The busy, urban areas of our city may be short on space to support lavish gardens, but there’s no shortage of creativity when squeezing in some greenery. If you need inspiration for a small garden, a patio or an odd strip of land—and lack the square footage—here are a few examples.
Take the Highs With the Lows
Salvias, Pentas, Milkweeds & More
Raised planters at Atwood and Ohio avenues show creative use of space between the sidewalk and the parking lot and provide an oasis of color and botanical structure. Tall plants of salvias, gauras, milkweeds and alliums are surrounded by shorter yarrow, pentas and coreopsis plants. This variety ensures visual interest throughout the growing season. All are pollinator-friendly plants, inviting hummingbirds, butterflies and other winged visitors.
Stay Calm and Keep it Simple
Alliums & Petunias
Sometimes simplicity is ideal in a small urban space. Alliums (ornamental onions) and petunias, in roughly the same color palette, are at attention along a long pedestrian strip at Hilldale Shopping Center in front of The Home Market. The dramatic height and shape of the alliums are attention-grabbing, and they also soften the view along the sidewalk. The uniform cool lavender tones have a calming effect. Easy-care alliums thrive in sunlight, during both droughts and rainy times, and add interest from bloom time through autumn as the seed heads dry.
Soften the Scene
Mixed Perennials & Shrubs
At the entrance of the Henry Gilman Apartments (on the corner of North Henry and West Gilman streets), a small plot blooms in color from April to October. Starting with taller shrubs near the wall, the garden incorporates perennials with bloom times staggered over the growing season. Lilies, coneflowers and chrysanthemums add pop to the garden at certain times of the year. It’s a pleasant way to soften a blank façade, adding green and growing things to what otherwise could be perceived as a sterile concrete entryway. By using perennials and shrubs, the planners ensure repeat blooms from year to year. Adding a few annuals here and there adds variety and flair.
Mix and Match
Hostas & Hot Peppers
We’ve noticed this little gem of a garden at the corner of Monroe and Grant streets for several years. The creative curb-strip garden makes excellent use of the area between the street and the sidewalk, and it’s a horticultural wonderland. From a distance, it’s a creative incorporation of the corner stoplight, the utility poles and a fire hydrant. Up close, you see the complexity of plants large and small, creating a dramatic effect. Hostas share space with coral bells, hibiscus, peonies and more. Even bright ornamental hot peppers and tiny succulent plants are tucked here and there.
Mixed Heights & Growth Patterns
Also in the downtown area (on State Street in the gathering area near the Wisconsin Veteran’s Museum) planters are filled with tall plants and surrounded by colorful annuals to make a bold statement. The height and color of the tall plants at the center set off the bright colors and varied textures of the foliage and blooms along the edges. Sweet potato vines spill out over the edges, and the blooming plants complement the color theme of the taller plants. These creatively designed raised beds also incorporate plants that
fill in and carry the textural design through autumn.
Add Some Interest
Herbs & Décor
Sometimes whimsy rules. An herb garden at the front of Daisy Café & Cupcakery near Atwood Avenue and Elmside Boulevard incorporates creative metal sculptures and decorative tiles. Visitors are compelled to slow down and get a closer look. The tiles, each with a unique design, are laid alongside a variety of herbs—from chives to basil to sage. Railroad ties mark the borders of the mini-gardens, and the sculptural pieces make creative use of the space between plants, tiles and the surrounding area.
Big Bin Sale!
Don’t miss this year’s Madison Compost Bin and Rain Barrel Sale, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, May 13, held in Alliant Energy Center’s Olin Avenue parking lot. The city event offers compost bins and modular-design rain barrels, which can be assembled in different shapes to fit into a garden space like a puzzle piece. Save $10 by preordering a bin or barrel before May 1 online at cityofmadison.com/streets/compost/compostbinsale.cfm.
Beth Stetenfeld is a McFarland-based editor, writer, garden blogger and master naturalist volunteer.