Creating A Cozy Retreat

Small-scale gardening is a hot topic! Many great books have been written on the subject and growers are developing more and more dwarf trees and compact shrubs to fit those needs. Baby boomers are “downsizing” and Millennials are moving into their first homes, creating a growing demand for ornamental and edible plants that fit comfortably into these smaller spaces.

My personal interest in small-scale gardening is especially keen as I fall into the latter category of those of us who have sold the large family home and are moving into smaller more manageable properties. I purchased a new home about a year ago. A smaller house, on a much smaller lot with a challenging irregular shape. I spent a lot of time over the last several months observing the conditions of the yard and planning the design I would like to implement. I can’t wait to start planting!

My back yard is roughly about 1200 square feet and late last fall I had a patio and walkway installed reducing the potential planting area to under 1000sq. My goal is to create a cozy backyard retreat with small trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals, along with a small sitting area to enjoy a cup of tea in the morning and maybe a late afternoon drink.

Because the space is small and I am hoping to keep maintenance at a moderate level I am completely eliminating the lawn. There are no trees in my small space. It’s currently a blank page other than the pavers but there are several large maples surrounding the yard creating a high shade situation that will influence the plants I choose. Before I can start putting them in the ground however I will have to deal with the soil.

I have designed and planted many gardens but this may be the most challenging soil I have ever worked with. Bright orange clay! Clay soil is composed of very fine particles. It absorbs water very slowly and holds it for a very long time. It can also become very compacted, making it difficult for plant roots to penetrate the soil.

I know that I need to improve the soil and adding organic matter is the first step. But because I have only a little experience with clay I stopped by the main store and had a chat with Stacy. Compost was something we both agreed would be beneficial but she gave me an additional tip that I was unaware of. Gypsum, she said would help reduce compaction, improve drainage, decrease acidity and eliminate soil salts. Sounds good to me!

With all the rain we’ve had I will have to wait a while until my soil dries up to begin the process. It’s never a good idea to work with clay when it’s wet because that can add to the compaction problems. Once the compost and gypsum have been turned into the soil I can finally start the planting process.

I have big plans for my small-scale garden and I would love to share them with you as my cozy retreat begins to take shape. Choosing the right plant for the right location can be challenging but that’s just part of the fun!

Cecile Bardinelli, Guilford Garden Mart Manager