Big Dreams, Small Garden

Ideas for small space gardens

A Guide to Creating Something Extraordinary in Your Ordinary Space

Spring is here! Everywhere you look there are books, magazines, websites and TV shows of beautiful houses, dream gardens and happy homeowners starting expensive projects. But what happens if these images don’t bear any resemblance to your reality? What happens if these images don’t have an energizing effect, but instead leave you feeling dissatisfied and a little envious, unsure of where to start and convinced you’ll never be able to make something beautiful because of where you live or how much money you have?

You’re not alone. Though it’s rarely talked about in an image driven marketplace, many of us look at our outside spaces and feel completely inadequate to the task of turning them into garden homes – especially if we are feeling trapped by economic uncertainties. But we must claim our living spaces, whatever they are, because they are just that – our living spaces. We nest here. We raise our kids, live our heartbreaks, and experience some of our greatest joys here. For gardeners, would-be gardeners, and if-only-I-had-the-perfect-place gardeners, we cheat ourselves if we keep waiting.

The good news is – it’s absolutely possible to create the garden that lives inside you. You just need a guide that understands where you’re coming from, what your limitations are and what you yearn to see when you walk outside. You need a guide that helps you turn your ‘ordinary’ into ‘extraordinary,’ a guide that unites you with the ‘why’ of gardening, even as it maps out the ‘how.’ Most importantly, you need a guide that helps you gain the perspective you need to make the garden you dream of.

Big Dreams, Small Garden was written as a result of my own experience and that of others who have created ideal gardens in less than ideal circumstances. Because I have experienced the great joy and accomplishment that can come from creating a beautiful outside space on my own terms and against numerous obstacles, I felt called to help other struggling gardeners experience that too.

It’s a stimulating, practical, often lighthearted book that explores the ways that claiming your outside space can reconnect you to your environment, your family, your neighbors and your community, and it’s broken down in easy-to-digest sections.

  • In Visualize, readers are not only encouraged to dream and plan, but shepherded through the uncomfortable process of candidly facing their obstacles so those plans can become reality.
  • In Achieve, they’re given methods to approach the design process, find resources, and build basic skills.
  • Maintain helps readers plan for the often anti-climactic part of gardening – the everyday work – and successfully tailor those demands to their lifestyle.
  • And in Enjoy, gardeners are challenged to make their outside space a dynamic part of their lives and the lives of their families and friends – not just a showpiece between front door and driveway.


Garden tips for hiding fences

An ugly chain link fence lies behind this extraordinary mixed garden – but you’d never know it.


mini garden

Learning to make a raised bed can also double as learning to make a mini hoop house.


Simple bottle tree

A surprisingly cheap, yet spectacularly beautiful piece of artwork for the garden.


small space garden ideas

This gardener didn’t let living in a townhouse stop her from creating a show-stopping entrance.

Whether it’s seed starting or starting a garden bed from scratch, it helps to have someone in your corner letting you know you’re not alone and encouraging you to keep moving forward. If you have been mentally struggling with a challenging space, I hope that this year is the year you decide to start, and I hope that Big Dreams, Small Gardens helps you do it with inspiration, encouragement and laughter.

Don’t wait. Create.


Guest Blogger Profile

author Marianne Willburn

Photo credit Dan Well

Marianne Willburn is the author of Big Dreams, Small Garden and is a weekly garden columnist in the Mid-Atlantic. She can be found online at and on social media platforms as The Small Town Gardener.

Facebook: The Small Town Gardener
Instagram: smalltowngardener


“Big Dreams, Small Garden: A Guide to Creating Something Extraordinary in Your Ordinary Space” is available now in bookstores, and online through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Skyhorse. 203 pp. ISBN:1-5107-0912-6.

All photos above by Marianne Willburn










2 Responses to Big Dreams, Small Garden

  1. Shawna June 15, 2017 at 8:14 am #

    Love your photos!! And ideas! I have been creating organized spaces with evenly balanced plants. I would love to learn to be more free and do it this way re article. I think I may take one of my small garden areas and convert what I currently have to something less symmetrical.
    My first question for you is how do you deal with the need plants have for air circulation? Does mildew or fungus spread and grow rampant where plants are tightly combined? For example, I currently have plenty of space between my big roses and my mini roses (all high quality disease resistant plants), but I have had a small constant amount of black spot all year. I treat every week or two (depending on last spray I used), but it returns, even if not on a level noticeable to my neighbors – but only because I carefully remove every yellow leaf daily. I realize powdery mildew is more likely among cottage garden plants. Can I keep butterfly bushes and have phlox, scabiosa, etc?
    Second, how do you get into these cottage garden areas to pull weeds? Or to prune? Etc? What if you need to replace a plant in the middle of a 12′ by 10′ space? (This is approximately what I would be converting from symmetry to loose and carefree fun!) Where do you stand to avoid damaging anything? Thanks so much!

  2. Your Easy Garden Team June 16, 2017 at 2:41 pm #

    Hi Shawna, This response if from Marianne Willburn, the author of Big Dreams, Small GardensIt’s longer than our normal responses but we hope you’ll find the information to be helpful:

    Thanks so much for your very kind words about the article and book. Living as I do in the Mid-Atlantic, I have to be very aware of mildew and disease issues when humidity and heat levels rise in the summer. I also like a ‘packed’ garden where I can do it, so my answer for mildew is to work with varieties that are resistant.

    For instance, I grow ‘Jacob Cline’ monarda, or I grow lunaria instead of hesperis, or choose ‘David’ or ‘Franz Shubert’ phlox over others. And when I grow roses, I either give specimens a little more air space or grow more resistant rugosas or shrub/landscape roses close together. In the shade garden, circulation is even more important with some plants.

    However, I think that the most important thing I do is to shift my perspective and not worry about a little disfiguring of leaves here or there from pests or disease. It’s amazing how much better you feel about your garden when you’re not trying to achieve constant perfection. From the sounds of it – your roses sound pretty well off! By all means, find the best cultivars with little disease issues (Tesselaar’s got tons), but realize that nothing is 100% perfect and your whole garden will benefit!

    As for getting into large cottagy borders: in the late winter I make sure I have “landing pads” for my feet, made with two bricks sunk into the soil every stride or two, placed between plant skeletons. That way, I can aim for a brick and know that I’m not smashing something when I need to tie things up, deadhead or replace plants. Most plants are forgiving of a little jostle here or there. I find I have the most difficulty with groundcovers, particularly sedum, which is not forgiving at all. Hope this all helps.

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