Gardeners often feel constrained by small patios, but you can grow a wide range of plants on the tiniest of terraces. Choose carefully to ensure your plants won’t take over all of your available space and make it appear even smaller. Good choices include crisp topiary, scented bulbs, grasses, slimline architectural bushes, flowering annuals, edibles and herbs. On small patios, opt for just a few sculptural pots, and use the walls and windowsills to increase your container collection.
To create a modern look, clear your space of clutter and focus on elegant forms of both pots and plants. A minimalist approach works well; group similar pots, planted with topiary, bamboos, grasses, lavender or regal lilies, along a boundary. Also use the vertical space to make your patio feel larger, training the eye up to the sky, rather than toward the boundaries. Select well-behaved climbers, such as Trachelospermum and clematis, and plant them in rustic troughs next to a wall or fence.
Avoid hanging baskets and opt instead for eye-catching wall pots and simple window boxes made from modern materials. Grow sun-loving architectural plants, such as cannas, in hot spots, and use ferns, hostas and heucheras to brighten up shady areas.
Edibles for Small Spaces
Long gone are the days when a vegetable plot or kitchen garden were thought to be minimum requirements for growing fruit and vegetables. Today, a vast range of compact crops have been bred specifically for growing in containers, while many other edible plants are suitable for raising in large troughs or half barrels. Plants on patios and terraces have to look good because they’re visible whenever you step out of the door or look from your window. To address this, choose edibles with showy leaves, pretty flowers or jewel-like fruit, such as kale, beets, frilly-leaf lettuces, peppers and strawberries.
Either arrange groups of containers alongside colorful annuals and other ornamentals, or fill large troughs with a selection of different crops. Make the most of vertical spaces, too, and planting hanging baskets with tumbling tomatoes, strawberries and chilis. Small pots of herbs set on a garden table allow diners to pick them fresh when eating al fresco, or plant a fruit tree in a big pot on a patio for sweet treats in the late summer and fall.
If you don’t have space for a well-filled border, or your garden is in need of a colorful lift, opt for a vibrant arrangement of plants grown with ease on your patio. Informal designs suit a collection of pots and plants with ornamental flowers and textural foliage. For a long season of interest grow heathers, evergreen grasses and small shrubs as a backdrop to spring bulbs, summer bedding and leafy autumn feature plants. On a large deck in the suburbs, next to your lawn and shrubs, use a range of colorful pots and flowers. For a patio in a more muted woodland or shady garden, try wooden or terra-cotta pots filled with foliage specimens, and violas, tobacco plants and impatiens in pastel shades. Soften the edges of your pots with trailers that suit the exposure.
There are no hard and fast rules about containers for urban gardens as the choice really depends on the look you’re trying to achieve. You can opt for a sophisticated design by matching your pots with patio furniture, or go for galvanized metal containers to reflect light into a shady courtyard. To enhance a minimalist design, choose plants that have a crisp shape or architectural form, such as compact lavenders, grasses, bamboos and hummock-forming hebes. Or create your own city forest with terrazzo cubes planted with multistemmed birch trees. These will be happy in large containers, as long as the compost is never allowed to dry out. If you want a refuge from the rigors of city life, create a cocoon of foliage by lining your patio or courtyard with a profusion of plants in tall containers. Not only will they keep your patio cool, but the foliage will help to muffle traffic noise, too.