Smaller is More Beautiful…in praise of small gardens

My backyard dry stream - Jan Johnsen
If small is beautiful then....smaller must be more beautiful.

At least that is what I tell myself as I survey my postage stamp of a backyard. I remind myself that some of the sweetest of serene spaces are small gardens, tucked away, out of sight.

I add touches insummer like this flowering lantana amongst the rocks

My small verdant retreat is where I can place a chair or two, sip a cup of tea, tend to the garden, admire my planters of foliage or even write my blog, ‘pleine aire’, so to speak …

Small gardens call for small plants – although normal size plants look great when first planted, in the years that ensue they may grow to overwhelm the space… To prevent that I have a few suggestions for some hardy, compact and delightful perennial plants.

The following diminutive plants are perfect for small gardens, in containers, along walkways, in rock gardens or as low growing ‘filler’ plants in plant beds.

Sedum is a sun loving, easy to grow succulent. Sedum rupestre 'Angelina' is one of my favorites. It rows about 6 inches high and spreads out among rocks, pavers, in flower beds. It is a chartreuse yellow- green that spreads and spills out. Easy to grow and quite the eye catcher!
Sedum Angelina by Jan Johnsen
Hostas, known for broad foliage and tolerance to shady conditions, have miniature varieties such as the Mouse Ear collection. These pocket sized hostas have wonderfully textured, heart shaped leaves. Two of the blue mouse ear hostas are H. ‘Country Mouse’ which has blue leaves, edged in white, growing to 4” tall and 9” wide and Hosta ‘Blue Mouse Ears’, the 2008 Hosta of the Year, which grows to 6” – 8” tall and 18” wide and has lavender flowers.

(Blue Mouse Ears - Shady Oaks Nursery)

‘Pandora’s Box’ Hosta is the top choice of the American Hosta Society for miniature hostas. It has tiny leaves (2" x 1½") with a creamy-white center and a contrasting, blue-green margin. Lavender flowers appear in early summer. Mature size is 4" ht x 10" spread.

(Pandora's Box Hosta - Contrary Mary Nursery)

Hosta 'Stiletto' is named for its striking, narrow, lance-shaped, leaves. The foliage has a cream or gold tinged margin and it sports lavender striped flowers in late summer. Mature height is 8” tall and spreads about a foot. Its eye catching narrow leaves look great in pots.

(Hosta Stiletto - Park Seed)

Miniature Roses are also perfect for a small space serenity garden but they need at least 6 hours of full sun in summer. The hardy Lavender Jewel (Moore, 1978) grows no higher that 24” tall and has shapely, lavender blooms all summer long. Dark glossy green foliage is disease resistant. Height 18 to 24 inches. (Zone 4)

(Rose 'Lavender Jewel' - High Country Roses)

The miniature Starla rose (Chaffin, 1990) is a pure ivory-white rose with pointed buds, a fruity fragrance and large, shapely blooms on cutting-length stems. It grows no higher than 20 inches (Zone 5).

(Starla Rose - High Country Roses)

My own particular favorites are the compact varieties of  Carex or sedge. These grasslike plants offer an amazing choice of colors, stripes and textures - there are over 1000 species.  Natives of bogs,  they like wet to moist soil.  In my small garden I grow several cultivars by a dry stream and they look great, even now in March.

I like Goldband (or Evergold) Japanese Sedge, (Carex morrowii 'Variegata') which  has droopy, graceful white and green striped grassy foliage. It looks fantastic when used as ground cover or planted in groups.

This is my small garden. I planted Gomphrena 'Buddy Purple' next to the Carex morrowi and across the stream is 'Ice Dance' Sedge.  It is a my 'tucked away' joyful space. Smaller is definitely more beautiful.


  1. I'm a big fan of the Carex family, and have a number in my own garden, including the 'Variegata' cultivar you show above. As I dig out from the mammoth snows here, I've been pleasantly surprised to see how well they've come through the storms - I'll need to snip a few tips here and there, but otherwise they look great!

  2. carex are simply amazing! they look good in February in my garden in New York - now that is saying something...

  3. Jan,

    I couldn't agree more about small garden spaces. There's something about lush, inviting, intimate spaces. I love the stream in the first photo. Great post. I look forward to more. I found you on Networked Blogs. Cheers from Zone 6 PA!

    1. Cheers John! another kindred spirit arrives! Thank you for the compliment on my backyard stream....Zone 6 is so much more fun than my zone 5.

  4. Just want to add that creating an unusual design for your landscape space will be helpful. Avoid straight lines, needless repetition or planting shrubs in order from shortest to tallest.

  5. my garden is small but i always make sure that it has a lot of would look very pretty to have flowers around..

  6. Flowers make a small space sing! and make us happy to motto: Plant More Flowers. :-)


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