Marianne Binetti

Pocket gardens: Loveliness in small outdoor spaces

The third week in April is a good time to weed, feed and add plants to your perennial or shrub borders. Every weed you pull in April can mean thousands fewer weeds seeds to deal with during the summer. Once you have your beds weed-free and ready to plant, consider grouping like plants together to create theme or pocket gardens.


Just as a pocket is added to a small area on an item of clothing, pocket gardens are compact compositions of plants grouped in areas such as near the front door (the Welcome pocket garden) along a perimeter fence (the border pocket garden) or under the shade of a large tree (a pocket garden for woodland or shade-loving plants.) You can also add a pocket of color to your landscape by choosing a theme, such as an all-white garden in the shade, a garden of heritage vegetables in a sunny bed or a miniature fairy garden that fits in a small sliver of space — such as on top of a stump.


Once you decide on a theme — let’s say a fragrance garden near the patio, jump-start your pocket planting ideas by picking one plant as the focal point and just keep adding to your collection by grouping more plants around the main specimen.


Fragrance Pocket Garden: A tall lilac can be the focal point plant and then add fragrant daphne, viburnums or sweet box as medium-sized shrubs and low-growing but sweet-smelling hyacinths, heliotrope, petunias and alyssum to fill in at ground level. A fragrant pocket garden could also work in a large container by using only the smaller annual plants and omitting the shrubs.

Shade Pocket Garden: Use bold foliage plants with white or cream markings on the leaves to create a striking pocket garden in the shade. Hostas, ferns and astilbe are perennials for the shade and white blooming annual flowers such as begonias, lobelias and impatiens will add to a shaded pocket planting that will light up those dark areas of the landscape. The evergreen foliage plant called Japanese Aralia or Fastia japonica has large, pointed, tropical-looking leaves. This Japanese shrub will survive even in dry, dark shade. Use the shiny green foliage as your backdrop to display colorful coleus in pots and add golden lamium as a ground-cover plant. Call this your pocket garden with jungle fever.

Sedum Pocket Garden: Sedums and succulents are plants that store water in their plump leaves, and they add texture and color to areas with good drainage and lots of sun. By grouping a collection of sedums in a dry area of the landscape you’ll have a pocket of happy plants without any drinking problems. Use a large boulder as a focal point for your sedum pocket garden and the smooth texture of the rock will help showcase the interesting shapes of the succulents.

Pocket gardening can be as simple as grouping dark purple heucheras and black mondo grass together for a gothic display or collecting different types of primroses to group together under the skirts of a rhododendron. Plants like company — and they will look better and grow happily when placed in pockets of space to form convivial groups.