garden design, Old Ottawa South Garden Club, Perennial Plants

Designing a Small Garden – Old Ottawa South Garden Club

October 17, 2017

The Old Ottawa South Garden Club (OOSGC) gathered on the Tuesday evening following Thanksgiving to hear Kevin Brooks of K Brooks Landscape Services ( talk about approaches to designing small gardens. Kevin talked about his background, which included academic training combined with experience working with several garden nurseries and a garden designer/stone mason, before establishing his design, build, plant and maintain business. During the evening, he illustrated principles for the garden design process and listed some favourite plants for the small garden.

Small gardens can be limited to a few square feet in the backyard, deck, roof top terrace or balcony. They can be extensions of the house which provide for relaxation, gardening and entertaining. At the beginning of the design process, it is important to get a sense of what people want for their gardens. This can involve some brainstorming about various aspects of the garden. Considerations which are part of this process include: balancing functions versus aesthetics; accessibility and circulation of foot traffic; retaining some existing mature plants or using new plants; garden exposure to sun/shade or wind; the desired privacy to be achieved through structures or trees, shrubs and other plant materials; the level of maintenance involved. Kevin said that many options are possible to achieve what people want but he stressed the importance of making an accurate plan for the garden design.

Kevin talked about the sense of garden, and feeling present within the garden. Seating in close proximity to the plants can help achieve this. Being able to observe seasonal changes through the changes in various plants’ flowers and leaves, contribute to this sense as well.

Several elements of the design process were discussed, starting with colour. While many people think of flower colours, since flowers may last only a few weeks, foliage colour is important to consider. Kevin gave examples of blue spruce and junipers, red Japanese maples, yellow grasses and shrubs, as well as many shades of green in the foliage of plants.

Line and texture can refer to the shapes of leaves within the garden. Kevin suggests mixing up different leaf shapes and texture, since delicate or fine leaf shapes, along with plants having broad or differently shaped leaves, can be interesting combinations. Line also refers to hardscaping design, such as the shape of walkways, which can be set out in modular straight lines, angular lines, or circles and curves. Form is another element of design. It refers to shapes and structures within the garden, particularly of shrubs and trees, which can provide the “good bones” for the garden design.

Kevin discussed the importance of repetition of plants to create a flow or unity with a design. Similar plants massed together or repeated throughout the garden can create unity while other elements, including art and obelisks, may be singular and provide interest and focal points in the garden.

A good mix or ratio of plant materials might be 30 percent deciduous plants, 30 percent coniferous, 30 percent perennials, 10 percent annuals and bulbs. Kevin concluded with some of his favourite small garden plants. These included several weeping trees and shrubs since their height is determined by the height of the graft, so they will not overgrow the space. On his list of deciduous trees/shrubs were Serviceberry, Pagoda Dogwood, Barberry, Fothergilla, and Dwarf Korean Lilac, while the conifer list included Serbian Spruce, mounding False Cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera filifera), spreading Yew (Taxus x media ‘Densiformis’), spreading junipers, and Degroots Spire Cedar.

Photo Credits; Kevin Brooks

The last meeting in 2017 of the OOSGC will be on Monday, November 13, 2017, at 7 pm at the Old Ottawa South Community Centre (The Firehall) at 260 Sunnyside Avenue. Doug Vye, past president of the Ottawa Orchid Society, will talk about the care of orchids and will offer a demonstration of repotting orchids. His focus will be on orchids which are readily available locally.

Marilyn Whitaker grew up in Old Ottawa South. She now operates Oasescapes.

Photo 1 – Illustration of sense of garden, with either

  1. Photo of seating area in Kevin’s mother’s garden – caption: Seating area close to plants.
  2. Photo of spring flowers and stone wall – caption: Spring flowers viewed from one of several vantage points.

Photo 2 – Illustration of design process using colour and texture

  1. Photo of various flowers – caption: Flowers add various colours, shapes, and textures to garden.

Photo 3 – Illustration of design process using curving lines, colour, shapes and textures

d) Photo of flagstone path and foliage – caption: Curving flagstone pathway with foliage of different colours, shapes and textures.


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