PICS: How to make the most of a small garden

I love Durban but have never loved February because of the high humidity that always catches us off guard.

What I do love about Durban in February is the selection of flowering trees that always turn the green landscape into a mix of pinks, purples, reds and yellows. Tibouchina granulosa (Purple Glory Tree) from Brazil, Spathodea campanulata (African Tulip Tree) and the yellow flowering Cassia are the dominant trees that flower in late summer.

It has been particularly warm this month with intermittent rain, but with rain comes humidity. Many of the soft, textured plants, such as the Plectranthus, suffer with this heat and need to be watered, so keep an eye on those plants.

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INTEREST SPOTS: The use of pots in a small garden is very popular and different sized pots create interest and hide areas where plants can’t grow.LIMITED SPACE: Many people live in town houses with small gardens so you need to be innovative with design and selection of plants to make the most of the space you  have.TRANQUIL TRICKLE: The soft trickling of water of a water feature has a soothing effect which creates a tranquil, cool feel in a garden.

Durban is renowned for large tropical gardens, but there are also many people who live in town houses with very small gardens. This is when you need to be innovative with design and selection of plants. Here are a few ideas for a small garden.

Flower Beds

These can either be raised beds, creating height, or beds that are flush with the ground. Creating raised beds at different heights gives you a sense of space. The selection of bricks for building is also important because this gives texture to the garden.

Vertical Garden

This is a recent craze made popular by French designer Patrick Blanc. These gardens are expensive to install and need constant maintenance.

If you do install one, use someone who has experience in installing them and ensure they use the right plants.

This type of garden needs constant watering which is not a good idea for a country experiencing a drought.

I have seen spectacular vertical gardens using Virginia creeper and Ficus pumila or Ticky Creeper which covers walls very quickly, and they do not require much attention other than clipping a few times a year.

Water features

You can go overboard when it comes to water features. The soft trickling of water has a delightfully soothing effect which creates a tranquil, cool feel in the garden.

You can go from basic pots, where water flows up and out of the top into a water basin below and then circulates back to the top using a submersible pump, or a water feature that includes a rockery, with water flowing in a number of directions through the garden. It comes down to what space is available and your budget.

Water features are notorious for leaking, so make sure you build it properly from day one or you are always going to have problems. The correct selection of plants for the water feature is also important because you don’t want the plants to get too big and hide the water feature.


The use of pots in a small garden is very popular and there are so many different pot types to choose from. Different sized pots give the garden some interest and hide ugly areas where plants can’t grow. Many classic gardens use terracotta pots but these pots are not favoured by everyone. Do not use too many different types of pot because it then becomes untidy.


This adds a lovely dimension to a garden because it creates an area to sit in and use for meals and evening drinks. It is important to build one with a material that is long-lasting and allows a creeper to grow on it. Choosing a creeper will depend on where you live in South Africa. Grapes are always popular, but are susceptible to scale insects which secrete a sticky sweet substance that makes all the furniture sticky. Probably the most popular creeper is a Wisteria with its beautiful purple flowers in spring. They need to be pruned twice a year to keep them in shape and to flower.

Garden furniture

It is very important to get furniture that is comfortable but can also take rain and sunshine. Include an attractive all-weather umbrella to keep out direct sun . During summer, this is imperative.

Selection of plants for a small garden

Once you have the infrastructure of the garden completed you have to select the right plants for the right areas.

In a small area, you have to watch the size of trees and their root system. Do you select an evergreen or a deciduous tree? Does it get very cold in winter? If yes, then try to find a tree that loses its leaves in winter thus allowing direct sunlight to shine in and warm the garden.


Heteropyxis natalensis (Lavender Tree). This tree is evergreen and has very fragrant leaves. It also has a very attractive bark which improves as the tree matures.

Croton gratissimus (Lavender Croton). 3-5m in height and with a spread of 4-6m. It has leaves that are silvery white below with scattered rusty spots.

Craibia zimmermannii 3-6m under ideal conditions. Flower white and extremely fragrant.

Diospyros whyteana (bladder nut). Densely evergreen with exquisite leaves that are small and brilliantly glossy with a heart shaped base. 2-3m under ideal conditions. Foliage and beauty maintained throughout the year.

Tabernaemontana ventricosa (Toad Tree). Evergreen tree that grows to 6m in height. Produces flowers within 2-3 years that are white and very fragrant.

Gardenia thunbergia (Forest Gardenia). Small, compact tree with fragrant white flowers in spring. Interesting seed pod that stays on the tree for 2-4 years. Grows in shade.


Dracaena aletriformis (Large-leaved Dragon Tree), Psychotria capensis (cream Psychotria), Plectranthus zuluensis, Mackaya bella (River Bells), Ochna natalitia (Coast Boxwood), Pavetta lanceolata (Forest Brides Bush), Carissa bispinosa (Num-Num), Peddiea Africana (Green Flower Free), Turraea obtusifolia (Small Honeysuckle Tree), Calpurnea aurea, Bauhinia natalensis, Coddia rudis, Croton pseudopulchellus, Erythrina humeana (Dwarf Coral tree), Hibiscus pedunculatus, Leonotis leonoris (Wild Dagga), Rothmannia fischeri, Strelitzia reginae (Bird of Paradise), crassula ovate, Justicea capensis, Plectranthus ecklonii.

Groundcovers: Dietes grandiflora (Wild Iris), Chlorophytum bowkeri (Hen and Chicken), Chlorophytum krookianum, Agapanthus praecox, Anthericum saundersiae, Ornithogalum saundersiae, Bulbine natalensis, Crassula multicarva, Juncus effesus, Chondropetalum tectorum, Clivia miniata, Crocosmia aurea, Plectranthus ciliatus, Oplismensus hirtellus (Forest Grass), Asystasia gangetica (Creeping Foxglove), Crinum macowanii (Marsh Lily), Tulbaghia violaceae (Sweet Garlic).

* This article is sponsored by Christopher Dalzell from Chris Dalzell Landscapes. You may e-mail me at: [email protected]

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