Smaller is more Beautiful - Gardens

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 in summer like this flowering lantana among 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.
My backyard - Jan Johnsen

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.

I write about this garden in my book, Heaven is a Garden .


  1. Jan, what a lovely post. I have one small garden or two tucked away in my yard. I have a rather small garden that runs the length of my front walkway, about 3/1/2 feet wide by 6 feet long. In the spring it's filled with daffodils and a few bleeding hearts. This year after they bloomed and the leaves started to brown and get straggly, I trimmed them down and planted some annual vinca (dark pink) for spots of color. I was delighted that they did so well and looked so pretty. To my surprise, some viola popped up here and there in the garden bed as an added bonus. SMALL spaces can be so charming.

    1. Jane, I love annual must be beautiful right now. Thanks so much for sharing!

  2. I like the idea of hostas in pots, but what about winter? In zone 3 - 4, would I need to plant them in the ground, or bury the pot?

    1. yes dig into the ground for winter! do it now in the early fall....

  3. These are definitely amazing looking plants and I'd love to put something like these in my garden. I have been gardening at my house for nearly a year now and I can't stop doing it! I really do hope I can get it to look a lot more beautiful and I think these flowers might do the trick.

    1. another one becomes obsessed...join the club, Christopher!

  4. I appreciate honestly because the simplicity of this blog is great!

  5. This is really a remarkable topic close to my heart thanks. Keep up the good working! hans kommentar er her


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