Small Garden Design Tips from Landscape Designer Shirly Bovshow

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Garden designer Shirley Bovshow created a timeless appeal in this narrow passageway with vintage, rusted metal and recycled concrete stepping stones.
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Reclaimed concrete surrounded by ‘Elfin’ thyme makes for an eco-friendly, fragrant walkway.
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Shirley Bovshow is a co-host of the Discovery Home Channel's makeover show "Garden Police."

As co-host of the Discovery Home Channel’s makeover show Garden Police, Shirley Bovshow sees a lot of lackluster yards. But when she first laid eyes on this formerly barren 10-foot-wide side yard in Los Angeles, she knew she was in for a challenge. A discarded dishwasher took center stage amid several trash cans and storage boxes. Eager to bring functionality and beauty to the wasted space, the new homeowner enlisted Bovshow’s help to revamp it with sustainability and space saving in mind, transforming the underused stretch of land into a charming passageway.

What inspired the small garden design for this space?

This narrow side yard is part of a landscape project that includes the front and back yards, and its function as a thoroughfare between the two shaped my vision. The design was inspired by my client’s love of natural style, the decomposed granite hiking trails of the Santa Monica Mountains and a timeless, old-world look. I also wanted to deliver a multisensory garden with year-round color, sound, fragrance and movement, along with edible plants.

What are the stepping stones made of?

They are repurposed pieces of an old patio “curated” from a Dumpster. We mortared smaller pieces together when we ran out of large ones and ordered the rest from a landscape yard at a very affordable price. We planted creeping ‘Elfin’ thyme between each stone, which forms a fragrant carpet on the pathway.

What are some of the site’s other sustainable features?

The arbor is made from reclaimed materials, metal rebar. Most rebar contains a high percentage of recycled content, and rebar is completely recyclable. We used energy-efficient LED lighting throughout the garden including a handsome hanging pendant on the arbor.

We also chose water-wise plants instead of a lawn and installed efficient drip irrigation. Mediterranean plants comprise the backbone of the garden. They require little water and lots of sun. Rosemary, lavender, ornamental grasses, succulents, tree roses and potted dwarf citrus trees provide color, fragrance and beauty year-round. 

Why should homeowners consider forgoing a lawn?

There are many reasons to forgo a lawn; some are environmentally driven while others are a matter of financial and time constraints. Lawns need a lot of water to thrive and must be mowed and fertilized regularly. Most lush lawns look that way because of regular application of chemical fertilizers and pesticides that can degrade soil quality and leach into the water system. If you love the look of a lawn, consider planting low-growing ornamental grasses to simulate a meadow. You can find ornamental grasses that thrive in your area at your local garden center. (Read more about options to replace the lawn in “Low-Maintenance Landscaping: Replace Your Lawn with Grass Alternatives.”)

What are some of your favorite tips for working with small yards?

Every square foot of real estate is valuable–even in a down economy. Incorporate landscaping elements that do “double duty.”

A raised garden planter can house an edible garden and serve as built-in seating if you finish it at 18 inches high and top walls with a 12-inch-wide seat made of 2-by-6 or 2-by-8-inch boards. Trellises don’t take up much floor space and provide privacy and dramatic vertical interest when trailed with sweet peas, morning glories or even cherry tomatoes. Use them to create distinct areas within your yard and obscure less-than-desirable views.

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