Small spaces make beautiful places
By Katie Jackson
From Baby Boomers who are downsizing their lives to Millennials who have yet to upsize theirs, more and more people are living in small spaces, which often translates into less and less space for traditional gardening. But you don’t have to have a yard to be a gardener. You just need sunshine, water, a good soil mixture and a little ingenuity.
While we typically think of gardens as outdoor spaces, the term “garden” refers to any space where plants and nature are shown, grown and enjoyed, including tabletops, rooftops, driveways, walkways, alleyways, parking lots, highway median strips, balconies, walls, windowsills … you get the picture.
Houseplants are, of course, the easiest way to bring something green and growing into your life and there are oodles of beautiful tried-and-true options to fit any décor, lighting and indoor climate condition and level of gardening skill. Or tap into the latest everything-old-is-new-again trend: terrariums of all shapes and sizes!
But why stop there? Many ornamental landscape plants can also be grown in containers (pots) and, thus, grown successfully inside or in small outdoor areas. Azaleas, roses, gardenias, viburnums, aucubas, hollies and jasmine are just a few of the common landscape plants that do well in pots. Bulbs and other herbaceous perennials and annuals also can be tucked into pots or planted in small patches of open ground such as along the edges of driveways or walkways, in medians or around mailboxes.
Truth is it’s easy to find a plant to fit almost any environmental condition and space as long as you can provide them with a good quality growing media, protection from extreme temperatures and the right amount of sunlight and water. Ingenuity comes into play when you’re trying to adapt to the design needs of your small space, but there are lots of options for that as well.
For example, raised beds and tiered planters can be installed almost anywhere, from the rooftops of apartment buildings and houses (and I even saw a dog house with a garden on top) to balconies, patios or concrete driveways. Not only do raised beds make gardening easier on your back (less bending and stooping required), they also allow you to create your own soil rather than relying on the quality of existing soil, thus providing your plants with the very best of growing conditions.
If you have only a tiny corner or a wall area to use for plants, consider growing things vertically — espaliers, trellises, arbors, plant towers or frames built against a wall can take your gardening to new heights and planes.
Need to move your garden around? You can buy plant saucers on wheels, fill a child’s wagon with potted plants or put wheels on old garbage cans, buckets, boxes and other interesting planting containers. Want a more whimsical garden? Use an old birdbath filled with potting mixture to create a little raised garden or use a sealed pot or fountain to make a water garden. Want something that requires less water? Create a rock garden filled with cacti and succulents.
If you’re craving freshly grown fruits and vegetables, don’t despair! You can grow many of these as well in small spaces. The same raised beds and containers used for ornamental plants can become home to everything from tomatoes to corn to squash. Hanging baskets make great pots for strawberries and peppers. Lettuces and other greens will grow beautifully in pots. Many fruit trees and shrubs can be grown in pots or espaliered against a wall. Gourds, grapes, blackberries and other climbing plants can be grown on a trellis. And all sorts of herbs can be grown in pots indoors or out.
If you need ideas for your small space try a Pinterest or a Web search. The options found there are so plentiful they may overwhelm you. If you want some detailed professional advice on how best to maximize your garden space, check out the books Square Foot Gardening: The Revolutionary Way to Grow More In Less Space by Mel Bartholomew or Apartment Gardening: Plants, Projects, and Recipes for Growing Food in Your Urban Home by Amy Pennington. Your local county Alabama Cooperative Extension System office and plant nurseries are also great sources of information.
One way or another, you can make space in your life for plants and keep your gardening going no matter where you live.