We’re beyond Memorial Day and the great outdoors is calling. With the need for social distancing still uppermost in mind, we are needing to be mindful of staying safe while simultaneously getting the sun’s vitamin D and exercise. COVID-19 hangs around like cancer looming at sunrise. But a simple garden can not only lift spirits, it can also raise the value of your property.

Simplicity in a small space may be the secret to summer sanity at this time. Instead of planting the largest square footage, this may be the best time to minimize the expanse and maximize the effect of serenity and peace..

Concepts from Japanese gardens or fairy gardens might be just the thing.

In fairy gardens, it’s almost like a landscape you’d expect to see alongside a dollhouse. Everything needs to be “to-scale” which is usually one to 12. That means for every foot of real space, you use something that’s one inch. So instead of having a dahlia in the garden, use a four-leaf clover or baby’s breath. Nurseries carry “tread-able” plants, which means tiny herbs and hardy low-growing plants that fit the scale of a fairy garden.

Some of the dearest parts of the fairy garden are the extra elements used to turn a tiny space into a beautiful garden any person would want to walk through. There are gnomes, dolls, benches and mirrored pools that create the tiny nooks we love in a real, human-scaled space. That’s the perfect excuse to peruse the thrift stores, where bits and pieces of old jewelry, household items and even broken kitchen tools can be used for garden decorations. You’re limited only by imagination.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live

The human-sized Japanese garden can be designed in very small spaces. Some tiny, “courtyard” gardens are about 20 square feet. Inside that small area, a tree or tall-growing plant can suffice as a “tree,” a rock or three, something holding water and a few low-growing plants make a fine little design. A rocky path (or the equivalent) functions to take the eye beyond a limited physical space.

To enhance an Asian feel, a bamboo or reed mat or fence panel can give you the “feel” of that photo you find online or in books. Remember anything in an Asian garden is asymmetrical in balance. That means for the area with the tall element, plan for one to 2 times that height in its length to distribute the low elements. Look at Japanese garden designs online to get an idea of the asymmetry needed for laying out your small space.

Natural rocks (not necessarily the smooth, glacial rocks in the field) function more “realistically” in designs, but if you cannot find one, try to locate a lava rock or large feather-rock (a type of pumice stone) from a nursery or building supply store. Mosses growing on them help create the serenity of that “cool, green space.” A good replacement is an old, dead tree trunk with lichen or mosses growing over it. That, placed near a bowl of water and a fern will bring a different feeling to that otherwise clean, open garden. Just be sure you have a few pebbles in the water bowl to give birds a place to stand when drinking or bathing. Planting a “mosquito” plant (like a lemon-leaf geranium) will help keep mosquitoes at bay.

Trying your hand at a living piece of art will keep your mind busy and ease tensions of the changes everyone is experiencing during these stressful times. A peaceful place to sit alone will benefit the mind. Working in any garden helps exercise and tone the body. The little garden you build for yourself can be a personal statement that gives you a new serenity.

If anyone has an item for this column, please contact Sharon Cox, PO Box 1559, Jamestown, ND 58402-1559.