Small Space Gardening

Gary Jones

Tue February 28, 2017 2:45pm

There is something really lovely about a garden that sits above things — those special rooftop or balcony gardens where you are sheltered by the quiet of green but can glance out and over, keeping an eye on life’s activities below.
Equally special are tiny, enclosed “secret” gardens created in the small outdoor spaces of condominiums and townhouses. They may only provide space for a bistro table and chair but can be lush, verdant enclosures of green where one can enjoy a peaceful moment.
Yes you can garden in these small spaces like on a balcony, on a rooftop or in the leftover space of a townhouse and it can be rewarding and fulfilling. In some ways it is easier than having a full-fledged garden. Many of the typical struggles like weeding, pests and bare patches are minimized.
There are other aspects to consider, however, like the importance of regular watering and feeding and a greater expenditure on pottery. Although, think of the money and time you are saving as compared to maintaining a larger garden.
What small-space and backyard gardening have in common is a need to curate. Regular gardens suffer as they are rarely good examples of this important art. You have to curate a small garden and that is a good thing.
Here are some simple small garden tips to inspire and guide you.
First, think lush. Nothing is more pitiful than a few lonely struggling plants left out on a sunny ledge to fend for themselves. Instead, think big with large pots or containers, mature, leafy plants, trailing plants, mounding plants and a few vertical ones too. Don’t feel limited because there is little or no ground. Use high-quality pots as they will last a lifetime and create visual interest. More is more in a small garden.
Limit your plant palette, however; use fewer kinds of plants but more of them. Keep them mainly green with a few jolts of color.
Utilize high-quality soil. Potted roots have limited space to wander. Use organic potting soil and add some organic starter fertilizer. With organic you don’t have to worry about “burned” or dried out roots caused by dehydration from regular fertilizer.
Think light. Small-space gardens tend to be at the extremes, either in lots of shade or sun. Match your plants with the amount of light.
Water and feed plants regularly. Always water deeply and thoroughly until water runs out the bottom, then allow the soil surface go dry between watering. A secret tip from the pros: double feed plants in containers. Feed with a time-release fertilizer and fertilize monthly with an organic liquid or granular fertilizer.
Finally, dispose of plants that are not happy. Plants lives are shorter in confined spaces, and the extreme conditions and restrictions mean certain plants need to be replaced often. Do not feel guilty when tossing a plant. Put it in the green recycling bin where it can continue to “live” and eventually compost.
Gary Jones is the chief horticulturalist at Armstrong Garden Centers. Email your gardening questions to Or contact your local Armstrong Garden Center.