Limited space, unlimited possibilities.
So beckons the sign welcoming visitors to Seed Savers Exchange’s newest (and smallest) garden. There you’ll find raised beds overflowing with Chioggia beets and Winter Density lettuce, Globe Amaranth flowers and Hyssop herbs, and more than a few other heirloom varieties in between.
We recently visited with Lou Ann Hall—gardener extraordinaire and Seed Savers Exchange's Retail Seed Program manager—to learn more about the lush and inviting small-space garden (100 square feet, give or take) she created this spring on the sprawling grounds of Heritage Farm in Decorah. Read on and learn how you too can make the most of even the smallest garden spot.
What was the impetus for creating a small-space garden?
We wanted to show gardeners (and potential gardeners) that you can grow all sorts of vegetables, herbs, and flowers in a small space; all you have to do is imagine the possibilities.
What did you take into consideration when “mapping out” the space?
Small spaces don’t allow you to plant row upon row of different varieties so I worked to optimize the use of the space I did have. One way I did that was using trellises, which allow plants to grow up, not out. I have cucumbers on one end of the trellis and beets on the other—by the time the cucumber plants reach to the trellis's other side, the beets will have been harvested. Underneath the cucumber trellis is lettuce; that was planted later because it needs shade. There is definitely strategy involved.
Another way to optimize garden space is succession planting—grow something to maturity, harvest it, and have something else ready to plant in that space right away. Maybe it’s the same variety; maybe it’s something different. But the idea is to keep utilizing that space.
What exactly were you able to fit in your small-space garden plot?
Quite a lot. I planted six Genovese basil plants, four tomato plants, four pepper plants, two summer squashes, two cauliflower plants, two Brussels sprouts plants, three varieties of lettuce, three varieties of beets, two varieties of cabbage, acorn squash, beans, chard, carrots, cilantro, as well as sunflowers, calendula, and morning glories.
How do you maintain the space?
Using raised beds really helps with maintenance because I don’t have to bend over as far to reach the soil. I also spaced the plants close together so there’s not a lot of room for weeds and used mulch as a natural weed barrier.
What else should one consider when planning a small-space plot?
Aesthetics. Always consider the colors of your plants—both opposing and complementary colors. Think about the size of your plants—small versus large. If all your plants are large, for example, there’s no focal point. Also, don’t forget the sense of smell—smells like you get from oregano or other herbs. And, of course varieties with shorter maturity dates will help you get the most bang for your buck. Small-space gardens are expensive real estate for vegetables (like leeks) that take a long time to grow.
Is there any other gardening advice you’d like to offer?
Successful gardening starts with good soil and adequate sun so pay attention to both. And remember that when planting any garden, you’re dealing with nature and other variables so not everything will be successful every year. And that is OK.