreground plant. The golden foliage on this is topped by lacy caps of pink flowers in early summer. With a height of 2 feet, this brightens up the small garden.

Every garden needs a few perennials, and there are many to choose from for the small garden. Euphorbia characias “Humpty Dumpty” is a well-mannered cousin of the much larger species. Lime green bracts set off early spring flowers that last well into June. This plant is drought tolerant when established. Wear gloves when pruning as the sap can irritate skin.

Another not often seen evergreen perennial treasure is Gentian aculis or Trumpet Gentian. Trumpet-shaped blue flowers stand above close to the ground foliage of 1 foot tall in early spring. Easy to grow in the Pacific Northwest, Gentian prefers full sun to light shade.

For more ideas on plants for small space gardens, visit the Great Plant Picks website: or work with a landscape designer to select plants appropriate for your garden. Live Big in your small garden!

Pam Roy, owner of Planscapes, has been a landscape designer and horticulturist for 30 years in the Northwest. Contact her at 425-252-9469, or HYPERLINK ""

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