Herbs For Your Garden

Enhance your recipes and cultivate a connection with nature with herbs that you’ve grown yourself. Herbs can be grown in a large landscape or in pots on a windowsill. Whether Herb gardening is a seasonal ritual or your first edible venture, here are the essential herbs no gardener or cook should go without.

Basil  (Ocimum spp.)

Basil’s bright, showy leaves and intensely sweet aroma epitomize summer gardens and dishes. Many edible gardeners start with basil, and the number of available varieties will never leave you tired of its refreshing flavor. In fall dry or freeze it for use the rest of the year. Basil grows easily from seed or nursery seedlings.

Dill  (Anethum graveolens)

Dill is one of the few herbs on this list that does best when grown from seed. Sow the seeds through summer in full sun. It’s tolerant of rocky soil but needs good drainage and enough room to establish its taproot. Dill is an annual, but it can self-seed and will most likely return the following year. Cut back the flower heads and collect the seeds to plant where you want them.

Oregano/Marjoram  (Origanum spp.)

Oregano is another one of those herbs that really don’t put up a fuss. Plant oregano or its milder relative, sweet marjoram, anywhere that receives good sunlight and has good drainage. Harvest the leaves just when its flower buds are forming. These plants grow well from seedlings.

Mint  (Mentha spp.)

Grown in a pot by the kitchen, fresh mint refreshes everything from dressings, salads and sides to drinks and desserts with a sprig or two. It grows best in full sun to partial shade and prefers regular water. It has a tendency to spread where it’s unwanted, so many suggest growing mint in containers. Grow it from seedlings.

Parsley  (Petroselinum crispum)

New varieties are adding pizzazz to the world of parsley. Though it’s treated as a summer crop in colder climates, gardeners in warmer regions can grow parsley year-round. Be sure to choose a site with sheltered afternoons, since too much summer heat can scorch it. Plant parsley from seeds or seedlings.

Chives  (Allium schoenoprasum and Allium tuberosum)

Both garden chives and their larger, bolder flavored relative garlic chives make delicious and attractive additions to the edible garden. These easy to grow cool-season perennial herbs feature green tubular stems, topped with edible flowers in spring and summer. Grow them from seed and in full sun. Chives self-sow and can be divided every few years, so you’ll be sure to have them in your garden season after season.

Lemongrass  (Cymbopogon citratus)

Dive into the exotic edibles with lemongrass, using it to season soups, teas and more. This strappy plant will thrive in full sun to partial shade with regular water. Though it may die down to the ground in winter, it will revive in spring. Lemongrass does best in mild climates, or it can be planted in a container and brought inside. Plant cuttings or divisions for best results.

Tarragon  (Artemisia dracunculus ‘Sativa’)

A French cuisine staple, tarragon takes an herb garden beyond the basic. French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus ‘Sativa’) is prized for its culinary value, tasting and smelling similar to anise or licorice. French tarragon is a little fussier to grow, preferring afternoon shade and regular water, but is the best in terms of flavor. Gardeners in more extreme climates may turn to Russian tarragon or Mexican tarragon, which are easier to grow but less flavorful. French tarragon must be grown from cuttings or seedlings.

Common Sage  (Salvia officinalis)

With its velvety gray leaves and soft mounding shape, sage softens garden edges and fills in planter corners. Sage requires little water once established and will produce all season long in full sun or partial shade in intense heat. Harvested leaves can be dried for later use. Be aware that not all Salvia is edible, so check before you eat. Sage can be grown from seed, though seedlings tend to produce better results.

Thyme  (Thymus vulgaris)

One of the most commonly called-for herbs, thyme is also one of the easiest to grow. Plant it in a container or allow it to spread as a ground cover. Provide sun, good drainage and not too much water, and this low-maintenance edible essential will stick around for many meals to come. Like sage, not all thyme species are edible, so check before you plant. Thyme can be grown from seed or seedlings.

Lavender  (Lavandula spp.)

Lavender tops many gardeners’ lists for ornamental value alone; resilience, drought tolerance and the fact that it’s a bee magnet only further illustrate why this sun-loving Mediterranean native is a great herb garden addition. Oh, and it’s a killer cocktail ingredient. Choose from a variety of widely available species, and plant it in containers or directly in the ground.

Rosemary  (Rosmarinus officinalis)

It can be easy to forget that this tough-as-nails perennial is also edible. Seen cascading over rocky hillsides or potted on sun-drenched patios, rosemary is a garden mainstay in warmer climates. In regions that see freezing temperatures, or for cooks who may want their herbs closer than outside the back door, rosemary grows well in containers and can easily be brought inside. One whiff of its earthy aroma and you can almost feel the heat of the Tuscan countryside. Seeds are available, but rosemary does best when grown from small plants.


Renovating A Small Yard

A small yard can hold more than a patio, a few plants and some grass. With the right design and some clever moves to visually expand your space, you can add more features than you might imagine.

In many ways, renovating a small yard is no different than tackling a larger space — you’ll still collect inspiration photos, establish a budget and hire a professional, among many other things. However, given more limited square footage and the likelihood of closer neighbors, you’ll have to prioritize what you want, think about multiuse features and consider adding screening or noise-mitigating features.

If you’re ready to renovate your outdoor space, here is how to navigate the process through the planning and conceptual phases, and how to get from your current look to one that fits your life and style.

Assess Your Existing Outdoor Space

Walk around your yard and note what’s already there. You might even consider making a basic sketch of your space, including any existing features such as patios.

Take a look at what works well in your yard. That might include a patio or deck or any paths. Are there good views you’d like to preserve? Do you have plantings or other landscaping that you like?

Indicate any trouble spots. Do you need to screen an unpleasant view or provide privacy from the neighbors? Do you want protection from overly hot areas, whether with a shade structure or additional trees? Are there issues with drainage or slopes?

Check the weather patterns as well. Are there spots where the sun is blazingly hot for a good portion of the day, or ones that are always cool or cold? Is there a prevailing wind most afternoons, or do things stay relatively calm?

Think About What You Want

Make a list of the features you would want in your ideal yard. Envision your dream space, both how it will look and how it will function. Then ask yourself some questions.

  •  Who will be using it regularly?
  •  Do you want an area for sports and games?
  •  Would you like a great entertainment spot?
  •  Is there a feature you’ve always wanted, such as a pool or hot tub, a thriving vegetable garden or a swing designed for relaxing with a good book?

Once you’ve created your wish list, it’s time to prioritize. Think about day-to-day living and how you’ll use your space. Then divide your list into the must-haves and the nice-to-haves.

Consider possible compromises that could allow you to add a few more dream items to your space. A full-size outdoor kitchen may be out of reach, both in budget and size, but a grill with a countertop or bar area nearby might be doable. You may not have room for a pool where you could swim laps, but a plunge pool or spa may satisfy your wish for a place to relax in the water.

Finally, take a hard look at your budget and determine how much you can afford to spend on your landscape renovation. You can do some research to get an idea of costs, but the landscape pro you work with will be better able to give you a realistic picture of what you can achieve with your budget. You also can think about where you’d like to invest in your landscape renovation and where you might be able to save.

Gather And Refine Your Ideas

Now comes the fun part. Find photos of outdoor spaces you like. Mix photos of full landscapes with those showing small details you admire.

At this point, don’t feel like you need to stick to photos of only smaller spaces. Images of larger landscapes can help inspire your project too. Keep in mind, though, that specific features might not be possible to include, or certain results achieved, in limited square footage.

Once you have a good collection of photos, sort through what you’ve gathered and evaluate what you like about each landscape and detail. It will give you and your designer a clearer idea of the direction you want to go in.

Find A Professional

Got your ideas and a preliminary budget? Look for a design pro to help with your project. Both landscape architects and landscape designers can provide a complete design.

There are a number of ways you can work with a designer. A design consultation can get you started, or you can hire a designer to complete a concept design or create a site plan to take you further along. Finally, your designer may also oversee the installation.

Your project may require a landscape architect if there are grading and drainage issues, retaining or structural walls, or features such as a large driveway and turnaround. Other issues that may require a landscape architect include mitigations for wetlands or protected sites, or the possibility of floods, wildfires, mudslides or hurricanes.

You also can work with a landscape design-build firm, which can carry your project from the design phase through installation. A full-service landscape design firm also may be able to provide continued maintenance once the project wraps up.

Explore Small Yard Design Ideas

A number of design moves can make a small yard feel more expansive. Consider whether any of the following options could suit your overall look and style. 

* Choose a simple palette of a few colors for hardscape, furnishings and plantings that repeat throughout the space. This will draw your eye through the yard and make the space feel unified and larger.


* Lay a path at an angle to make a narrow yard feel wider.

* Install a circular path to draw the eye around the yard, rather than through it. Having the end of a path disappear behind a landscape feature gives the sense that there are more areas of the yard to explore.

* Create a destination with a patio or a deck sited halfway through or at the far end of a small yard, rather than right outside your door. It will draw people through the space.

* Highlight a view that’s beyond the borders of your space to expand the sense of spaciousness.

Designing two distinct zones, such as a dining space and a gathering spot or a play area, gives a sense of purpose to even the smallest space. If you’re dealing with a slope, consider a small retaining wall as a design feature that also adds separation.

Tip: Two is the optimum number of zones for a small yard. It provides separation without overwhelming the space.

Decide On The Concept Design

Taking your landscape from ideas to reality starts with developing the concept design. Use your ideas to create a preliminary plan. This two- or three-dimensional drawing will be to scale and will show the new layout and major design elements. At this point, it may be fairly simple or can be quite detailed, indicating materials and plantings.

Review all aspects of the plan, from large installations to small details, to be sure you understand how the final design will look in real life.

Some questions you’ll want to ask yourself and your design pro:

* How do the various components work together, and how you will access areas throughout the space?

* Are the walkways and drives large enough so they don’t feel cramped? Is there sufficient room for features, from grills to swimming pools, and for furnishings such as dining tables and lounges?

* Does the look fit your style and work with your architecture? Is the plant palette what you want for your garden?

* Can you imagine yourself in the space?

Choose Materials And Accessories

Throughout this process, you’ll have been saving inspiration photos and you’ll likely already have an idea how you want your space to look.

Now you’ll need to select the materials and accessories for your landscape. These include everything from hardscape and plants to extra features and finishing details.

As you finalize your plans, check out your options and see how they fit with your style, your design and your budget. Things to consider:

  •  Hardscape options for decks, patios, paths and retaining walls
  •  Structural materials for screens, pergolas, abors, fences and gates
  •  Fireplace and fire pit 
  •  Outdoor kitchen and grill
  •  Lighting
  •  Spa and small pool
  •  Water feature
  •  Storage areas
  •  Plant choices such as ground cover, trees, shrubs, grasses and flowers 
  •  Outdoor furnishings 

Finalize The Details

Once you’ve decided on a concept plan, it’s time to get all the pieces in place. Your plan will go through several revisions as it is polished. When you have made all the changes, you will have a final plan to follow.

One of the details that will need to be considered during this process is which permits and permissions you will need, if applicable. If you’re planning a major renovation, be sure that you determine the location of gas, power and plumbing lines. These all should be carefully marked.

A knowledgeable professional will be able to guide this portion of the process, as he or she will be familiar with local planning departments, permit requirements and any other logistical issues you’ll need to address.

Hire A Landscape Contractor

If you don’t already have a licensed landscape contractor for your project, and you want one to do the installation. You’ll want to interview potential contractors and give them the scope of work, even if the plans aren’t final. Designers often can recommend contractors they’ve successfully worked with in the past. Interview at least three to get a good idea of your options.

When looking for a contractor, follow the same process as for choosing a landscape architect or designer. Also ask about insurance and bonds for any subcontractors, as well as about a contact person for questions and problems that may arise.

Plan Construction and Timeline

Before work begins, familiarize yourself with how the project should unfold and how long it will take from start to finish. Think about the disruption to your yard and access to your home, as well as about construction hours; staging areas for materials; outside contractors for electrical, plumbing and irrigation systems; and who will be your contact person for questions or problems.

You’ll also want to be aware of possible setbacks that may cause the timeline to change. These may range from weather delays to subcontractor availability to supply chain issues. Ask about backup plans if problems arise.

If you are saving part of your landscape, especially trees or bushes, ensure that those areas are marked and protected from damage, especially during demolition. 

Make A Post-Completion List

After the paving has been laid, the lighting has been installed, the plantings have been put in place and the finishing touches have been added, walk through your yard and note anything that is still unfinished. Provide the person responsible for correcting any mistakes with a list of items that need to be fixed and ask for a final finish date.

Also, you’ll want to think about and plan for maintenance. The hardscape materials and plantings will need ongoing care. Some landscape design and landscape construction companies provide maintenance services, which may be part of your service agreement with the pro. You also can ask your designer or contractor for maintenance recommendations or contacts.


Refresh Your Outdoor Dining Area

As spring slowly comes upon us, its time to start thinking and planing our outdoor living space. An outdoor dining area can function as an extension of the home, providing additional space for hosting family and friends. You can make your outdoor dining experience even better with these idea, which range from simple updates to larger projects. Add color, style and function to your outdoor dining area.


Add a Pergola or Retractable Awning

Because you might want to enjoy being outside even if the sun is blazing or the rain is pouring down, consider adding a structure overhead to create shade, shelter and interest. There are many options to choose from, including pergolas, arbors, shade trees and retractable awnings that can protect you from the elements when needed. 

Bonus: If you add an open-air structure, you can plant flowering vines and enjoy their scent all season.


Add Heaters

Who says you can’t enjoy your deck area in early spring or late fall? By installing natural gas or portable propane patio heaters — which can be safely used under eaves and pergolas — you can spend more time outdoors with loved ones. If you have an overhang on your house, you can also put outdoor-rated infrared heaters in the ceiling above your dining or lounge areas.


Put In Outdoor Speakers

Get the outdoor party started by spinning your favorite playlist. There are many wireless speakers on the market that can withstand the elements. Some are even designed to look like elements of a landscape, such as boulders. Others can be hung in the corners of your patio or set up on side tables. 

Outdoor Lighting

You’ll need both task and ambient lighting to accommodate evening cooking and entertaining. Clip lights to your barbecue’s lid, hang up rows of string lights for some sparkle and set up freestanding lanterns or hurricane lamps with wax or artificial candles to keep the glow going while you’re outside.


Plant A Vertical Herb Garden

Limited space to plant culinary herbs for your grilling area? Look up! Outdoor kitchens can benefit from a living wall made from a specialized vertical garden system or horizontally hung gutters. Not only will a vertical garden add color and texture, but you can snip fresh herbs to season your dishes whenever you need them. Also consider vertically hanging some strawberry or cherry tomato plants to pluck produce straight from the vine.

Consider Bar Seating

If you don’t want a large outdoor dining table and chairs taking over the patio, you can save some room by setting up stools alongside a bar instead. It’s a great way to keep the chef and guests socializing while the grill is going.

Add A Fire Feature

A fireplace, fire table or several fire columns can transform a ho-hum patio into a spot where everyone wants to gather. Having a fire feature not only adds an outdoor focal point, it also helps you stay warm on chilly evenings as summer wanes.

Put Up A Privacy Screen

If you live in an urban or suburban neighborhood, you might be able to see your neighbors over the fence and vice versa. If you need more privacy in your outdoor kitchen or dining area, install a decorative screen that’s both functional and beautiful. Choose ones made from wood, wrought iron with cutout designs, bamboo or lattice for added visual appeal.


Dress Up Your Table

No budget to buy new dining furniture this year? Pick up some fresh table linens, seat cushions, place mats, napkins and colorful outdoor dishes to add pizazz without the price tag. New accessories go a long way toward elevating the festive factor.


Roll Out A Rug

Protect your patio or deck while adding pattern, texture and a punch of color to your outdoor dining area with a large outdoor rug. Choose one that’s weather- and stain-resistant so it lasts more than one season.

Pro tip: Keep the rug’s edges from curling up by placing furniture legs in strategic spots or roll up some masking tape into balls and place it under the corners.


Trees For Containers

Having a small yard or other limited outdoor space, whether it’s a little patch of land, patio or deck, doesn’t mean you have to give up on growing a tree. While they’ll never reach the height of a stately elm or oak, the following trees and tree-like shrubs can add a focal point, shade and even wildlife benefits in limited space. Here are some trees recommended for growing in containers.

‘Emerald Green’ Arborvitae  Thuja occidentalis ‘Emerald Green’, syn. ‘Smaragd’

Why This Tree: 

This small evergreen tree boasts a beautiful green color, dense foliage and a conical form, all of which can be easily appreciated when it is grown in a large container. 

The cultivar was developed in Denmark, which explains both its preference for colder climates and its name “smaragd”, the Danish word for “emerald”.

Growing Tips: 

Arborvitaes are naturally slow growers. Lightly pruning the new growth will keep wayward branches in check and also control the overall growth.

Water thoroughly when the top inch or so of the soil is dry. Don’t overwater; that can result in root rot. You also may need to provide some winter protection in the coldest climates.

Where It Will Grow: 

Hardy to minus 42.8 degrees Celsius - Zones 2 to 7

Water Requirement: Moderate

Light Requirement: Full sun to partial shade

Mature Size: 12 to 14 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide when planted in a landscape, but it stays much smaller in a container.

Dwarf Citrus  Citrus spp.

Why This Tree: 

Dwarf lemons, limes, mandarins, oranges and kumquats are stars in container gardens. They’re naturally small but can be kept even smaller with pruning. They stay green all year and you can add seasonal plants under it and make it decorative. 

Growing Tips: 

You’ll need to start with the right container. A large pot is necessary to provide insulation from hot air temperatures for roots. 

Growing citrus in containers also makes it possible for gardeners and citrus lovers in colder regions to enjoy the fresh fruit. If you have a sunny and warm spot indoors, let the plants spend the winters there.

Where It Will Grow: 

Hardy to minus 3.9 degrees Celsius - Zones 9 to 11; in colder areas, plan to bring it indoors during the winter. In warmer areas, cover it when frosty nights are expected.

Water Requirement: Moderate; less once established

Light Requirement: Full sun, ideally about 8 hours per day

Mature Size: Varies from 2 to 8 feet tall; it can handle pruning to keep it in check

Japanese Maple Acer palmatum cultivars

Why This Tree: 

Few trees offer the delicate beauty and stunning color of the Japanese maple. Japanese maple cultivars grow in a range of shapes, styles and colors: multibranched or with a single trunk; upright or spreading; evergreen or deciduous; and with foliage colors including red, yellow, orange, green and even purple, pink or white. Choose a dwarf or semidwarf variety and make it the solo plant of a container to highlight the form and foliage.

Growing Tips: 

Japanese maples are slow-growing and easy to keep in check. Prune during the dormant season. You may need to provide additional protection in colder climates or if you expect a freeze. 

Where It Will Grow: 

Hardy to minus 26.1 degrees Celsius - zones 5 to 8; provide afternoon shade in Zone 9

Water Requirement: Moderate

Light Requirement: Soft dappled shade or morning sun with afternoon shade is best; too much sun will scorch its leaves.

Mature Size: Varies; dwarf varieties are generally 3 to 8 feet and can be kept smaller with pruning

Hinoki Cypress Chamaecyparis obtusa

Why This Tree: 

This evergreen conifer is naturally upright and slow-growing, so it will take years for it to outgrow a pot. As a bonus, it also provides year-round foliage color ranging from dark green to yellow with minimal to low maintenance. Naturally low-growing choices include ‘Nana Gracilis’ and ‘Nana Lutea’.

Growing Tips: 

Lightly fertilize it in spring. Spring is also the season to do any pruning; you should prune new growth and only as needed to shape the plant.

Where It Will Grow: 

Hardy to minus 34.4 degrees Celsius - zones 4 to 8

Water Requirement: Regular

Light Requirement: Sun to partial shade

Mature Size: 3 to 8 feet tall

Dwarf Pomegranate Punica granatum ‘Nana’

Why This Tree: 

Showy orange-red flowers and glossy leaves that mature from bronze to glossy green to bright yellow make this small hummingbird-friendly plant a standout addition to a small space. Other bonuses are the reddish-brown bark and the small fruits, which are decorative rather than edible. Although usually deciduous, the plant may be evergreen in very warm areas.

Growing Tips: 

This plant loves sun and heat. Prune to keep it to a manageable size and to shape it as a tree.

Where It Will Grow: 

Hardy to minus 17.8 degrees Celsius - zones 7 to 10; move it indoors when the temperature drops below 4.4 degrees Celsius

Water Requirement: Moderate to regular; do not overwater

Light Requirement: Full sun

Mature Size: Reaches 3 to 4 feet tall; can be kept smaller, even as a bonsai, with pruning

Olive Tree Olea europaea

Why This Tree: 

A staple of Italian, French and Spanish gardens as well as those in California and southern Arizona, the olive tree is right at home in a container. It’s naturally slow-growing and shallow-rooted, and can live in a container for years. Choose a fruitless variety, such as ‘Swan Hill’.

Growing Tips: 

Judicious pruning will keep it within bounds, and you’ll be able to enjoy its gray-green foliage, smooth gray trunk and gnarled branches for years. Be aware that the oily fruits will stain when they drop. This tree also may do well in slightly colder climates if you provide shelter in winter.

Where It Will Grow: 

Hardy to minus 9.4 degrees Celsius - zones 8 to 10

Water Requirement: Moderate

Light Requirement: Full sun

Mature Size: Can reach 20 to 30 feet tall and 15 to 25 feet wide, but can be easily kept smaller in a container with pruning

Dwarf Palm Trees

Why This Tree: 

Want your patio to resemble a tropical garden? Dwarf palm trees are the way to go. The hardest part may be choosing just one of the many dwarf and miniature varieties available. Some popular palms that do well in pots are the butterfly palm (Dypsis lutescens), Mediterranean fan palm (Chamaerops humilis), pygmy date palm (Phoenix roebelenii) and lady palm (Rhapis excelsa).

Growing Tips: 

If your climate is subtropical or tropical, your palms will likely survive outside year-round. In colder regions, bring the containers inside to enjoy when the weather gets cold.

Where They Will Grow: 

Generally hardy to minus 1.1 degrees Celsius - zones 10 to 13; some are hardy to minus 6.7 degrees Celsius - zone 9; container-grown palms can thrive in all zones if brought inside during cold months.

Water Requirement: Varies

Light Requirement: Full sun when young; varies as the palms mature

Mature Size: Varies

‘Fastigiata’ European Hornbeam Carpinus betulus ‘Fastigiata‘

Why This Tree: 

Dark-green leaves and gray bark make ‘Fastigiata‘ hornbeam a handsome tree suitable for any style of garden. The yellow leaves in fall just add to its beauty. You can use it as a specimen plant to show off its style.

Growing Tips: 

While the tree can reach a height of 40 feet when planted in the ground, pruning can keep it to a more manageable height for a container.

Where It Will Grow: 

Hardy to minus 31.7 degrees Celsius - zones 4 to 8

Water Requirement: Moderate to high

Light Requirement: Full sun to partial shade

Mature Size: Has a moderate growth rate, reaching 35 to 45 feet tall and 25 to 35 feet wide; can be kept smaller with pruning

Camellia Camellia japonica and C. sasanqua

Why This Tree: 

A favorite in warm-winter gardens, camellias add shades of white, pink and red to a garden throughout the colder months. Though they’re known as shrubs, both Japanese and sasanqua camellias can be easily trained as trees. As such, use them to flank an entry, anchor a mix of plants or create a simple focal point.

Growing Tips: 

Camellias can be fussy, so use a potting mix that contains at least 50 percent organic matter. You’ll also need to watch for sunburn, windburn and camellia petal blight, which turns the flowers brown. If you notice sunburn or windburn, move the plant to a shadier or less open spot. For camellia petal blight, pick and dispose of all affected flowers.

Where It Will Grow: 

Hardy to 0 minus 17.8 degrees Celsius - zones 7 to 9; some newer hybrids are hardy to minus 23.3 degrees Celsius - Zone 6

Water Requirement: Moderate to regular; allow the soil to dry out between waterings

Light Requirement: Light shade but it can tolerate morning sun; sasanqua camellia (C. sasanqua) tolerates more sun

Mature Size: 2 to 20 feet tall; most range from 6 to 15 feet tall and 5 to 10 feet wide

Panicled Hydrangea Hydrangea paniculata

Why This Tree: 

Shrub hydrangeas have long been a popular landscape mainstay. The panicled hydrangea takes the possibilities a step further, as it also can be trained as a standard tree. They can be used as stand-alone sentinels or base-planted with annuals for effect.

Choose a dwarf variety that is already trained as a standard tree. Either ‘Quick Fire’ or ‘Limelight’ make great container presentations, and can be used formally or casually to match the setting.

Growing Tips: 

Panicled hydrangea is one of the easiest hydrangeas to grow and will give you plentiful blooms in summer. It’s also more tolerant of sun, heat and cold than other hydrangeas.

Where It Will Grow: 

Hardy to minus 40 degrees Celsius - zones 3 to 9

Water Requirement: Regular; you can cut back in winter

Light Requirement: Full to partial sun

Mature Size: Look for smaller varieties, including those that will reach only 2 to 3 feet.

‘Grace’ Smoke Tree Cotinus ‘Grace’

Why This Tree: 

It’s hard to overlook a smoke tree. The new foliage is light red, followed by delicate and fluffy pink panicles that can be more than a foot long in the summer. It’s these blooms that give the tree its name. Come fall, the foliage turns shades of red, burgundy and purple. The smoke tree is a showstopper in any small space.

Growing Tips: 

The plant grows easily but can be kept in check with pruning. It’s also drought-tolerant, and pests rarely bother it.

Where It Will Grow: 

Hardy to minus 31.7 degrees Celsius - zones 4 to 9

Water Requirement: Average; do not overwater

Light Requirement: Full sun

Mature Size: Up to 15 feet tall and wide unless kept smaller with pruning

‘Tiger Eyes’ Staghorn Sumac Rhus typhina ‘Tiger Eyes’

Why This Tree: 

Choose a Tiger Eyes staghorn sumac for its color. This dwarf sumac’s chartreuse spring foliage turns yellow-green throughout the summer.

Come fall, the foliage transforms to bright reds and oranges. This sumac even shines in winter. The winter silhouette is a noteworthy feature with its antler-like appearance.

Growing Tips: 

Staghorn sumac has a natural upright form and is easily pruned as a small tree. It’s a great choice for containers, as it can spread aggressively in the ground. Don’t be fooled by the name; the plant is nontoxic.

Where It Will Grow: 

Hardy to minus 34.4 degrees Celsius - zones 4 to 8

Water Requirement: Low to average

Light Requirement: Full sun to partial shade

Mature Size: 3 to 6 feet

Caring for Container Trees

Growing any plant in a container differs from growing it in the ground, and trees are no exception. Here are some general guidelines.

◦  Choose the right plant. Look for plants that will thrive in your climate and the proposed location.

◦  Choose dwarf or semidwarf varieties. These will do well with less pruning to keep them in bounds. Ask for advice at your nursery before buying a tree to grow in a container.

◦  Plant in the largest container you can. You should aim for a soil depth of at least 2 to 3 feet. Make sure the container has a drainage hole. Tip: Place your container on a plant stand with heavy-duty casters to make it easier to move.

◦  Water regularly. The potting mix in containers will dry out more quickly than garden soil, so check plants often. Set up a consistent watering schedule or add a timed drip irrigation system.

◦  Fertilize as needed. The nutrients in potting mixes can be quickly depleted. Fertilize regularly during the growing season, using a diluted solution of organic fertilizer.

◦  Turn your container. Rotating the container periodically will ensure that the tree grows consistently on all sides.


Characteristics Of A Secret Garden

You can design your garden to feel like a secluded backyard retreat, a world apart from the hustle of daily life

No matter where you live — in the heart of a big city or down a quiet lane — there’s an opportunity to make your yard or balcony feel like a secret, secluded space. The best feel private and have a certain magic about them, a sense of being removed from daily life and transported to another place. 

A Hidden Entrance

Gates and entryways are important features in any garden, but they are essential for secret gardens. They define a threshold — marking the passage from one garden area to a private space. Create a sense of mystery about what lies beyond with an entrance that blocks the inner garden from view. A magical garden door, a vine-draped wooden gate for example would work well to define the entrance of a secret garden and encourage visitors to leave daily stresses at the door. The gate should obscure the garden behind it — adding mystery and piquing curiosity.

An Inviting Destination

Inside, provide a seating area that draws in visitors. It can be as simple as a pair of chairs pulled up to a cafe table or a bench drawn under a shade tree. If the seating area is partially obscured by foliage or fencing, it only adds to the feeling of discovery.

Screening and Hedges for Privacy

Nothing breaks the spell of a secret garden like seeing the blank faces of adjacent buildings or looking straight into a neighbor’s windows. Use fences, hedges and trees with leafy canopies for screening. Alternatively, use screens to create private areas within a garden, such as a sheltered seating or dining nook.

Loose, Naturalistic Plantings

Secret gardens can take on any shape or style, but those that are slightly less manicured and a bit more wild have a certain romance. Get the naturalistic look by planting billowing grasses, carefree flowering perennials and native plants of all types. For more formality, balance loose plant forms with sheared hedges, a patch of mowed lawn or a few clipped shrubs for structure.

To create a slightly wild, secret garden feeling in urban yards where you have limited bed space, plant a vine in the ground or a large container. Let a trailing climber, such as wisteria, honeysuckle or a climbing rose, ramble up the sides of buildings and cloak the area with foliage and flowers.

Disappearing Pathways

Use a steppingstone path or a winding walkway to draw visitors into the garden. The trick to evoking a feeling of anticipation: Leave the destination hidden.

An Enclosed Space

In more open landscapes, adding a sheltered seating area or a small hedged-in garden can help balance a feeling of openness with one of privacy and seclusion. It’s adding a secret garden within a garden, so to speak.

A Connection With Nature

Welcome bees, butterflies, birds and other small creatures to your secret garden by offering sources for food and water, and areas for shelter. Choose native plants and others that support pollinators. Allow plants to go to seed — which can become food for birds in fall and winter.

Welcoming these connections with wildlife may give new meaning to your experience with the garden.

Seasonal Change

Tap into nature’s own seasonal magic — the emergence of new bulbs in spring and leaves changing from green to red, orange and gold in fall — by choosing some plants for recurrent interest in your secret garden.

If you don’t want to undertake larger-scale planting projects like adding deciduous trees, consider planting one or two containers for seasonal color. Plants like tulips, daffodils and other bulbs, summer annuals and perennials, Mediterranean herbs, and small-scale Japanese maples grow well in containers.

Objects With Meaning

Add a thoughtful object to the landscape to make a secret garden feel more like your own. Ordinary objects with personal meaning, such as an interesting rock picked up at a special beach, may remind you of a favorite trip or childhood memory. Historical objects or those with spiritual meaning can bring greater depth to the garden.

Whatever you choose, consider partially concealing the object within garden beds or around the bend in a path to add an element of discovery.

Dreamy Landscape Lighting

Subtle, glowing landscape lighting makes a secret garden feel like a magical retreat. Select lights that are small and subdued, rather than bright flood lights — we’re going for the look of fairy lights. Apart from providing ambience, lights can be practical too — extending the time you can enjoy being out of doors, and illuminating pathways and stairs for safety.

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