Gardening in Small Spaces

By Morag Flight

One does not need a spacious backyard to have a nice garden. Gardening can be done in small spaces. I was not sure how to write this article as it threw me a little out of my comfort zone, but then I remembered that Neels Scott is running the wonderful garden centre at Halsteds on Harare Drive. Off I went and asked him if we could play with all the plants and other items they stock. I decided to lay out a small garden on an old pallet to give a one metre square shape. 

Now down to designing in a small space. I think this is more difficult than planning a bigger garden. A small space is easily overwhelmed by random purchases. Any garden needs planning to be really successful, and more so when it’s a small one. I have kept gardens for years, letting plants ramble where they want. A small garden requires a much less random approach than I was used to. First is where you are going to put your garden.   If it is on a balcony, do try to work out how much weight it will hold as earth, water, pots, rocks weigh a lot and it quickly adds up. If you plan to have window-style planters hanging over a railing, you’ll also need to know how much weight these can hold.

If you have a walled space, you could think about putting plantings on the walls. Do think about the weather and wind if you have an open space.   If  you are like me, it is very easy to go mad in the nursery, buying beautiful plants, seeds and accessories that aren’t on your list, but that would look stunning in your small space. Maybe set a budget and have an idea of how much space you need to cover. Don’t forget to include pots, trays, hardware for mounting things on walls or over hand railings, soil and anything else you can think of that you might need in your estimate and budget. You can also choose a theme for your garden such as:

A succulent garden
  • A kitchen garden in containers: vegetables, fruits, and herbs, on a sunny balcony.
  • A butterfly garden: flowers that butterflies adore, liking part to full sun.
  • A shade-loving fernery: shade-loving plants, away from the direct sun.
  • A succulent garden: heat-loving cactus and succulents require little water.
  • An herbal tea garden: herbs that can be used to make tea, such as peppermint, sage, spearmint, chamomile, lemongrass, lavender, and more.
  • A scented flower garden in containers: lavender and rose-scented pelargonium.
  • A vegetable garden; where you can enjoy fresh-picked food for your table.

If you like to sit in your small space, remember to keep some room for a chair or else you will not use it due to cramped conditions. Maybe draw a map and show where you would put a table, chairs, braai, etc. Choose plants keeping your theme in mind. You may like to make a longer list of plants first, then cut your list down as you draw them on your plan or as you see them in the nursery.

The next steps are to buy your plants and start planting. If you want to leave the plants in pots or sleeves, then make sure you remember to water them correctly. Keep an eye on the soil of your pots – it is easy to under and over-water. Feel the soil with your finger to check before watering.

If your garden is against a wall (vertical garden) then put the taller plants at the back coming down to shorter ones at the front. In the gardens shown, we have used coir matting which gives a natural-looking pathway and adds interest. Pebbles were incorporated into the succulent garden as they increase humidity in a hot space. The coir also absorbs water and then gives you a little evaporation to keep the atmosphere cool.   

Try and group the plants according to their needs by putting the ones that need water together and the ones that don’t in a separate area. In the pictures we have made a tropical type garden in one and a succulent one in the other.  

Remember that a small area will need to be fertilised just as much as a big one. Ask your local nursery for a good fertiliser. I like to use a water soluble one and either spray it on or just water each plant individually so that they benefit more.

Tiered planters can maximise ground space available for flowers and herbs. So think steps which can be used to showcase plants at different levels. Look for the odd quirky feature like a metal man or planting in a wheelbarrow.  

Another method of making a small garden in your yard is to build a shade house. I have a few in my garden and one is made from the old canopy off a lorry. Raised on bricks and then covered with shade cloth it makes a great small area to show off your plants. In this one I have covered the base with mondo grass which gives a different texture. The other one is also old frames that I used and put together but bricks have been used on the bottom.

Above all, allow your imagination to work and have fun with planning your special small garden.

Images provided by Morag Flight.

© Ndeipi magazine, Issue 104.

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