Tiny Garden, Big Yields

Chive blossoms, they start in early May in Ohio.
Chive blossoms, they start in early May in Ohio.

For the last couple of years – and probably for the next 2-4 years – I’ve had a tiny garden. This is a change from big gardens most of my life. When I was in highschool and worked for a landscaping business I had a flower garden that would make people stop to exclaim over it. I don’t foresee that happening again – I simply don’t have that kind of time and I was being paid in plants back then!

urban garden
The little garden in Early May.

That being said, I know that I could do more with the space I have. My constraints are much more about time. I have none. Well, very little, and certainly not at the times of year when I’d ordinarily be prepping beds and planting. Which means I’m buying all my plants – I tried starting a few this spring, but lost what germinated when I tried to harden them off and got caught by frost. I’m out of the habit of checking the weather religiously. That’s ok, because it’s not a large garden. I don’t need a dozen each tomatoes, peppers, squash, and so on.

gardening in may
The garden two weeks later. Poof! Growth!

In the three years I’ve been here, I’ve established a permanent bed along the front of the house and slowly filled it with herbs and perennial flowers. They mix well, produce a lot of handy kitchen herbs, and look pretty. I’m about to slightly enlarge that bed and put in a handful of vegetables along with annual flowers to keep the ‘flower garden’ look rather than kitchen garden, although that’s effectively what I plan. I’m not really worried about pilferage, we do have people walking by in front of the house but the chances of them deciding to take my veggies is… slim.

When you’re choosing plants for a small, low-maintenance garden, you want to focus on the plants that will give you what you want – colorful flowers, herbs for the kitchen, or fruits – but won’t need tending more than once or twice a year. With some planning, you can have flowers all season, and harvest as much as you want from the herbs. I’m focusing more on herbs since I don’t have space for berries and most veg need plenty of care.

Iris and Chives
The yellow iris and purple chives make a great combination – one I didn’t plan, as I was given iris root starts with no color specified.

Last year I put the veggies and herbs in pots in the backyard. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough sun, so while I got a handful of peppers and a ton of herbs, the tomatoes languished. So I put them out front, on the south side, this year. I have to enlarge the bed – the irises Dorothy-Mom gave me are expanding by leaps and bounds, and my tiny 4″ pot of oregano is the green blob that ate… well, everything. It will be mad with bees later in the summer when it starts blooming.

Oregano plant
The oregano has even swallowed spiderwort, a notoriously hard plant to eliminate.

My point in this post is to say that even with limited space you can grow things. Herbs are by far the best option, as veggies can be had cheaply. Herbs aren’t as cheap and it’s so nice to grab what you need for the recipe and walk back to the kitchen. Dried just isn’t as good! Which reminds me – my thyme didn’t winter over in a container, I need to pick up a new plant of that!

Tarragon plant
The tarragon is nearly as tall as I am. It never got this big in NH!

I miss having berries, but they take more space than I have. And since we’re likely to move soon, I didn’t want to establish them and abandon them. Most people wouldn’t have any idea what to do with them, and would rip them out to put in more boring grass. I’ve sold my First Reader on letting me expand the garden by pointing out it’s a little less mowing for him.

Bee Balm
Bergamot, Bee Balm, Monarda… it’s a kind of mint with a citrusy scent and best known for flavoring Earl Grey Tea. I use it in a lot of recipes, and the bees and hummingbirds adore the flowers.

I may not have the time to spend in my garden I’d like, but the moments I take to tend it or just look at it and harvest are good ones. It’s not perfect, there are always weeds even when I’ve tackled them the week before. That’s ok. If I worried too much about how it looked I’d not have one. Instead I’ll enjoy it, keep choosing plants that require no care from me once they are established, and sadly bid it farewell when I go, knowing that I’ll get to do this all over again when we settle down in a new place. Wherever that is. Because for me, a garden is a constant friend, even if it’s only in a few pots.

Dewy spiderwort blooms swallowed up in fuzzy oregano leaves.


3 responses to “Tiny Garden, Big Yields”

  1. John in Philly Avatar
    John in Philly

    We used to have a few peach trees and a dozen dwarf apples. Now we have zero trees, because they took more work than we were willing to spend.
    Our present thoughts lean towards low maintenance, and if you can eat it and it looks good, even better. But eating it, and low maintenance will beat the looking good.
    We have blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries.
    The blueberries are in a simple chicken wire berry house, and thus no netting and easy picking, the raspberries are an everbearing type that gets mowed to the ground in the spring, and the strawberries are planted in a vertical no soil hydroponic system. The strawberry variety is a day neutral type so we harvest strawberries all summer long without bending and stooping. (and the hydroponic system satisfies my nerd gene)
    And all three rarely, (almost never) need to be sprayed. Cruising through the yard while grazing is fun.
    We pick, eat some fresh, and freeze a lot. Then when the season is cooled off, we spend time jam making. And the raspberry pancake syrup is awesome. (taste tests available if in the Philly area!)
    And of course, way too many zucchini. Although planked on the grill is a great use for the excess.

    1. I have a thing about berries… LOL At the NH Farm, I’d intended to have fourteen kinds in the long run, and was well on my way there when I moved away. I’ll go back to work on that goal when we settle down permanently.

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