Hard-working Tiny Gardens
Our term "Postage Stamp" refers to the tiny size of a garden or garden bed. No spot is too small for a garden - even if it's only 3 pots on the edge of a sidewalk or on a window sill. Postage Stamp gardens can be used for tiny city gardens, or small spaces along the side of the house or either side of a walkway. Containerized ones will work nicely at the edge of porch steps or on the patio. Just about everyone has some little nook they don't know what to do with - and we have the answer!
Made in the Shade
Never fear even if it's in the shade. Try a moss garden. Use wood mosses (bryophytes), lichen or dwarf ferns, together with ground pines (lycopodium obscurum), and set the whole with small rocks. Add a black or dark blue mixing bowl, buried to the rim and filled with water, and viola, you have a small lake in a lovely lilliputiam landscape.
Any Groundcover for Shade, Perennial for Shade, or shade loving annuals and bulbs will also do nicely. Many groundcovers flower as well. Those with variegated foliage will show up best, and brighten a dark corner.
Small shrubs that prefer shade, like Rhododendrons and Azaleas are good choices, as are the beauty berries (callicarpa), the Kelsey dogwood (cornus sericea Kelseyi), and the Coralberry (symphoricarpos chenaultii). The Dwarf Korean Spice Viburnum is a spring bloomer that is very fragrant and it's non-fragrant relation the Dwarf Cranberry Bush is a good choice too. The Daphne family (fragrant!) and dwarf deutzias are excellent for spring bloom. See Fragrant Plants for more ideas. Dwarf spireas are excellent for summer bloom. Fuschias are great for season-long bloom in mild climates. If grown in containers, these can be over-wintered indoors. For a more native look, the Fragrant Sumac (rhus aromatica) is a good choice.
The "Cement" Garden
If you've only got paved areas, try a few 30-quart/litre plastic tubs - the type used to hold water lilies and pond plants. Containers laden with plants on a patio, along a walk or up the steps will cheer your soul. Instead of water lilies, plant them with roses, rudbeckias and assorted annuals. Try a groundcover that will trail over the sides, like lamium beaconsilver, under small shrubs and taller perennials in these tubs. See Vines and Roses in Containers for more information specific to planting shrubs in containers, and see the Container Gardening section for tips on successful container gardening. You can even plant a vegetable garden in tubs! If your paved area is shady, try Perennials for Shade and the small shrubs noted above in the "Made in the Shade" section.
You can even create a bog garden in a plastic container. See the Plants for Sunny Bog Gardens and Plants for Shady Bog Gardens for plant ideas. The Creating and Maintaining Bog Gardens and Planting a Bog Garden articles will help you with the items you'll need and the approach to take to plant and care for a bog garden.
As a rule of thumb, select plants for containers that are hardy to at least one climate zone colder than yours. Two is even better. If you want something more exotic than the large plastic tubs, do not use clay or other types of containers that will absorb moisture and crack/break in freezing temperatures. Wood containers, unless you splurge on top of the line teak planters, are not good bets as they will decompose fairly quickly. If you go for wood, at least opt for the cedar planters or the heavy wooden barrels and half-barrels. Stick with plastic or resin containers where possible. Many styles are available now that look like stone, terra cotta or wood. But even old tires filled with good soil and compost will do the trick. Plant them with trailing plants around the edges to hide the tires, and add eye-catching taller plants in the center.
A Postage Stamp Garden to Adapt to Your Location
This one is based on a 3 by 5 foot space and located in full sun. It's designed to provide interest all season long. By the time the leaves of the "naked lady" lily (lycorus sp) have ripened and and disappeared, the goldenrods and tree mallows (lavatera) are blooming away. Then in summer, the naked lady blooms, and the daylily blooms for weeks through the summer to keep it company. If you remove the day lily stems when the flowers are spent, the leaves will be presentable all season. The blue fescues (festuca ovina), fall aster (aster novi-belgii), bugleweed (ajuga), spiderwort (tradescantia) and sedums extend the interest from spring to fall.
To adapt this garden to a shadier location, select from the Perennials for Shade and Groundcovers for Shade pages. When selecting, be sure to pick plants that are taller for the center section and "accent plants". Select lower growing ones for sides. Also see the The Shade Garden page for tips on preparing the soil in a shady garden area. Plants have to work harder to survive in the shade, so help them make it by providing a good base.
To adapt this garden to a long and/or narrow location, plant in a single or double row, depending on the width you have to work with. Plant the odd numbered plants in the diagram (these are shorter in height) on the side that will adjoin the area where you will walk when passing the bed. Remember to alternate the plants by color and bloom season, so you have interest going all year.
Divide the length of your long bed in half, and just work in from the outer ends of the long bed so that the same type of plant is in the same position on each half, planting them in a single row or staggering them a bit if you have more width. In short, you simply plant up one half of the length, and then mirror it on the other half.
For a long, narrow area, you will likely need to purchase additional accent plants - those are the ones that run down the center in the diagrams below (2, 6, 8, 10) - there's only one of each of these in the plan, and these will be a bit taller than the ones on the outside of the bed in the diagram. Instead of a patch of ajuga, you might want to intersperse 1 to 3 plants in groups between and in front of the taller growing plants. The same would apply to the tall sedum - plant a few smaller patches of that along the row.
Here's a color rendering of this Postage Stamp garden. To plant a different shaped plot, remember to alternate plants by color and bloom season.
Plant List for a Postage Stamp Garden
Blue fescues (festuca ovina glauca)
Tree mallow (Lavatera trimestris)
Fall aster (aster novi-belgii 'Alert')
Sedum (Sedum spectabile 'Autumn Joy')
Bugleweed (ajuga 'Autopurpurea')
Daylily (hemerocallis 'Eenie-Weenie')
Naked Lady (Lycoris squamigera)
Goldenrod (solidago 'Golden Bush')
Goldenrod (solidago 'Crown of Rays')
Spiderwort (Tradescantia x andersoniana "Snow Cap')
Ideas for other good plant choices can be found here:
Here's the diagram for the 3x5 garden. For a long or narrow area, follow the general idea, but keep the planting to a single row or double row width.