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Be forewarned: I think nothing of making traffic slow down so I can get a better look at an interesting garden. My bumper sticker should read, “I brake for gardens.”

That is exactly what happened one Saturday afternoon. I saw a pergola. It stood strong and mighty between two interesting evergreen trees, and I was intrigued.

After convincing my friend to circle the block a few times, we spotted someone weeding in the corner. I rolled down the window and asked to see the garden.

As we approached the fence, I realized this garden was what my friend called a layered garden. The garden is small, but everywhere I looked, up, down, right, left, there was more to see.

As we talked, I learned the weeping cedar atlas tree that I had seen driving by was the basis for his garden design. Still peering over the fence, I saw a pea gravel and stepping stone path he created to travel through the garden.

It didn’t take long for me to realize this guy knew his stuff. He was using Latin names and telling us the exact variety of each plant. On this particular day, he was planting tator tot arborvitae to create winter interest in this part of the garden. They will mature at 24 inches in height.

We talked about the iris bed and creeping phlox that bloomed in the spring and the dianthus planted among the phlox. Window boxes were brimming with begonias and spillers. Laurel shrubs and coneflowers with variegated liriope were planted underneath.

There were calla lilies in bloom, lavender, and city-line hydrangea, a compact bush that is big on blooms without overpowering nearby plants. Mums were planted to bring fall color to the landscape.

He had skillfully elevated urns to add to the layered look. This gave the eye places to travel and the gardener more room for foundation plantings such as daylilies whose graceful arches matched the curve of the urns.

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I could mosey through this garden every day and see something new.

As this kind man walked us around his public garden, we commented on a huge mimosa tree blooming behind the house. Although the tree is not his favorite, it provides shade despite the mess of the falling leaves and blooms.

Then, much to my delight, he invited us through his privacy gate into his private gardens. What a treat. Café tables, umbrellas, and little nooks galore. Lights are strung above the patios and porches. This is his entertaining spot.

Entering through the gate, the soothing sound of water greets you; a small feature is tucked near the deck stairs. Hostas and ferns are planted nearby at the base of the deck. Containers of potted plants are everywhere.

One of my favorite potted gardens, as I call it (because “containers” just doesn’t do it justice), was a Japanese maple tree with purple supertunias and silver or white licorice base plantings. It was stunning. Other containers had Bambi Candy Stripe phlox, astilbe, and daylilies. There was also a crepe myrtle and a Lace Cap Hydrangea tree.

I didn’t even mention the fire pit and plantings of Lime Time and Wicked Witch coleus. Not a space was left unattended. In what others might consider a forgotten corner, there was lovely bed of gerber daisies and calla lilies.

Pots of bougainvillea hung high, strawberry jars of hens and chicks sat low. I must admit I came home and thought of ways another gardener would use my space. Where would they add new gardens, and how would they create the layered look within the existing beds. I was feeling inspired by the lovely layered garden.

This gracious gardener that let me and a friend explore his work has created a master class in compact garden. The space is small but mighty. Making use of every inch, high, low, and in between, this tiny garden delivers big excitement and style.

Jane Powell is a longtime West Virginia University Extension Service master gardener through the Kanawha County chapter. She is the communications director for a community foundation and a volunteer with several nonprofits in the community. Find her blog, “Gardening in Pearls,” at gardeninginpearls.com. You can contact her at janeellenpowell@aol.com.

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