Landscaping the tiny yard

December, 2011

There are many reasons you might have a tiny yard:

  • You have a very small lot. Some upscale urban areas (London and San Francisco, for example) are notorious for having homes almost on top of one another, which leaves very little area for a yard.

  • You have only a small area of a larger lot suitable for gardening, due to driveways, pathways, machinery, soil contamination, storage outbuildings, existing patios, etc.

  • You live in an apartment (flat) or condominium without any outdoor gardening space except for areas like porches or stairs. Balcony gardening is a whole other subject, and I'll save that for later.

  • You are renting a house and are only allowed to use a small area in your yard for a garden due to your landlord's restrictions.

  • And so on.

You can still have edible landscaping no matter what size yard you have. You just have to plan your garden differently.

Here are some strategies to consider:

  1. Decide on a theme.

    You might grow edibles of one color, or use a Japanese garden theme with a tiny koi pond and edible bonsai, or make a small Victorian cottage garden using containers on your front porch and down your stairs.

    The exact theme doesn't matter, but having a theme will pull your yard together and keep it from being just a jumble of plants.

  2. Consider raised beds.

    Soil in very small yards is often depleted and/or contaminated from years of pollution, and a tall (at least 8 inches, two feet is better) raised bed allows you to fill in the area with fresh soil, compost, and other amendments.

    In "yards" that are nothing more than an expanse of concrete (or for those of you with just a concrete porch), placing raised beds directly on top of the concrete gives you both instant added growing area and instant paths!

    Note: soil will stain concrete, so you may want to seal your concrete first and/or lay plastic underneath the raised bed before you fill it with soil, especially if you're renting.

    But don't just plop down boring old rectangles in the center of your precious space! Use the corners, the edges, and the special shape of your particular yard or porch to make a useable and pleasant design that your family will want to spend time in.

    Don't forget things like seating, pathways, and interesting items such as a small waterfall or birdbath.

  3. Size matters.

    If you're working with a 10' by 10' (3x3 meter) yard, planting a tree that will grow to 50 feet with a 100 foot spread makes no sense. However, a dwarf fruit tree tucked into a corner, espaliered on a wall, or carefully pruned and placed in the center of a round garden design could be the perfect touch your garden needs.

    When choosing garden accessories, size matters also. Keep your accessories small, few, and of high quality, so as to give a clean, uncluttered effect. If your heart is absolutely set on that 6 foot/2 meter tall urn, though, make sure it's placed in such a way so that the entire effect is balanced.

    Hint: drawing out your plans in advance will save you a lot of lugging!

  4. If you can't spread out sideways, go upwards.

    Vertical gardening works wonders in situations where you have walls, fences, or enough soil (whether in a pot or in the ground) to install a trellis. Use every inch of vertical space you have!

    Edible climbers include grapes, tomatoes, nasturtium, kiwifruit, roses, peas, beans, and so on. Pick your favorites and do your research to find the ones suitable for your situation.

  5. All this is to say: Use the area you have.

    This is not the time to show off your mulch! I'm not saying to crowd your plants, but don't spread them out either -- you will need every centimeter you can squeeze out of your yard. Choose your plants and plan their placement according to their space requirements to give you a lush, full garden in the minimum amount of time needed.

    (for those of you with tiny lots, I highly recommend the technique of ecological gardening)

Have fun!

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