How to Make a Small Space Shine By Ade Sellars

Posted Wednesday, 10 April 2024, 9.09am

There’s no doubt Spring is here, and for us gardeners it’s a busy time in the calendar as we sow, grow and pot on. Every year we tell ourselves the same thing, “I’d love to grow that, but I just don’t have the space”. Yet, the first sign of warm weather and common sense goes out the window. Greenhouses are crammed with precious seedlings, whilst flowerbeds begin to bulge with newly planted possibilities.

Garden areas are truly precious. For many of us it’s limited, but for many more people they have very little space, leaving them to think ‘growing your own’ is a pipe dream. So, whether it’s a patio, balcony or a few pots, what can you do to make your small space shine?

A sunny balcony can offer so much growing opportunity for trailing plants. Potted into hanging baskets, or secure flower boxes, the plants can hang down, filling the area with colour and interest. Plants to consider are petunias, lobelia and trailing fuchsias. Ensure you use Dalefoot’s Wool Compost for Potting, as this will not only provide all your plant needs, but will help to retain moisture as we head into those warm summer months.

If you have a little more space on your balcony, patio or courtyard, add a few large pots or containers with summer bedding plants. You don’t need to grow them from seed if you’re lacking growing space, as your local garden nursery will have a wide range, and often they don’t cost the earth. For a bit of flare, mix up your planting scheme with osteospermum, gazania and gerbera. Or, if you’re looking for plants with height, cornflower, bishop’s flower and tithonia are worthy contenders. They will happily grow in pots and hold the promise of entertaining bees and other pollinators.

But, if you really want your area to shine, and don’t mind getting your hands dirty, try sowing a few sunflower seeds using Dalefoot’s Wool Compost for Seeds. If you have the budget, pot up a few canna or dahlia tubers. All easy plants to grow, that offer a huge variety of size, colour and bloom, that will guarantee something for every growing area. Even a packet of wildflower seeds sown into a container can offer colour and interest, and give a child the chance to garden and get closer to nature.

However, small spaces can often be shaded spaces, so what can you do to bring interest to these areas? Hostas and ferns are low maintenance plants, that offer wonderful interest and structure. Fuchsias, coleus and heuchera are also excellent plants for a shady spot. Consider planting a small acer into the ground or a container or pot. Slow-growing, and with its attractive foliage changing over the seasons, it can be a real focal point for the space.

There’s a train of thought that you need a lot of space to grow vegetables, but this isn’t the case as there’s so much you can still grow in a limited space. Many varieties of veg now have a dwarf variation, giving you a healthy crop and a plant that doesn’t grow as large.

Potatoes are always an easy veg to start with. Grown in potato sacks and containers, they take up little space. Also, once the flowers and foliage appear, they make for an attractive feature. For a change of scenery sweet potatoes are fun to grow. Courgettes are a must for a sunny corner, that will also happily grow in sacks and containers. For a continual harvest, plant them up with Dalefoot’s Compost for Vegetables and Salad, and establish a regular watering regime. Once they start to produce fruit, the key is to pick the courgettes regularly. Not only are you getting a constant supply, but it tells the plant to continue producing.

Of course, if you can’t grow out, grow up. Smaller variety of squashes can be grown as trailing plants such as uchiki kuri and little gem. Beans, peas are vertical growing plants that have a minimum footprint, and you don’t need to grow many to get a good crop. The key is to create a strong structure so they can latch on and pull themselves up.

Hanging baskets are not just for flowers, they’re also ideal for growing tomatoes such as ‘tumbling tom’ and ‘pear drops’. Also, small cucumber varieties like ‘Hopeline’ and bush chilli plants will also grow in these baskets. If you enjoy fresh fruit, then you have to try growing strawberries in hanging baskets. Long window boxes on a balcony or window’s edge are a perfect setting for strawberries. Plant early, mid-season and late varieties, and you could be eating freshly picked strawberries throughout summer.

Salad leaves, such as rocket and little gem, are versatile and perfect for the summer menu. Treat them as displays by potting them up in hanging baskets, pots or window containers. Don’t be too concerned if they’re grown in a slight shady area, as this will restrict their chances of bolting as summer temperatures increase.

Believe it or not, fruit trees can still be an option in a limited space. Many varieties are grown on dwarf root stock, which determines the vigour of the tree thus producing a smaller specimen. As these trees take up less space, they can be grown in pots and containers, and kept on a sunny patio or balcony allowing you to enjoy freshly picked fruit. Stepover fruit trees alongside a path are also a great option, taking up little space that make a great feature and help to create structure to a small area. When choosing your tree, opt for self-fertilising varieties. That way, you won’t need another similar variety for cross pollination purposes. Also, if you do have the space for another fruit tree, it means you can go for a different fruit altogether, giving your tastebuds and space more choice.

If you are lucky enough to own a few flowerbeds, why not try growing a bit of veg in amongst your flowers. They’ll grow happily together, and if you get the right combination you’ve got companion planting. Where flower and veg plant work together to attract pollinators and deter pests. Also, this informal design of ornamental and edible plants closely planted together can give your growing area that charming ‘cottage garden’ look, which will make many onlookers stop and stare at your functional space.

Intercropping is an ideal option if you have a limited growing area. For gaps between flowers and vegetables, try filling them with short-term veggies such as lettuce, radishes or spinach. By starting these seeds off in a greenhouse, they’ll germinate quicker, giving you a plug plant, you can pop into the ground where you see gaps appears.

Don’t let the size of your growing space restrict you ambition. Although garden books, magazines and garden shows can instruct you on what you should do, I believe a little garden anarchy, and breaking a few rules can be a good thing. Afterall, if you can’t make mistakes free of judgement, how will you learn, discover and be encouraged to go further on your garden adventure. Gardening is for everyone, no matter what your space is. It’s not an exclusive club for the few, it’s shed doors are open to everyone.

I’m Ade Sellars the ‘Good Life Gardener’, and I’m am award-winning garden writer, gardener, presenter, and content producer, with a passion for growing my own food in my kitchen garden. As well as running my own gardening business, I design kitchen gardens, write for magazines, produce tailored video content for gardening brands, flower shows and outdoor events and I regularly deliver talks and demonstrations around the country.

Instagram: adesellars
YouTube: @TheGoodLifeGardener

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