Small Garden, Big Interest
Eric Sternfels calls garden making "an interesting, quiet labor," which has resulted in a unique landscape filled with usable ideas. With a background in architecture, he designed a garden in a long narrow space behind his vintage 1840s home in Philadelphia. His passion for the art of plant placement is manifested in such simple, yet elegant solutions for an overly shaded, narrow yard that's just 18 feet wide by 150 feet long.
"There's so much shade it's hard to find color from long blooming plants," says Eric, who has created a model for everyone who lives beneath the canopies of old trees. It's clear from this sweet little patio that plants are indeed what make his garden pop. This space behind the house is nestled into densely planted ferns and a wide variety of hydrangeas. The furniture originated at auction sales, which Eric painted just the right shade. The red bench is a striking standout to mark the space visually, while the armchairs float with the conversations.
See more Pennsylvania gardens.
Lovely, light tone pedestals become the basis for planted pots that flank the entry to the patio, positioned without symmetry for more dynamic arrangements. With the path as a spine through the landscape, this space and many other small vignettes become spur interests along the way. Though it may appear static, this garden is largely transitional, both in a physical and visual sense.
You can feel Eric's light humor injected into small vignettes, like this kettle, that offer welcome relief from the expanses of green foliage. These are the transitional payoffs for visitors to small gardens where space is too limited for major focal points. Eric composed a series of mini views within the garden itself, offering interest in every direction while the plants provide the framework.
This is how to creatively conclude a path that goes nowhere. "I found brick all over the yard, much of it vintage," Eric says. His preference for using what's available yielded the spine-like footpath which terminates in a perfect flourish to reward adventurous guests. The gentle curves, no doubt inspired by his architectural training, are smooth, without broken backs that too often spoil such grace in design.
"It took a while to figure out how to use all the brick fragments I found all over the property," which Eric installed for tremendous visual detail. This logical design idea is a true manifestation of the popular design expression: form follows function. Planting the infill areas enhances the color contrast with red brick to further enhance the graceful lines.
"I really want to inspire people to garden more. It's so rewarding, and this landscape proves you don't need a big budget to create a beautiful garden. It's all about the art of plant placement, what looks good next to this plant or that." Eric's philosophy is apparent in the great dark-leaved hosta used as the perfect background for this whimsical tea set where it shows in high contrast to pop amidst the greens.
A lovely, dry brick patio shows Eric's attention to detail in both the brick work and planting where he used fuchsia, coleus, and heuchera foliage to add hot colors to the cool-green palette. Here, Eric combined square pavers as thick as a standard brick to establish this star's geometry. Then he applied outdoor paint to create the points against a blue field.