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Garden Solutions for Challenging Spaces

Take a drive through one of the many new housing developments in the Rogue Valley and you'll notice a lot of house built on not a lot of land. Some older developments have seen years of renovations where patios and decks have left narrow or otherwise oddly shaped sections of yard. If this sounds like your house, you already know it can be hard to figure out what to do. What are your options?

There are many, according to Greg Covey, co-owner of Covey Pardee Landscape Architects in Ashland. "The amount of sun an area of the garden gets largely determines what can be planted there, along with what the area's function is to be," Covey explains. "If the area is visible from inside the house, you'll want to be sure to plant things that will look good all year long."

One current trend is to plant a wildflower garden along with native shrubs such as Oregon-grape (Mahonia aquifolium), and drought-tolerant lavender. "These wildflower/native gardens tend to take care of themselves as the flowers will reseed and come back every year," he adds.

If the area has room for an access path, narrow or side areas of a house are great for container gardens, even for small trees. "Conifers, dwarf fruit trees and crape myrtles, small dogwoods, nandina, and bamboo do well in containers, as do gardenias - but they have to be brought inside to winter over," Covey explains. Add a few extra pavers to widen the path and you'll gain a small, private sitting area.

"There are some smaller trees that can be planted close to the house without disturbing a home's foundation," according to Sherri Straubel, wholesale sales manager of Valley View Nursery in Ashland and Medford. The roots of eastern redbud, smaller dogwoods and 'Little Gem' magnolias will not take over a wide section of soil, which also makes the area easier to interplant. Espalier fruit trees are another good choice, Straubel adds.

Both Covey and Straubel recommend defining what purpose an area is to serve before proceeding with any landscaping. "If the area is on the west side of the house with lots of afternoon sun, you'll probably want to plant things for summer shade and winter light, which makes deciduous trees a good choice," Straubel says. Covey adds that arbors of wisteria, kiwi, clematis, and grapes will offer summer shade as well. Another option for sunny spots is to grow vegetables and herbs, either directly in the ground or in raised containers. Or try planting some of the smaller varieties of floribunda and shrub roses.

"Shadier areas can be planted with camellias, rhododendrons, and azaleas along with such perennials as bleeding hearts (Dicentra), and hydrangeas," Straubel says. Delicate salad greens such as different varieties of lettuce do well in afternoon shade, especially during hot summer months, and do best in raised beds or containers.

"As always, the decision of what to do with a narrow or side yard depends on the homeowner's preferences in plants, what the space is to be used for, and the degree of maintenance the area needs," Covey says. A fresh look, even at your most awkward sections of yard, could result in a delightful new spot of garden.

Garden Solutions for Challenging Spaces