Q.: I live in town on a ¼ acre lot but would like to find a way to enjoy the benefits of gardening, too. Any advice?
A.: Mandy don’t let a lack of space stop you from gardening in a big way. A bit of planning can help bring a giant impact to your small yard. If you have a large space, read this anyway. Small intimate garden areas can be created in a small space or as a smaller garden inside your larger space.
Consider going vertical with your garden. Homemade or interlocking wall units, fabric planters and wooden frames can be filled with succulents, ground covers, herbs, vegetables such as green beans and cucumbers, as well as, flowers.
Create a framework by using green walls, fences, trellises and plants for your small space. Green walls help soften vertical structures, increase planting space, conserve energy and add beauty and interest where you never before thought to plant. For more information on green walls you can go to www.myplantconnection.com or www.greenscreen.com.
Smaller trees, like Japanese maples, crabapples and dogwoods, provide screening as well as interest with their flowers, color, form and bark during all four seasons in the south. Make every square inch count in your garden. Consider repeat blooming plants and those that provide several seasons of interest, such as Iris lilies. They have nice foliage, spring and fall blooms, fall color and attractive winter forms. Be sure to leave space for some seasonal changes. Try adding seasonal color through containers or pockets of annuals in your garden.
Mixing two equally assertive plants that require the same growing conditions will double the interest and blooming power. Mix spring bulbs with summer or fall flowering perennials, or two vines with different bloom times on one pillar. Adding a few accents such as a cool stone, a colorful chair, a birdbath or garden art can be the focal point around which you design your own small-space garden.
We can grow and harvest vegetables, fruits, and herbs in the piedmont of Georgia practically year-round. Container gardening offers flexibility over traditional gardening because the containers can be raised or lowered for easier accessibility, placed in a sunny or shady spot, moved to a sheltered area during extreme weather, such as storms or low temperatures, and protected from wildlife that may damage plants or try to eat your harvest. By choosing the appropriate varieties and planting at the right time of year, you can enjoy the many benefits of gardening and create a beautiful space just outside your door. A container can be used one season for flowers as the focal point with vegetables growing around the container on the ground. It never hurts to rotate all vegetables from year to year, so plant the tomato in the container the next year with a bed of marigolds circling the container.
Many edibles have great ornamental value, such as the fine, feathery foliage of dill, the bright red stalks of chard, the snowy white blossoms of peas, and the bold purple color of eggplant. Besides providing a fresh source of nutritious locally produced food, gardening has the added benefits of improving both your mental and physical health. There is a sense of joy and pride in planting, growing and harvesting your own food. Children also benefit from being included in container gardening projects.
When choosing plants for your containers, select ones with a confined or compact growth habit. Read the labels. Not all edibles can be grown in containers, but new varieties are developed every year. Look for varieties that are labeled compact, bush, dwarf, or miniature. To maximize success, choose varieties that are disease resistant. Initials following the plant variety – for example, tomato – indicate that it has been bred to be resistant to a disease or pest. “V” means resistance to Verticillium wilt, “F” indicates resistance to Fusarium wilt, and “T” indicates resistance to Tobacco Mosaic Virus. Finally, choose varieties that will provide the taste, texture and color that you desire.
Locate containers close to a warm wall for fall and winter gardening. The average low temperature in December, January, and February is 28 F to 30 F, but collards, kale, and some herbs such as bay and rosemary will tolerate the cold weather. The summer months of June, July and August are when most plants are producing their bounty. Several cool-season crops such as leafy greens, carrots, beets and radish can be planted in late winter for a spring harvest and again in late summer or early fall for a fall and winter harvest. Warm season crops such as tomato, cucumbers and peppers should be planted in late spring once nighttime temperatures are above 55F and daytime temperatures are at least 70 degrees F.
Begin with a plan for succession planting, which is efficient and provides an increase in crop availability. This simply means planting one crop so that when it is harvested there will be another planted in its place. For example, fill a large container with lettuce in the early spring and it will be harvested by early to mid-May. Lettuce can be replaced with a bell pepper plant. In September, remove the pepper plant and add another cool season crop such as lettuce, scallions or kale. The possibilities are limitless for gardening in an urban landscape. Begin small and experiment each year to see what works for your property. Gardening magazines offer beautiful photos of small gardens and will give you some great ideas as well.