In a relatively small garden, it is possible to plan the planting in order to give all year round interest. Even in a very limited area, you can plant a sufficient variety of flowers and bushes to give delight at every season. The problem becomes rather knowing what to leave out than what to put in.

Cottage Style Planting

You can, of course, cram the backyard absolutely full of summer flowering perennials which will give you a glorious cottage garden style backyard through the long summer months. You could fill the entireSmall Backyard Landscaping space in this way, with stepping stone paths laid through the great flowering masses – it's an attractive idea. The bees will love you for it and you can sit in a corner, lulled by the scent of the flowers and the gentle hum of nectar gathering bees throughout the summer. In the winter, the garden will look rather bare, although if you leave the dead flower stalks instead of cutting them down in the autumn, they will become magnets for frost crystals throughout the cold months. The clumps of perennials themselves, covered with a light fall of snow, give contoured relief to the cottage garden.

A Herb Garden

An alternative with a very small area is to plant the entire garden as a herb garden. This is best done by filling it with river sand and fine gravel, to a depth of 4 inches. Sea sand is too fine for this purpose and too impregnated with salt. Once you have the sand and gravel laid as the medium for planting, you have to decide whether you want a formal scheme, with neat low box hedges dividing little plots of lavender and hyssop and vervain, - even in a knot design – why not? – it is fun to plan and not terrifically difficult to do if you are working on a relatively small palette. The alternative to the formal planting design is to plant a wide variety of herbs, camomile, thyme, marjoram, fennel, rosemary, lavender, feverfew, oregano, bergamot, comfrey(in a damp corner), sweet cicely, winter savory – the list is endless. Then leave them to spread and selfseed at will. The only work you will ever need to do will be to thin the more successful spreaders – feverfew is a terrifically prolific plant!

The All-Seasoned Backyard

Or, with a small selection of plants, you can plan the garden as an all season one. In winter, a bush of evergreen rosemary will contrast well with the delicate twigs of an Japanese maple (the tallest plant, about 4 feet high) and with the fleshy purple leaves of Bergenia and the sharp pointed leaves of iris foetidissima. A viburnum bush in the centre of the backyard is now dormant, but its rounded shape and dark stems give a texture to the design. Two clumps of perennial flowers, now completely dormant, form mounds to give some relief to the design. The ground between can be planted with early spring bulbs, snowdrops and winter aconite, to give a sparkle to the garden in the last months of winter.

By Spring, the Bergenia is covered with red flower clusters, the Viburnum is covered with scented pink blossom, the rosemary has delicate blue flowers amidst its green, the Japanese maple has young, vivid green leaves, and a clump of perennial delphiniums are just beginning to send up fresh green shoots. The second perennial clump, the cultivated yarrow, achillea, is showing the first leaves of its olive-grey ferny foliage.

In summer, the eye-catcher is the clump of delphiniums, with great tall spikes of blue flowers. The garden by now needs a certain relief from the dominant shades of green, the maple, the deeper green rosemary, the bergenia foliage (flowers all over now), and the bright green iris stems. As well as the delphiniums' blue, the eye is caught by the grey foliage of the achillea and, as summer progresses, by its long-lasting burnt siena coloured flat flower heads.

In autumn the little backyard is breathtaking. The Japanese maple now comes into its own with its yellow and red foliage. Its competitor for autumn colour is the bronze viburnum, even more spectacular as the bright red berries form – and the birds will love you. And finally, in autumn the irises, which have formed a spiky green backdrop throughout the other seasons, open their orange heads. All the autumnal colours are comfortable together – there are no jarring notes.

This is a backyard for all seasons!