Gardening in a small space

Mark Bryson - Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The days of large backyards in a new house build are over. Blocks of land are getting smaller, and dual occupancy and duplexes on the same block are more common as land prices increase and urban sprawl continues.

Even knockdown rebuilds often reduce the size of the backyard as home owners re-prioritise their leisure time and maintenance demands.

If gardening is your passion but you don’t want to be a slave to weeding all weekend, it is possible to have a pleasant and productive garden on a smaller scale.

Trees, fruit and vegetables are also possible in a small space, as long as it is carefully planned.

Upward growing trees such as cypresses have a place in a small garden, or choose a dwarf variety such as Magnolia Little Gem. Tree varieties that can be trimmed, espaliered or pleached, to expose the trunk, suit a smaller space.

Fruit and vegetable gardening is enjoying a renaissance and those with smaller backyards don’t have to miss out. Many vegetables like beans, peas, cucumbers and melons grow upwards on vines, so can be planted on fences and walls. Some varieties of tomatoes are tall skinny plants which take up little space and corn is another vegetable that reaches for the sky.

Fruit trees can be espaliered along fences, dwarf varieties can be grown in pots and passionfruit can climb up trellis. Passionfruit is a great home-grown fruit as it’s so expensive to buy.

Citrus fruit like lemons and limes can be grown in large pots, and give a Mediterranean air to a courtyard. Unfortunately, other citrus like oranges and grapefruit grow too large for small courtyards, but smaller varieties of mandarins and kumquat look great bedecked with orange fruit.

Fresh herbs are essential in any cook’s life and home-grown ones are so much superior to hydroponic offerings from the supermarket. Herbs just take up a little space and can be grown in pots or raised gardens.

Fruit and vegetables generally do best in full sun, though shade in the hottest part of the day is preferable in Melbourne’s summer. Herbs requirements differ, with hardy herbs like rosemary and sage tolerating full sun, while softer herbs such as mint and basil prefer semi-shade.

All fruit and vegetables like plenty of water, especially if they are in pots. If you can’t commit to daily watering in hotter months, install an automatic watering system on a timer to ensure success.

When planning flowering plants or shrubs or a smaller garden, make sure you consider the maximum height and spread of the mature plant. Several identical smaller plants have more of an impact than planting lots of different varieties.

Remember to layer different heights of plants in borders along the walls or fences for maximum use of space. Standard roses or shrubs can be used with great effect underplanted with ground cover. Climbers can be planted behind standards, perhaps choosing winter-flowering ones to add interest when the summer flowers have gone.

Symmetry in the garden is a strong design feature. It can be obtained with plantings, colour or similar hard materials such as wooden raised beds or paving design.

When purchasing plants for your new garden, check out specialist nurseries or mail-order companies for better value and more uncommon plants.

Autumn and winter is a great time to put in a garden, when the fierce summer sun has abated and there is more regular rainfall. Shrubs can get established and grow more roots to cope with the drier summer conditions.