Big Small Ideas

By Chelle Cordero

February 20, 2009 5 min read


Homeowners offer their tips for a smaller garden

Chelle Cordero

Creators News Service

Living with a postage stamp-sized garden doesn't have to limit you when it comes to gracing your table with beautiful flowers or plump, juicy produce. Whether you live in a house with a small yard or a garden apartment with a strip of soil, you have the room for a not-so-secret garden.

"The easiest way to expand a small garden space is to go up," said Brad Staggs, a former HGTV and DIY network host who is now on "Build a nice wooden arbor in just a few hours and give your flowers a home to roam." Plans for an arbor can be found on the Southern Pine Awareness Network's website at

Even the tiniest space can produce beauty. Marie C. Trudeau moved into a condo in downtown Columbus, Ohio in 2006 and began growing enormous and eye-catching sunflowers on a strip of soil immediately in front of her unit. What began as a free packet of sunflower seeds has turned into a neighborhood landmark. Trudeau also attempted growing upside-down tomatoes from her balcony, but admitted she "had a little success, but mostly learned from mistakes" and will try again this summer.

A two-foot wide and 20-foot long area is enough for Heidi Eklund and Wayne Pyle of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., to grow tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, lettuce, green beans, red peppers, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower and a potted herb garden.

Eklund said it takes time to maintain a healthy garden and offers the following tips: "Water and weed a lot. Don't crowd too much into one space. Protect from pests with fencing and natural deterrents and grab a gardening book that makes sense to you. If you have children, get them involved in a fun way and remember to compost all your vegetable scraps in a small area of the yard for fabulous soil."

"I grow a tiny vegetable garden in Edmonton, Canada," said David Schneider. "Short growing season, not a lot of heat. The secret is to raise the garden bed up by six to 12 inches [using lumber to make the side walls], and stuff the soil full of nutrition -- compost, peat moss, green feed. Each box should be about four feet wide and as long as you like. Never walk on the soil -- it compacts too easily. Walk around the outside of the box. Put the plants in close together, stake everything, and watch it explode."

Homeowner Kari Jones lives in Victoria, British Columbia, where she said "gardening is a ten-month a year project". Her 8-year-old garden is about 300 square feet and long rather than square. She grows a mixture of perennials and vegetables such as leafy greens, beans, peas and potatoes, which are her biggest producers.

"If I were starting a garden again I would try to think about the landscaping first," she said. "It is a real drag to have to take out plants that are just beginning to settle because you realize that you need to put a path right where they are." She also cautions new gardeners about how much they are planting. "Remember that plants grow. … I grew over 40 tomato plants, 20 basil plants, a few oregano, thyme and marjoram all on the plot. I got over 500 tomatoes and more basil than I knew what to do with, with remnants in my freezer as we speak."

No matter how small your garden, you can find great pleasure into tending it, like Yvonne Maffei does in the 20-foot-by-20-foot lot she rents from the local park district in her Chicago suburb. "My gardens have been the delight of my life. I never feel more energetic in the morning than when I begin planting because I can't wait to see the miracle of a plant's growth right before my eyes, the miracle of the seed that you plant in dirt and what it becomes with simply rain and light.

"I think it's why I cried the very first time I ever picked a fruit I planted with my own hands. I didn't grow it, I just helped it along, and for that I finally felt I had a connection to our Earth."

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