A Small Property

landscapes for small propertiesA small property is uniquely suited for the creation of  a landscape that can be fully charged with an atmosphere and aura all its own. In a small space, every gesture is deliberate, apparent, and personal. Nothing escapes a keen eye. The scale of a small space is a scale a single person can easily become part of.  The experience of a beautiful small landscape is compelling, as every element is geared towards interaction. A small space can be readily absorbed and savored.  This landscape is about the relationships between shapes, both green and not.  How the color of the roof, the window boxes, the blue stone walkway, and seasonal plantings is a cohesive visual discussion of color. The mix of materials is interesting, no matter the season.  It could be seen in a matter of minutes, but many visitors told me they lingered there an hour or better, enthralled by the experience of it. Four gingkos, under planted with boxwood, frame the view to the window boxes, and gently guide visitors towards the front door, which is hidden from the street.

July 16 2014 (9)Large landscapes and parks can be awe inspiring. Even overwhelming.  Large landscapes can be exhilarating. If poorly done, they can be pushy, boring, or tiring.   Some large landscapes are designed such that only one area is experienced at a time.  This in recognition that overscaled landscapes can be as easily off putting and impersonal as they are grand.  A  beautiful small landscape is an opportunity to intimately become part of, and experience the garden.  Small spaces can be difficult to design edge to edge, and floor to ceiling, but the rewards are great.  In this front yard landscape, the change of levels creates a three dimensional sculptural quality which can be enjoyed in every season. The low wall that traverses the width of the property is a visually friendly way of differentiating public part of the landscape from the  front door.  The unusual placement of this front door on an angle from the street makes the front door garden more private, in a very modest way. The boxwood hedges which terminate in yew spheres is a transition space, an exterior foyer for the front door, if you will. The natural growing multi stemmed dogwood and gingkos contrast with the precisely trimmed arborvitae and boxwood.

July 16 2014 (2)In the summer, a very beautiful low stone wall is obscured by a seasonal in ground planting.  This planting of blue chalky fingers succulents, helichrysum icicles and cirrus dusty miller is my most favorite choice ever. The cool color is crisp, and echoes the color of the stone and the steel of the window boxes.  In the winter, that wall is an architectural feature that is friendly to the style and period of the house. The upper level features a vintage wood bench at one end, and a modern bistro table and stainless steel chairs at the opposite end. I like the nod to the period of the house, and the corresponding nod to my client’s more modern taste. In a small space, there is the opportunity to create an interesting tension which comes from the juxtaposition of one aesthetic, and another.

July 16 2014 (1)The window box is a combination of plants whose forms and color are not the usual.  To my eye, the planting is both sophisticated and unusual.  This has everything to do with the taste of my clients.  I have worked for them for years, and the relationship which has come out of that association shows.

July 16 2014 (26)The blue gray annual border is equally unusual, and striking. It is in concert with the boxwood hedge, and such in contrast to the loose habit of the Annabelle hydrangeas.

July 16 2014 (10)The driveway garden is home to a number of terra pots planted with vegetables and herbs-all appropriately placed close to the kitchen door.  The stepped evergreen screening limits the view of the garage from the street.

July 16 2014 (12)A low granite wall capped in limestone separates the driveway area from the rear yard proper.  A higher wall of the same material and design at the far side is a beautiful feature of this yard.  The planting of columnar red maples in front of this wall is purposeful.  The narrow gray trunks do not obscure the wall from view.  The canopy of the maples adds another, taller layer of screening from the neighboring garage.

July 16 2014 (14)Though the rear yard is a rectangle, the landscape is a celebration of the square established by a square fountain in the center, a square picture frame of lawn, and a square arrangement of Winter Gem boxwood. In order to maintain that square, a double row of boxwood was planted on the north and south side, and a single row of boxwood on the east and west side.  Behind the boxwood to the south, a pair of pear espaliers are under planted with a white variegated hosta.  The pears provide fruit, and screening of the service area between the wall and the garage.  Each boxwood is individually pruned into a spherical shape, courtesy of Melissa and her crew from M and M Flowers. Those round shapes, and the round shapes of the Irish moss compliment and contrast with the dominant square geometry.  The dirt space between the fountain boxwood and the Irish moss is deliberate.  Every element of that fountain centerpiece has room to breathe.

July 16 2014 (16)On the west side, a hedge of arborvitae screen the property behind, the phone pole, and the electric lines.  Limelight hydrangeas are planted as a hedge between the arborvitae and the boxwood.  The limelights are limbed up to just below the height of the boxwood.  The foliage of the Limelights do not interfere with the growth and health of the boxwood.  A hedge of topiary form hydrangeas helps keep both the hydrangeas and the boxwood happy – in a small space.  Underplanting arborvitae is always a good idea.  With age, they thin out at the bottom. An old crabapple visible at the far left of this picture is kept trimmed up to permit a view through from the house.

July 16 2014 (15)A rear terrace with furniture and container plantings, and a screened porch –  both of which has been in place many years –  are places to relax, and be part of the landscape.

July 16 2014 (18)A wild garden on the north side of the back yard is full of hellebores, snakeroot, hosta, solomon’s seal, european ginger and ferns, among other things – this a much more relaxed ode to shade. This garden was on our recent garden tour to benefit the Greening of Detroit.  I was pleased about how many people truly enjoyed it.  The best part of this landscape-all of the care my clients lavish upon it. Every detail is of concern.  Small properties help make a lavish hand possible, and visible.


  1. Juniper Gardener says

    Deb, I love this design (and you blog). Thank you for sharing all of your secrets.

  2. I have now seen this property 2 times and it still remains my favorite!

  3. Michael Haberlein says

    I am sorry I was not able to make this year’s garden tour. My own garden required too much attention! 🙂 I would have to say that of all the designs I have seen of yours, Deborah, this one would rate second, only after the garden at your home. The intimacy, all the green and the grey foliage appeal to me the most. You are an inspiration to the rest of us “common” gardeners! Keep up the great work!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Thank you Michael. I like my small property. I can keep up with it. It feels like an outdoor “home”. Best, Deborah

  4. i am speechless deborah, stunningly beautiful. my favorite is your interesting blue/gray planting in front……such impact!

  5. Beautiful composition with a muted, elegant palette of colors. I have not had the pleasure of seeing this garden in person, but based on the pictures this my ‘favorite’ of all of your designs I have seen! You are absolutely right, smaller gardens are the most difficult to design, but the rewards can be enormous. It took Russell Page 10 (ten!) years to complete the design of the West 70th street garden of the Frick Museum in New York … Thank you for posting these pictures and your commentary, which is very inspirational.

  6. Annette Eberhardt says

    Wow!! I love love love this design! The thought and details to this create year around landscape is dreamy. Hurrah for you, Deborah! This client must be over the moon with the oasis that has been nurtured in their yard. Bravo!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Annette, I can attest to the fact that they take great pleasure in the garden. And they take great care of it too! Thanks, Deborah

  7. That is one gorgeous garden. I would never go inside if that was my house. Just love it!

  8. erin bailey says

    A beautiful design! I love the annuals with it, too. I have a question, ‘tho. Not trying to nitpick your design at all, it is something that I am struggling with in my landscape: the tall evergreen hedges creating the backdrops for the bench and the hydrangea in the front garden— I love it from the inside–I really love privacy, but is it out of scale with the space? And are there any problems with neighbors resenting the height? Wish I could have been on the garden tour and walked within such a lovely space!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Erin, without the height, my clients would be looking at phone poles and electric wires. The neighbor’s garage roof, where the mnaples are, is very close to the lot line, and very high. They like the sense of enclosure and privacy. The neighbors do too, as all the homes are very close together. I have never felt they were too tall when I was in the space, as I focus more on what is in the space, than the backdrop. Everyone has to make decisions that reflect their own taste and sense of proportions. This is someone else’s view, not yours. The pictures just give you a feeling for what a hedge would look like, very tall. Thanks for writing, Deborah

  9. Thank you so much for the inspiration contained here. I have been struggling with what to put in the center of a ring of boxwood in a small space, your limbed up limelights is the perfect solution. I am so glad I found your blog.


  10. The window box and blue gray annual border are stunning. The fountain, boxwood and, Irish moss ..well, let’s just say that I’d happily be a shameless copy-cat ; ) Very enjoyable virtual tour.

  11. Love. It.

    I have a similarly sized yard, and this article affirms the attention I put into the smallest details. Much work remains to make my yard THIS perfect, but I will get there in time. You are incredibly generous with your talents, and I have learned volumes from you. Thanks yet again.

  12. I enjoy the simplicity of grays and whites as the color, then al the green bones / hedges / shrubs. Many people would enjoy this over a naturalistic garden, and with the water feature in the center, my gears are churning on our own materials to accomplish a similar effect… Great example!

    Though that’s would be a fairly large property for much of the SW!

  13. Catherine Patterson says

    I’m so thrilled that I happened on this blog. I was looking for a substitute for Annabelle Hydrangeas and Google led me here. I am so looking forward to reading all of the archives and following this blog. We live in London On so I am excited to find someone knowledgeable who is gardening so close to us

  14. I have the problem of a row of irregular-shaped arborvitaes thinning at the bottom and appreciate the chance to see an example of underplanting with hydrangea. Other recommended plants?

    • Deborah Silver says

      what about boxwood? or any sun loving dwarf shrub-I would google just that : sun loving dwarf shrubs for zone ??? Best, Deborah

      • Thanks for responding! I’m in Ann Arbor. I’ll google “partial shade” because they are under tall black locusts and just get some morning sun.. Arborvitae are pretty raggedy–each has a unique shape. I like boxwood but fear it will get winter damage and may be too formal for this single row of arborvitae planted carelessly on a long mound between two houses.

        I love your website/blog and can’t wait until I can stop by your shop in Detroit

        • Deborah Silver says

          Nancy, it sounds to me like you already know what the important factors are to consider in your choice. Thanks, Deborah

  15. Kimberly says

    I am so glad that I’ve found your blog. Your designs are inspired! That water feature may be my favorite ever and I much prefer a tonal garden design. I look forward to your emails.

  16. How far apart would you say those gingkos are planted. I’m wanting to plant 3 in front of my house along the street sidewalk. I have 15 ft spacing between each tree. Could these gingkos work? Thanks for your help.

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