Small lots, big houses—whatever the reason, outdoor space is often at a premium in the typical urban plot. Our appetite for smaller garden plants is not slowing down, but lucky for us, our friends in the nursery trade have responded by introducing a bevy of compact and slow-growing plants.
Here, we've singled out selections that include dwarf varieties of familiar and favorite standbys, those valued for their small footprint and slim profile, or, as in the case of the dwarf conifers, for their slow growth and ability to live comfortably in a constrained spot, or even a container, for a long while.
Make sure you scroll through to the end, where you'll find a selection of planting combinations that are perfectly suited for a pocket-sized garden. All of the plants included in the featured combos are dwarf selections, naturally compact, and/or slow growing.
Smaller Versions of the Standard Fare
A continuing trend in plant breeding is a focus on developing compact varieties of well-known and commonly-grown shrubs that will be suitable for smaller gardens. New introductions of hydrangeas, weigela, barberry, and blueberries, to name a few, are coming on the market all the time. See below for some varieties that promise to be much smaller than their full-size cousins.
Straight and Narrow
Sometimes compact is code for narrow. And that's a good thing. Smaller gardens often have more room to go UP versus OUT. Plus, screening and creating boundary is a common desire, as more and more tall houses built on small lots are situated closer and closer together. With their small footprint, strongly upright plants efficiently reduce the looming stature of surrounding architecture, introducing a more human scale, connecting sky to terra firma.
Slow-Growing Dwarf Conifers
Dwarf conifers deserve their own section because they're so incredibly useful for small gardens. In the ground or in a container, they add wonderful foliage color and texture, as well as providing all-season structure. In conifers, dwarf typically just means slow, so the trick is to look for clues about the rate of growth. The video above shows you how.
Plant Combos for Tight Spots
Pulling it all together, the planting combinations below rely exclusively on slow growing, compact plants so these vignettes are perfectly suited for tucking into a small spot in your garden or courtyard.
Focus: Contrasting Foliage and Texture, Foliage First, Low Maintenance, Mixed Border, Textural Contrast, Efficient Use of Space
Exposure: Bright Shade, Filtered Sun, Full Sun, Morning Sun, Part Shade
Zone: 7, 8
Focus: All Season Appeal, Color Theme, Contrasting Foliage and Texture, Foliage First, Four Season Garden, Front Yard Garden, Low Maintenance, Mixed Border, Small Space, Winter Interest, Textural Contrast, Curb Appeal, Efficient Use of Space
Exposure: Bright Shade, Filtered Sun, Morning Sun, Part Shade, Part Sun
Zone: 7, 8, 9
Focus: Contrasting Foliage and Texture, Foliage First, Four Season Garden, Front Yard Garden, Low Maintenance, Mixed Border, Seasonal Flow, Small Space, Winter Interest
Exposure: Bright Shade, Filtered Sun, Morning Sun, Open Shade, Part Shade, Part Sun, Shade
Zone: 7, 8
Focus: Contrasting Foliage and Texture, Foliage First, Four Season Garden, Front Yard Garden, Low Maintenance, Mixed Border, Small Space, Winter Interest
Exposure: Bright Shade, Filtered Sun, Morning Sun, Open Shade, Part Shade, Part Sun