Gardens offer serene spaces for people to admire and appreciate, varying in styles from expansive terrains rolling across numerous acres to cozy havens tucked into small, square-foot plots. The latter contain charm sometimes masked by their size, yet Mary T. Dial and Linda Edwards enjoy exposing the enchantment of their small gardens.
“The easiest part of a small garden is that it doesn’t take long to get it to the perfect point,” says Mary T. For her, that “perfect point” is a garden framed with symmetry, balance and a strong definition of space. “I am a neat nick,” she says, “so order in the garden is essential to me.”
Thankfully for Mary T., one luxury of a small garden is the easy upkeep. “This garden suits me just fine. It is easy to keep neat and tidy.”
Mary T. and Burke, her husband, have a garden with a strip of luscious grass underfoot adorned by classic brickwork and potted plants. “My favorite part of my garden is the little loggia,” says Mary T. “I love to sit in my chair and look out at the Confederate jasmine blooming, the manicured edge of the grass and the wild abandon of the dragon wing begonias.”
However, this signature grass, a prominent feature of the garden, was not always growing in the Dials’ polished yard. “We used to have a beautiful lap pool that we inherited from the previous owners. But since our garden is so small, I filled it in so that I could have a small patch of grass. This is the second time I’ve gotten rid of a pool,” she reveals. “I do love my grass!”
While Mary T. delights in the appeal of grass, Burke appreciates a different aspect of the garden. “My favorite part of the garden is the small, outdoor kitchen that houses my grill. It is perfect for grilling steaks or salmon in nice weather, and it has a roof so I can even grill in the rain.”
Burke also shares his contentment with the beneficial size of their garden. “The garden is small and manicured, and it is convenient and conveniently arranged,” he tells. “Our last garden was too large and somewhat difficult to enjoy. This one is perfect; it is only a few steps to the kitchen and to the wine cooler. Because it is so near the house and kitchen, we eat outside more often.”
The small garden melts into the side of the Dials’ house, making the lush vegetation an offspring of the home. According to Mary T., “My garden is absolutely an extension of our house. We live outside as much as we can … 12 months a year. We have even figured out how we could have a large wedding reception here in this small space. India, our daughter, is only 17, but we have already made plans.”
Small gardens are not free of imperfections. “The hardest part of a small garden is the fact that it needs to be almost perfect all of the time since it is such an integral part of the house,” she says. However, because of its size, this goal is manageable.
Growing up with a family of gardeners, Mary T. was taught the secrets of gardening success from a young age. “I used to follow Philip Monaco, my grandfather, around his vegetable garden starting at the age of three. He was Italian and grew all sorts of exotic vegetables so that Mary, my grandmother, could use them in her Italian recipes,” she reminisces. “We also used to love to beat the limbs of his huge pecan tree with long sticks to get the pecans to fall.”
Philip’s and Mary’s green thumbs passed down to the next generation. Irene and Hank Sousa, Mary T.’s parents, owned a garden store, a place where Mary T. whiled away her after-school hours. “They sold seeds by the ounce,” she recalls. “Some people could come in and buy just six to eight squash seeds. It was so much fun; I wish we still owned it.”
Mary T. has compensated for the loss of her parents’ shop by fueling her entrepreneurial spirit with the start of The Itinerant Gardener, her business that does any work with regards to gardening. “The thing I love the most about gardening is the finished product,” she says. “I love to see my ideas come to life. When I draw a plan, it always looks perfect on paper, but to see it in real life with real plants, hardscape, pots, etc. is so satisfying. What I do is happy work.”
Mary T.’s passion for gardening carries through into her work in Linda and Mike Edwards’ small garden, where she has added a fabulous flair. Mary T. and Linda Edwards have been close friends for more than 20 memory-filled years, so tackling the project of improving the Edwardses’ garden has been an enjoyable process for both women. “Mary T. has superb taste. My tip for success with gardening is to have a friend who is a marvelous gardener with exquisite taste who will help you,” Linda says. “Mary T. is mine.”
Linda and Mike’s garden is encompassed in a brick pathway wrapping around the back of their home. This area contains appealing, green vegetation and white flowers. “In the summer the white looks cool. The contrast of white against the greenery is beautiful, and because my garden is small, I don’t want it to be overloaded with various vivid colors,” Linda says.
A unique aspect of the Edwardses’ garden is an enchanting urn transformed into a fountain, compliments of Mary T.’s abstract idea. “This old urn was in my grandmother’s Charleston garden,” says Linda. “Our sitting area outside provides a lovely view of it. From this vantage point we also look upon the wrought iron gate which came from my childhood home in Charleston.”
In addition, the picturesque space overlooks a beautiful wrought iron trellis located on the side of the house above a small bed. “I found a picture of a trellis I liked, and Mary T. added some terrific detail and had it fabricated,” Linda says. “It looks wonderful, even with nothing growing on it.”
For Linda, a special part of her garden is the fig tree nestled into a corner of the brick walls. “Figs are one of my favorite fruits. The branches of the fig tree are so sculptural and still look pretty in the winter. I wanted something that looked good throughout all seasons.” Linda explains that having a garden that provides a beautiful area year round was important to her. “I love that, even in winter, the garden is beautiful in a more simple way. On mild days we can sit outside.”
Having a small garden that offers a tranquil escape with light upkeep is a bonus for the Edwardses. “Other than a major clean up four or five times a year, we can generally get things done in just a few hours on the weekend,” Linda says. “In the spring and summer, I like to try and get a little done after work during the week so that our weekends are free. I fluff and clean; trim a little bit here, wash a little there. I like being outside.”
“But I can be compulsive to make the garden perfect,” she adds, laughing.
Mike admits to not having the same passion for gardening as Linda, yet he enjoys helping out with the gardening chores when needed. “Whether it is trimming boxwoods or wall covering, sweeping up or just watering in the evenings to help our pots survive the summer heat, I don’t mind the chores,” he says. “All of these little things allow us to spend more time together, which I relish.”
Most importantly, the Edwardses’ garden is an escape for the busy couple. “It’s a restful oasis in the evening and on weekends. We both work full-time during the week so it is nice to have a restful place to relax when we come home,” says Linda.
“The size of our garden also fits us and our way of life perfectly,” adds Mike. “It is small and simple and brings us joy all year.”
Small gardens certainly give the best of both worlds: maximum enjoyment with minimum upkeep.