Does gardening sometimes seem monumental? Where should a gardener start and what should be planted? Even if your landscape is spacious, a small garden is a great place to start.

Small gardens are more manageable and make gardening more approachable. There is always a place to tuck in a little garden, whether it be around the mailbox, flanking the end of the driveway, or just near the base of a favorite tree.

If there was ever a better reason start a garden (or add another one!) — did you know? This week is National Pollinator Week! No matter the size of your garden, be sure to include some plants that help keep our pollinator friends healthy and happy.

Sedum at Tonkadale Greenhouse

Salt tolerant: Sedum

Mailbox/salt tolerant

These plants can handle road salt run-off and they don’t require a lot of water.

  • Karl Foerster grass
  • Sedum (upright or groundcover)
  • Rudbeckia
  • Heuchera
  • Daylily
  • Veronica
  • Nepeta
  • Allium


3-6 hours of sunlight is all these plants need to thrive. In fact, Annabelle can go down to 2 hours of sunlight and still bloom.

  • Annabelle hydrangea
  • Sum and Substance
  • Chelone
  • Brunnera
  • Astilbe
  • Bleeding Heart
  • Lamium
Pulmonaria at Tonkadale Greenhouse


Deep shade

No sun needs to touch these plants for them to grow. Layering different textures and foliage colors is key to an interesting shade garden.

  • Hosta
  • Solomon’s Seal
  • Ligularia
  • Astilbe
  • Fern
  • Pulmonaria

Deer resistant

Deer will eat anything, but these are not their favorite foods.

  • Penstemon
  • Baptisia
  • Northwind Switch grass
  • Allium
  • Coneflower
  • Salvia
  • Vinca/periwinkle
Pretty Belinda yarow at Tonkadale Greenhouse

Pretty Belinda yarow

For the flyers

Plant in larger chunks to draw in the pollinators.

  • Milkweed
  • Liatris
  • Phlox/Bee Balm
  • Coneflowers
  • Black-Eyed Susan
  • Geranium
  • Salvia
  • Creeping thyme
  • Yarrow

Including climbers

Add an arbor or trellis to include climbers. Some climbers stay short enough that just a small obelisk will be enough for support. Just be sure to secure the piece to the ground well enough that it cannot blow over in a storm and pull out the plant’s roots. Clematis can also climb through a shrub!

Designing with grasses

Add grasses to break up a color explosion, provide movement and introduce a new texture to the garden.

Including shrubs

In a small garden, go for dwarf shrubs. Weigela, spirea, dogwood, hydrangea and pine (to name a few) all offer varieties that stay little and fit well in a small garden space.

General garden and design tips

  • Prepare the bed in advance. Remove turf and weeds, amend with compost.
  • Group plants for greater impact.
  • Repeat the same plant or the same color across the garden to create unity and to draw the eye across.
  • Plant in multiples of three. This is a general design concept and is more pleasing to the eye.
  • A simple gardening with multiple plants of just three different varieties can be stunning and impactful.
  • Lay plants out before beginning to dig. Rearrange until you like what you see.
  • Give plants enough room to grow. Though it’s nice to see a full garden, plants need space for health, and the garden will perform better in the long run if each plant has the space it needs to spread out. Tuck in annuals the first couple years while plant are growing up.
  • Consider height, growth habit and bloom time.
  • If including natives is desired, but there is concern over a weedy look, just tuck in one or two. Let other plants provide structure and keep the garden looking neat while the natives add a bit of a wild touch.
  • Be sure to water in well and take care special care of them through the first growing season.

There are plants for every situation and every type of gardener. Whatever your gardening project or plan, have fun and don’t be afraid to start small!