Healthy feelings spring to life in hidden gardens

May 16, 2009|By CHRISTINE BRUN / Creators Syndicate

Memorial Day, the traditional start of summer, is just over a week away. Suddenly, it is time to consider how to get our outdoor spaces in shape.

Of course, many people today are short on cash and stressed out about finances in general. Therefore, a major outdoor makeover is probably out of the question.

However, gardening for a few hours on the weekends can be an inexpensive yet wonderful way to escape and soothe your weary spirit. You might begin with a simple cleanup in your favorite small space. It is not necessary to tackle the entire yard. Sometimes, success is more within reach if you chop up a big job into smaller chunks.

Many of us have side yards that are ideal for ferns, exotic ginger plants, and hanging baskets filled with flowering plants. Add a small table and a couple of lawn chairs and you will have a cozy hideaway for morning coffee.


The example in the photo depicts an enclosed garden space between two buildings, a secret garden that one might discover at a Parisian boutique hotel or in any of a thousand urban spaces worldwide. If you have a similar confined space consider yourself fortunate. Hidden gardens can be absolutely delicious!

A spiral staircase can open up your garden to another level or provide access to a rooftop view. Spiral staircase kits are available online and can be assembled by any local welder. They are affordable and compact.

Container gardens are one successful way to bring natural color to smaller patios or balcony spaces. Make sure to start with a good potting-soil mix and nurture your new plants until they are established. Avoid an assortment of multicolored pots if you can, because clashing colors often distract from the overall affect. You might try all terra cotta or all gray ceramic pots.

"April showers bring May flowers," the saying goes. The ideal time to conduct the season's first weeding is after it rains and the soil is moist and soft and easily gives up the weeds.

It is also when perennials begin to bloom again. There are graceful red fuchsias, brilliant purple lobelia and lacey white asylum making colorful comebacks. If you have invested in perennials, the containers will be dormant and bare during winter, but magically come out of hibernation each spring.

Never be afraid to ask a neighbor for a plant cutting. Or - and I admit to this - surreptitiously clipping a cutting from a plant springing up abundantly in a park or shopping center planter.

My dear mother used to snip cuttings wherever she went. Often, her purloined cuttings would successfully grow into dozens of attractive geraniums or succulents in her own yard. Obviously, you don't want to deface someone's garden, but a little 6-inch cutting rarely hurts the plant.

Many times people put dead plants out for trash collection. That's when you might rescue the pot for yourself. In hard times there is nobility in scouring yard sales or garage sales for used patio furniture or planters for potting plants.

Christine Brun, ASID, is a San Diego-based interior designer and the author of "Small Space Living." Send questions and comments to her by e-mail at

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