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Gardening: Clash conscious

A-Z OF REALLY SMALL GARDENS: Use colour and layers for more impact. This week's extract from Jill Billington's `Really Small Gardens' shows you how


Colour is exciting, refreshing and emotive; it affects mood, and can effectively warm a place up or cool it down. The light in the garden will influence your selection of colours to a degree. Notice how pale colours are luminous in shadow but bleach out in brilliant sunlight.

If you are passionate about strong colours, you need not rule out the hot reds, oranges and yellows in a small space but it is a good idea to make one colour dominant, rather than letting them all fight it out. If scarlet is the strongest colour, choose ochre-yellow or pale cream with it rather than the pure primary "golden" yellow. In a red and blue scheme, if crimson-red is the leader, then any blues should be either deepened and purplish or paler and subservient. Strong yellows can be stunning with pale blues or intensified by association with deep purples. In the picture, the colour of the cobalt blue aconites is intensified at dusk, making the evening primrose (Oenothera fruticosa `Fyrver-keri') an almost electric yellow.

Cooler pastels are wonderfully responsive to low light, gleaming in the evening when working owners are most likely to enjoy them. White is the coolest colour of all, which can be set with silver foliage, which has a restful feel.

Green, which most refreshes the spirit, is the mainstay of compact gardens, where its tranquil qualities are best appreciated. In small, shady places, fresh green ferns grown with green-flowered hellebores and epimediums will provide a refreshing scene in spring and early summer.


If the space is shallow, it is logical to plant in tiers, so that taller ones at the back of the border do not conceal smaller ones in front. Layering can be a useful design principle in an intimate space, with trees or large shrubs as the top storey, medium-sized shrubs and herbaceous perennials as the middle one and creeping or ground cover plants as the carpeting layer. Wall shrubs create the backcloth which, if plain, will be a foil for the action or, if textured and colourful, become part of the drama.

If the boundary faces full sun, espaliered or radially fanned fruit trees would make an elegant backdrop, or you can seek out manageable climbers. The mid- dle tier can be created with tall artemisias, irises and leucanthemum, enlivened with spikes of veronicastrum and, at their foot, small Heuchera `Red Spangles' or H `Snow Storm' with alpine geraniums such as G cinereum var. subcaulescens. Low planting can include the versatile Alchemilla mollis and the mounding mass made by Anthemis punctata subsp. cupaniana. Truly ground-hugging plants include many small-leaved cotoneasters, like C dammeri, and some almost-flat conifers like Juniperus communis `Repanda'.

Bulbs are invaluable, providing interest at several heights. Medium-height tulips are rhythmical in formal situations and there are some striking forms, such as the dark maroon `Queen of Night'. And alliums have great class without taking up much space.


A-Z of Really Small Gardens is taken from Jill Billington's RHS Really Small Gardens, published by Quadrille, available from bookshops. To order your copy for the special price of pounds 20 (a saving of pounds 5), including p&p in the U, call the credit card hotline on 01256 302 699 quoting ref GLR 991