OOTS: Big ideas for small gardens

British garden blogger VP of Veg Plotting invites other GBs to get OOTS: Out on the streets to report on gardens close to home. Her inspiration, I think, is to look for ideas in public gardens. However, there are great ideas to be stolen, I mean had, from commercial gardens, too.

At top and left is the home office garden of Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, a dramatic and, of course, tasteful mass display of Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’.

Look at all that space, you say? Who has that? Do mass plantings have a place in the home garden? I think so. Really, they’ve been on your block for years. Think of lawns. Or hedges.

Just look at the closeup: A swath of yellow set off by grasses.

Now see how a similar idea has been translated in a tiny garden below (a nominee in the East York Blooming Contest, for which I was recently on the team of volunteer judges).

This time, the swath of yellow is not Rudbeckia but Sedum acre; in fact, it’s one of the best uses of that sneaky little groundcover I’ve ever seen.

Anyone familiar with S. acre might be surprised that its name does not come from its ability to cover an acre of land like that (snaps fingers); it comes from the plant’s bitter or acrid taste.

This garden is a simple, yet equally dramatic illustration of the de-massification of mass. And if it works in this small front garden, it can work in yours. I particularly like the use of two grasses.

[Ed: I might have added more of the blue fescue (Festuca glauca) to break up the yellow. What do you think?]

While we’re on that subject, how’s this for mass grass?

Of course, the problem with putting all of your plants in one basket, so to speak, is the limited palette. The strategy is to choose a plant (or plants) that provide multi-season interest.

Like this.


And this.


Or, in winter, like this.

Don’t restrict yourself to grasses. When I was still single (ooooh, a very long time ago), I used to live near garden in Yorkville. It was then, and still is, mass planted with horsetails (Equisetum arvense). It works when you can keep your horses firmly corralled with paving or other hardscaping.

I did, and still do, think it was a pretty neat idea. It’s an idea I recently saw used in the new Floral Hall Courtyard at the Toronto Botanical Garden – taking the inspiration full circle.

So remember: small garden? Think big.


  1. Hi Helen,

    OOTS is about any public space that's not a park, so your examples are perfect for OOTS!

    What inspirational ideas you've found for us this month. I'm not a lover of grasses, but your seasonal viewings are most persuasive.

    Thanks for a great post and for taking part 🙂

  2. Oh, what a gorgeous post. I've wanted to find time to perambulate … looking for OOTS, but until I do,
    I'll relish your photos, and especially your thoughts about planting big in a small space – a design issue I know quite well, thank you very much :~D

  3. Wow, Helen, there are so many ideas here! We have that sedum and it wants to conquer the world! We let it bloom then pull lots, it is welcome and containable, but that planting with the two grasses is brilliantly done. 🙂

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