Urban Gardening Experts on Getting the Most from Small SpacesColin Campbell-Preston
Outdoor space is in short supply in the city and it can be hard to imagine how you could indulge your passion for greenery on a balcony the size of a postage stamp. With the right expertise, however, it’s actually surprisingly easy to convert your tiny urban space into a leafy wonderland. From using the space in unexpected ways to giving your plants that little extra care they need to make them thrive, there are plenty of small things that can make all the difference. We talked to some of the best small space gardening bloggers around to get their expert tips on how you can transform your small space into an urban jungle.
Since outdoor urban spaces are more likely to be paved than have an array of flower beds, containers are the small space gardener’s best friend. Michael Perry, of Mr Plant Geek, says that it’s all about picking wisely: “When gardening in an urban space, don’t be shy of using containers, just choose the right ones. The smaller the container, the quicker it will dry out, so think bigger volume if you want to spend less time watering! The benefits of growing in containers also means you can keep moving your garden around, much like a jigsaw! Why not consider re-purposing some containers too – you can be inventive with anything from a ‘bag for life’ to a wellington boot- just make sure you’ve made some small drainage holes!”
Anyone who knows about gardening in a small space knows that you have to be creative and think outside the box. Alexandra, from The Middle-Sized Garden, recommends: “Think about using vertical space – if you have a large pot or a small square of soil, a climber or a vine is an easy-care way of making the most of it. You can hang small pots on a wall, but be aware that small pots always need more watering than big ones.”
Lucy, from the Smallest Smallholding, agrees that successful urban gardens make use of all the space, not just what’s beneath your feet. She says: “If you’ve only got a small outdoor space to play with, don’t think of it just in terms of square foot and floor space. Look up. You can make the most of your vertical space too. For instance, climbing varieties of dwarf beans and dwarf peas can not only look decorative, with their dainty flowers and colourful pods, but can also crop well in a medium sized container, provided they’re fed and watered as needed.”
City walls and gardens actually give you the opportunity to grow slightly different crops, according to Caro of Urban Veg Patch. She says: “City walls and balconies retain heat from inside and out which creates a nice warm climate for plants. Tromboncino squashes can be trained to grow up a trellis, flowers like sweet peas or jasmine will scent the air – even aubergines with their velvety leaves and purple flowers will grow well in a large pot.”
As smaller gardens often only have space facing in one direction, positioning your plants to make the most of sun, shade, and shelter is key to having happy plants. Alexandra, from The Middle-Sized Garden, recommends: “Think about how much sun each part of the garden, courtyard or balcony gets – most plants are fine with 4-6 hours of direct sun a day, but some are happier with less. Salads don’t like to be too baked, so they’re useful for shady spots. In my garden, coriander, parsley and wasabi all grow well in a very shady bed.”
Let’s face it, one of the most rewarding things about gardening is being able to grow things that you can snack on as you water the plants and show off at dinner parties. You might think that the joys of a vegetable patch are restricted to those with space for a raised bed, but that’s where you’re wrong. Alexandra, from The Middle-Sized Garden, recommends starting small and working your way up: “If you want to grow food in small spaces, I’d recommend starting with salads and herbs. You can grow salads in a guttering pipe or an old crate. Herbs will do well on windowsills – especially if you plant them in slightly larger pots than you get with supermarket herbs. Courgettes and tomatoes do well in pots, but they do need really large ones.”
Even if all you have room for is a window box, you don’t need to abandon your dreams of growing some edible greenery of your own. Caro, of Urban Veg Patch, says it’s just about picking the right plants: “Bush tomatoes, lettuce, chard, Chinese greens (komatsuna) for a stir fry – they’ll all grow happily in a window box… it’s not too late to sow a window box salad bar! Herbs of all sorts are great in containers and add flavour to cooking. The favourites which I keep to hand are parsley, sorrel and basil – all are tasty additions to a summer salad with freshly picked window box lettuces.”
If you have space for large containers, there are all kinds of edibles that will thrive happily in your small garden. Lucy, of Smallest Smallholding, says: “For a taste of your own home-grown goodness, medium and large containers can provide ample space for crops like greens, carrots and salad leaves. Sow slower-growing varieties first, such as tomatoes, and intercrop with a few fast-growing veggies, like radishes, carrots, beets and spinach.”
Small Space Care
Plenty of different types of plants can be grown in small spaces, but they might need slightly different care to ones that are grown in larger gardens. Both Alexandra, from The Middle-Sized Garden, and Lucy, from Smallest Smallholding, agree that you will need a slightly different feeding and watering regime. Alexandra says: “You can grow most plants in small spaces, but it’s important to be aware that containers don’t hold much nutrition. You’ll need to feed flowers, fruit and veg grown in pots or other containers with an all-purpose balanced plant food. You’ll also need to water more often – sometimes even when it’s raining!”
Lucy says that different containers will change the way you need to care for your plants: “The bigger the container, the less it needs watering. You may even need to water twice a day – morning and evening – during longer, hotter spells in summer to keep your plants thriving, especially if you’ve chosen to grow your plants in heat-retaining metal galvanised containers.”
Come and visit one of our garden centres near Alexandra Palace, Wandsworth Common, or Berkhamsted to stock up for your garden and get some helpful advice from our Plant People. Alternatively, head over to our homepage for more inspiring garden ideas.