Plan your small staircase garden to create a big visual impact.

Landscaping Ideas for a Small Corner Near Stairs

by Janet Beal

A small corner near outdoor stairs can present a landscaping challenge for gardeners. Especially if you have a tiny yard or a paved courtyard instead of flower beds, this area may constitute a large part of your gardening space. With a little ingenuity, you can create a tiny green oasis that attracts special notice.

1. Elevated Gardens

Plants in the earth or in containers at the foot of the stairs can be easily overlooked and may not even get enough light to survive. To increase the impact of your small corner garden, try to bring plants up to eye level or higher for a tall flight. A long-legged planting box filled with herbs or salad greens makes a wonderful kitchen-door garden. Tall glazed pottery or stoneware urns can hold annuals, compact evergreens or perennial ornamental grasses. A garden pillar, topped with a flat slate or paving stone can hold a collection of plants in small colorful containers. Garden designer Rachel Mathews observes that a collection of small plants can often make a tiny space seem larger than a single, bigger plant. Choosing containers as interesting as the plants they hold also draws the eye to an elevated small-corner garden.

2. Vertical Gardens

Vertical surfaces attached to or near the staircase let you create a wide variety of gardens. A discarded pallet or prefabricated vertical-garden frame can be filled with soil and many kinds of small plants from flowers or succulents to vegetables and herbs. Hanging half-moon pots over a staircase wall is particularly effective if you use a single variety or color of flowers. Zonal geraniums (Pelargonium x hortorum), hardy annuals in all United States Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones, let you create such an effect in strong shades of pink, orange, red or cooling white. Pocket gardens range from baskets you can hang on hooks to plant pouches made from recycled fabric. For a single-season garden, even an old set of shoe pockets lets you create an up-and-down garden.

3. Hanging Gardens

Hanging baskets are a quick way to fill any area of your garden with color. Mount yours on brackets attached to the top stair rail, or sink a multi-hook shepherd's crook into the earth at the bottom of the stairs. Poles come in a variety of sizes, as tall as 8 feet. Vary the chain lengths on the baskets you suspend from the hooks to increase the size and impact of your suspended garden. Keep your garden area lively in winter by hanging a birdfeeder in place of your plant pots.

4. Climbing or Trailing Gardens

Vines make a wonderful display in a tall, narrow space. Put up a trellis for perennial climbers like clematis (Clematis spp.), varieties of which are hardy in USDA zones 4 through 11. Clematis reaches heights from 6 to 30 feet, so check size before making a final selection. A sturdy window box or planter on a top landing or railing will hold an annual floral vine like trailing nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus), which may grow year-round in frost-free USDA zones 10 and 11. With abundant blooms in strong tropical colors, trailing nasturtiums can reach lengths of 6 to 10 feet, for top-down, summer-long color.

5. Water Feature

From a self-circulating fountain to a container-sized aquatic garden, your tiny corner can provide just the space needed to add a water feature to your garden. The sound of flowing water creates tranquility and a sense of coolness. You may find that water draws birds and beneficial insects to enliven your garden, as well.

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