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By Sarah Hammons
Like many other twenty-somethings, I’m in that living situation post-parents’ house and pre-mortgage of my own; in other words, an apartment. At my parents’ house, I had the luxury of a decent sized yard to garden in, but my current apartment only offers a small concrete patio. With the average size of the American yard shrinking, many of you may be like me - struggling to fit all the plants you love into the small space you have. For those of you with space restrictions, here are a few suggestions to make the most of your tight quarters: First of all, think vertical! A shelving unit and some decorative containers can transform your patio into an extensive herb garden, a wall of continuous blooms, or even a desert or tropical oasis. No matter your choice in plant material, this wall of vegetation is sure to create a more secluded retreat while expanding your growing space. For example, in a small portion of our precious patio space my husband and I use just such a shelving unit to grow a selection of our favorite herbs to garnish our latest culinary creations. This practical planting unit also serves to screen out the side view of the parking lot, which is definitely an added bonus.
Still thinking in the vertical plane, don’t underestimate the uses of hanging baskets; they are mobile and versatile. Place them anywhere you can put a hook. Try hanging them over patio containers or existing beds to double your gardening space. Plant them with traditional flowering annuals or mix it up with hanging tomatoes, herbs or ever-bearing strawberries. The possibilities are endless, so have fun and think outside the basket.
Another easy way to go vertical is to utilize trellises. These handy tools can help you maximize your space in patio containers, vegetable gardens, or just about anywhere. On the patio try putting a trellis at the back of a large mixed planter. For a quick spring veggie planter try growing peas up the trellis with mixed salad greens in the front. In the summer, switch to pole beans on the trellis and a patio variety of zucchini in front. For a more permanent ornamental planter, why not try a climbing rose like Cloud 10™ on the trellis with a low growing perennial like Nepeta Junior Walker™ in front? For those lucky enough to have a vegetable garden, you can get more out of your space by growing intensively. To do this think outside of the popular summer crops like tomatoes and squash and explore the world of cold weather crops. Think peas, kale, collards, spinach, and carrots. Plant these in late winter/early spring for a spring harvest, replace them with your summer crops, and then repeat the cold weather crops again in late summer/early fall for a fall harvest. Use succession plantings, typically every three weeks, for crops like carrots and beets to help ensure a continuous harvest. To further extend your season, consider utilizing a cold frame. In many areas this will allow you to harvest cold weather crops all winter long.
For those of you unable to grow a vegetable garden at home, myself included, try looking for a local community garden to join like my husband and I did. For a nominal fee we quadrupled our gardening space! We now have a full blown vegetable garden, a nice looking patio with our favorite herbs on hand, and a smattering of low maintenance houseplants. So get creative and see how many plants you can fit into your small space!