Patio Gardening


What can be better for a garden than creating an inviting place where indoor and outdoor worlds blend seamlessly? A patio garden does this, providing a space just outside the house to step out for fresh air, hear birds, see beautiful plants, and smell their blossoms. It also sets the scene for a peaceful breakfast, cheerful barbeque, romantic dinner, or a lively party.

This defined space uses boundaries that may come from the outline of its floor or an enclosure created by plants, fence, or walls. If, how, and where you place the vertical enclosure may help frame a nice view or hide a less appealing one.

A patio floor is made from some sort of non-living material, often flagstone, concrete pavers, brick, or pea gravel. In traditional or historic patios or courtyards, the floor was often simply compacted, swept soil. Unlike a deck, a patio is level with the ground and therefore much more connected to any garden space or planting. Plants grow out of the soil immediately adjacent to its footprint, climb up the fence or walls, and may be allowed to loll and spill out over onto the hard materials of the floor, blurring its edges. Smaller spreading plants often meander into and between the floor’s stone, brick or gravel. Tiny groundcovers such as thyme, Turkish veronica, and pussytoes work well between stones and brick, generally relishing the protection and moisture retention that the floor surface provides their roots. Some are more tolerant of foot traffic than others, so place accordingly.

A patio’s enclosure not only enhances privacy and intimacy but also creates microclimates. A wall facing the sun warms its surroundings, one turned away may cast cooling shade. A cluster of larger shrubs helps break the wind. Often a small tree is planted, or a ramada, trellis, arbor, or pergola is built for shade and to add to that cozy, enclosed feeling, like a surrogate roof of an outdoor room. These modifications may offer more diverse conditions to suit a wider variety of plants than out in the open garden.  And the proximity of a water source makes it simple to build and maintain a small water feature for beauty, wildlife, and refreshing sound. And while xeric plants are a good choice almost anywhere except spots with bad drainage, a patio garden allows the option to grow plants that require more moisture than one might want to deal with on a large scale or farther from the house, since it is a small space and close to a water source. The world over, such spaces have served as oases for plants and for people.

A patio garden also invites lingering and encourages sensual appreciation of plants—their colors, textures, feel to the touch, and fragrance. The opportunity to quietly observe visiting creatures close at hand is an added bonus. Small plants with intriguing qualities shine in patio gardens, where their jewel-like demeanor can be enjoyed rather than be lost among the larger scale and more boisterous denizens of the open garden. Containers, whether grouped or as single accents, give options for artistic expression as pot and plant combine in unique ways and play off their surroundings. If there are walls, fences, or the posts of a shade structure, these offer new opportunities for growing climbing plants.  Walls also showcase narrowly columnar growers, known as fastigiate plants, acting as a backdrop to their striking forms. Espaliering or pruning can enhance the beautiful framework or bark of certain shrubs and small trees, and in the case of dwarf fruit trees, helps produce better quality fruit.

Since planting space is at a premium in a patio garden and usually limited to the edges of the walking and seating area, plants and combinations need to give a long season of interest. Ideal choices include some plants with evergreen leaves, and varying forms and textures—mats, mounds, spikes, and sprays. Foliage color and texture is as important as flowers. Long-blooming plants are an added asset. A lovingly planted and well-tended patio garden can be the focal point and favorite spot of both house and garden when the weather is pleasant and the plants are at their best.

Here are some suggested Plant Select® plants for patio gardens:

Thanks to Lauren Springer Ogden for providing this information.

Garden treasures
for small spaces

Plant Select® Petites  debuts well-adapted, smaller plants that have not yet been readily available to gardeners. Enjoy these treasures in garden situations where small gem-like but tough plants are best suited: troughs, permanent containers, rock gardens, patio gardens, fairy gardens, green roofs, and smaller gardens.

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