Garden Books

How to Grow Smaller Plants for Smarter Gardens

Garden book

The fall equinox will not instantly introduce sweater-wearing coolness, but this gradual weather change offers a new beginning for avid gardeners.

Some will use the two months available before the first predicted frost to produce a fall vegetable garden. Before early November, carrots, beets, turnips, kale, lettuce, spinach, garlic, and onions can replace the struggling tomatoes and peppers in your garden rows.

Fall is also the best time to add new bushes, perennials, and trees to a yard. October planting allows the roots to establish during the damp, cooler months ahead. Another plus is that good plants at lower prices are available at nursery sales during this prelude to winter.

Compact Plants Overview

This year I plan to hit the sales searching for plants like those recommended in Gardener’s Guide to Compact Plants (Cool Springs Press, 2019) by Jessica Walliser. Compact plants are usually smaller in height or in width or in both, but their blooms remain the same size as their larger relatives.

To help those searching for a smaller type plant not mentioned in her book, Walliser explains how to recognize compact plants from the language on plant tags. Descriptive phrases like “container friendly,” “low growing,” or “small-statured,” and botanical names containing terms like “nana,” “minor,” “minima” or “alpinus” are clues to a reduced-size plant.

After presenting brief instructions for basic plant care, Walliser offers advice on how to best use small plants in gardens. Ten design plans are shown for common areas, such as entrances, patios, kitchen and herb gardens. Compact versions of familiar plants fill each space.

Next, plants are suggested to solve eight problematic areas including planting on slopes, in too much shade, or to hide an unsightly view. An accompanying photograph of each suggested plant provides an image of how the improved garden would appear.

Plant Ideas for Small Gardens

The most interesting portions of the book to me were those that introduced specific plants. Forty thin trees, diminutive bushes, and short perennials are introduced in the “Plants for the yard and landscape” section. Each plant’s description includes a photograph and the requirements for its care.

The last chapter will satisfy vegetable gardeners searching for more petite “fruit and vegetable” plants. Fifty smaller versions of fruit trees, berry bushes, fruit vines, herbs, and vegetables are revealed alongside a photograph of each. The plants and seeds for these varieties can be ordered from companies recommended in the book’s Source List.

If your older large plants are smothering parts of your garden despite a heavy pruning each spring, consider moving on to using compact plants. Smaller bush roses, less enormous hydrangeas, and a bed now filled with diminutive azaleas have already made my garden more open, sunnier, and easier to manage. The resulting increased light on the patch in which I annually plant vegetables might actually produce future edible results. Join me this fall in giving compact plants a place in your garden.

Christine Thomson is a Raleigh gardener obsessed with plants. She is a volunteer at the JC Raulston Arboretum and fills her spare time reading books, especially volumes about vegetation.

Copy link