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Want a productive, edible and sustainable garden? One that nourishes you with healing delicious foods? Growing your own organic food garden is one easy way to live more sustainably and tread lighter on the planet.
When you ‘shop’ for fresh ingredients from your garden, you save time and energy. Home gardeners don’t need to use huge amounts of precious water, toxic petrochemical fertilisers, expensive fuel, transport, tonnes of material and lots of land. Designed cleverly, a small sustainable garden avoids wasting resources and minimises the impact on the environment.
I believe being ‘sustainable’ is a lifestyle that helps sustain you physically and provides you with short and long-term benefits. Being a sustainable gardener is about making conscious choices about the actions you take and the resources you use. Giving back to the earth and not just taking from it.
Do you ever feel frustrated when pest insects damage your plants? Wish your kitchen garden was more productive? You’re not alone! Even the healthiest gardens struggle with a few ‘unwelcome visitors’ at times.
If you have limited space for your food garden, then losing precious crops, can be even more disheartening.
The good news is there are design strategies you can use to:
- Maximise your space;
- Minimise pest insects;
- Enhance the beauty; and
- Even improve some of your harvests.
Important Factors to Consider with Vertical Gardens
Got a small space? To help you decide what kind of structure to use for your vertical garden, consider these 15 practical design tips.
1. Don’t overlook your garden entrance
A gateway is usually the point of entry and the place where you make first impressions! With a little imagination this space can be another creative vertical garden. (more…)
“Gardening has a magical quality when you are a child.”- Barbara Damrosch
Inspirational Themed Gardens
A garden is Nature’s Classroom. If you have children, grandchildren, visitors or are homeschooling, this article will give you some ideas and inspiration for designing your space with little ones in mind.
You can include a wide range of learning experiences. There are loads of creative ways to encourage kids to start small or think BIG!
Growing plants and being in contact with nature is a therapy in itself. Now more than ever, we need to spend time connecting with the outdoors and plants for our mental and physical wellbeing. Not only adults, but especially children. They often don’t express the stress and anxiety they feel, so a garden can be a quiet space to calm and centre them emotionally.
“Many studies both in Australia and overseas in school gardens have found students who grow organic fresh produce not only increase their consumption of vegetables at home but also improve their ability to identify new fruits, herbs and vegetables and develop knowledge of how to grow them.”
What a great gift we can give to children! I hope you enjoy some of the ideas I’ve put together from my experiences.
Small Garden Design Ideas
The smaller your space, the more important the choices you make. Good design, colour, use of vertical space and other design elements can make a huge difference. When you make wise choices with your small garden design, you improve your garden’s productivity, visual appeal and functionality.
With a diploma in Interior Design and Permaculture, I’ve learned how to design a space efficiently for abundance, beauty, character and practicality. I help my clients maximise their garden spaces and ‘design out’ problems. If you need some inspiration for your place, dig into these tips!
We are all unique, with different needs and visions of what our ideal garden looks like. What a “small” garden means to one person, may be a large space to another! Our perspective of space is often relative to our previous experiences.
If you have lived on an acre and move to a quarter acre block, you may think you now only have a ‘small’ garden to maintain! If you have only had an indoor plant but now have a courtyard, your new garden is full of possibilities.
“In his garden every man may be his own artist without apology or explanation. Each within his green enclosure is a creator, and no two shall reach the same conclusion; nor shall we, any more than other creative workers, be ever wholly satisfied with our accomplishment. Ever a season ahead of us floats the vision of perfection and herein lies its perennial charm.” – Louise Beebe Wilder
5 Small Garden Design Tips
1. Keep it Simple
If you’re not sure where to start with your space, focus on one small area first. Make a list of the most important ways you need that space to work. A patio may need to provide you with a nice view, privacy, easy access to edible and ornamental pots, and a relaxing place to sit.
2. Choose a Theme
Start with your favourite foods or a colour that appeals to you. For example, a culinary or medicinal herb garden; stir fry garden; pest-repellent pots; or miniature fruit trees. For a colour theme, if you love red, choose plants with flowers, fruit or foliage in different shades of red. Or put your favourite plants into red pots.
3. Start with Container Gardens
Containers have many benefits. Choose a suitable pot or planter if you have limited space, or need confidence as a beginner gardener. You can repurpose materials as containers, get crafty with DIY or buy new. Group a few together as a feature.
4. Use Vertical Space Wisely
Create an attractive design feature while maximising your vertical space. Some structures use both vertical and horizontal growing space. These include herb spirals, trellises, tepees, fences, ladders, espaliered trees and vines, and arbors. These structures increase your growing space and enhance your garden visually.
5. Garden Art
Reflect your personality and add character with garden art. If you have children let them create their own stepping stones; plant labels; a planter box; or paint a garden sign. Create a garden feature as a focal point by drawing the eye to a central position.
Perhaps you have a collection of rustic tools, musical chimes, a bird bath or feeder? Maybe pottery items you no longer use indoors but could add character outdoors? Take another look around your home and think about what items could have a new life in your garden.
Charming touches help you enjoy your garden more and decorative ornaments can help tell your story visually.
Part of the enjoyment of creating a special garden is adding to it over time. Search around to find things you like. You can often find treasures at opportunity shops, garage sales, online and Freecycle.org.
Small Garden Ideas . . . what you can grow
What can you grow in a small space? Here are a few ideas.
1. Tiny Indoor Gardens
It really doesn’t get any simpler than adding some fresh sprouts into your diet. You don’t even have to leave the kitchen bench or use soil! Soak seeds in water and rinse them daily. You will be sprouting green ‘plant babies’ in just a few days!
Or try growing microgreens. These small but mighty ‘toddlers’ of the plant world are an even easier ‘indoor garden’. Both offer you delicious rewards.
Indoor plants of any kind will also help to improve your indoor air quality. How? Research shows pot plants help remove some of the VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and toxic fumes from appliances, furniture, flooring and building materials. Studies have also found indoor plants can dramatically improve your health and wellbeing by reducing stress.
2. Mushroom Kits
You don’t have to leave the house if you grow mushrooms with a kit. You can enjoy several harvests of fungicide-free mushrooms in a humid environment indoors. It’s incredibly exciting cutting your first flush of home grown mushies. They require a little patience but are so worth the wait!
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3. Herb Gardens
A pot of fragrant culinary herbs for the kitchen will provide you with tasty garnishes, herb teas and fresh ingredients for meals.
- Many herbs are multi-functional. They can be used to add flavour to meals, have medicinal value, provide attractive flowers (which in turn attract beneficial insects and pollinators) and can be brewed for herb teas.
- Plant chives and parsley as an edible ‘ornamental’ border around a small garden bed.
- Aloe Vera is a well regarded medicinal herb that is attractive in form and shape. It makes a beautiful feature plant and can be used to soothe skin ailments.
Add so many benefits to any garden space. Flowers that perform multiple functions are a great choice. Flowers add beauty, colour, fragrance, attract bees, look great in a vase and soften hard landscaping features. Start with a punnet of annuals in a pot, a bulb or sprinkle some seeds. Some flowers even grow well indoors.
If you are buying flowering plants, why not coordinate species that have a similar colour? Blue and white is a classic combination that always looks sensational. With a little extra thought to plant selection, you can have flowering colour all year round.
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Creative Design in Pots and Garden Beds
- Try experimenting with a hanging basket to save space and add colour at eye level.
- Recycle old containers and find new ways to reuse them in the garden. Think about the functionality of an object and how it can be utilised in a new way. There are many examples on this website to help inspire you.
- Recycle centres, council clean up days and garage sales are all great places to find old containers to re-purpose.
- When an old wheelbarrow rusts out or gets a few holes, rather than ending up in landfill, re-use it as an edible planter box. It adds loads of character and can still provide functionality as a mobile garden. Just wheel it to where the sun is!
- Almost anything can, with a little imagination be turned into a place to grow something in your own backyard.
- Choose containers with good drainage and made from materials that won’t break down too quickly. You will find lots of ideas and tips in Container Gardening.
- Raised no-dig garden beds not only save your back, but are practical, low cost and attractive. No dig beds are highly productive growing spaces and have many advantages.
Raised beds come in different shapes, materials and sizes.
Small Garden Design – An interesting history . . .
- Historically, gardening in small spaces goes way back to the Egyptians. These ancient gardeners used earthenware pots to highlight symmetry within a garden design, define and separate garden spaces and grow rare plants.
- The Romans embraced container gardening with great passion. They developed many new techniques for making terracotta pots. They invented greenhouses, topiary (pruning plants into shapes) and also loved their garden art.
- Many of the techniques used in small gardens today are borrowed from ideas the Romans developed. They painted courtyard walls with trompe-l’oeil trees and flowers to make the space look larger. They filled these courtyards with fountains, statues, pottery urns, artifacts and vases. They also grew a wide range of culinary, fragrant and medicinal plants. All ideas to inspire you!
Well, I hope these small garden design ideas have inspired you to get started with your next project!
Want more Design Ideas? Discover more tips: Ten Tips for Creating Beautiful Gardens, Clever Design Ideas, Micro Gardening and Container Ideas. For children’s garden design ideas, get some inspiration in Themes for Kids’ Gardens or check out some photos of creative containers to grow your garden in. Dig in.
Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission. I only recommend products or services I use personally or believe will add value to my readers. Please read my Disclosure Statement for more details.
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© Copyright Anne Gibson, The Micro Gardener 2016. https://themicrogardener.com. All rights reserved.
Seed Saving and Collecting Guide
Learning to save your own seeds is A MUST for all gardeners! Collecting and saving your own seed is easy.
Benefits of Seed Saving
- Plants grown from seed acclimatise to your weather conditions and soil type. So, seeds saved from your own crops tend to be more resilient to pests and climate challenges. Plants grown from seed sourced from outside your microclimate often take several seasons to acclimatise.
- Seed saving improves your food security, self-sufficiency and sustainability.
- The seeds you collect and save are usually fresher than seeds bought commercially, so they last longer.
- Seed saving from your own crops enables you to keep your own varieties going into the future.
- You save money.
- Seeds are a valuable resource to sell, swap or share with other gardeners.
- You can learn to become a plant breeder by selecting the best plants with desirable character traits. For example, high yields, pest resistance, superior flavour, drought tolerance, size and colour. So every year, your seed stock becomes stronger and more resilient with improved traits.
Many old varieties of seeds are threatened today as they are not suitable for commercial agriculture and food processing. Seed savers help to keep heirloom varieties alive, ensuring continuity of unique cultivars. You can contribute to preserving the genetic diversity of our garden crops.
This laminated, fold-out 8-page full-colour chart provides a condensed overview of seed collecting for 54 vegetable varieties. This reference guide has excellent clearly illustrated information on plant types, pollination, which seeds to save, how to keep them pure, harvesting, storage, germination tests, advice for the seed saver and a seed collector’s glossary. An easy-to-use Getting Started Guide for seed savers.
Are Insect Pests Bugging You?
If you’re frustrated with pest problems, you’re not alone. In my latest article, How to Control Pest Insects Naturally, you’ll discover WHY plants attract pest insects so you can address the cause. It’s packed with loads of practical strategies to prevent damage without resorting to toxic chemicals. I share methods I use to control pest insects by working with Nature for a healthy productive garden. I think you’ll find some useful tips to dig into.
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Fight Pests, Diseases, and Improve Soil Health with Vermicast
Have you discovered the joys and benefits of employing worms in your garden? I’ve been utilising these soil workers to create healthy soil and produce rich fertilisers for my plants for years. Worm manure (also known as vermicast or worm castings) is a valuable product they provide for free!
Did you know worm castings boost pest-resistant enzyme production in plants? This increases their resistance to insect attack and helps fight soil-borne plant diseases like root rot.
In a 2004 study (Edwards and Arancon), 20% and 40% vermicompost was added to growing media for a variety of vegetables. The results showed statistically significant reductions in arthropod (aphid, mealybug, spider mite) numbers! There were also subsequent decreases in plant damage compared to the control.
In field trials, researchers also observed the suppression of plant-parasitic nematodes. The numbers of spider mites and aphids were significantly reduced when they applied worm tea. These results are especially encouraging for home gardeners.
“Earthworms are the intestines of the soil.” – Aristotle
Want to learn more about worms? I invite you to read my recent article in Garden Culture Magazine. I explain the difference between vermicast, vermicompost and vermicomposting. I also share the advantages of these amazing fertiliser factories.
Some interesting findings from the article. “When liquid vermicast leachate is applied as a foliar spray, it provides natural resistance to certain plant diseases without the need for chemical alternatives. Various studies confirm vermicast plays a beneficial role in stimulating seed germination, shoot and root development, and vegetative growth.”
Looking for a way to feed your garden and earn an income?
Learn how with the Worm Farming Secrets eBook.
Do you panic when you see an insect you don’t recognise in your garden? Do you assume it’s a pest causing damage? If so, it may help to understand WHY insects attack plants. I also share a toolbox of natural and organic strategies to help prevent and control the damage.
Firstly, a reality check! Don’t expect a pest-free garden. Even the healthiest gardens still get pest insect visitors. It’s more important to focus on creating a healthy balanced ecosystem. Aim for a productive harvest rather than a zero-tolerance policy!
There will be more beneficial predatory insects and pest controllers in residence with the right elements in place, than those causing damage. You need both – in balance.
If your garden is new, has few flowering species or has poor quality soil, it may be a different story. If you have a horde of herbivores eating your plants, don’t give up! Give it a little time and nature will restore the natural equilibrium. Read on to learn how.
Let’s colour in the picture so you know why the pest insects are there and what to do about it.
How do Pest Insects Damage Plants?
Some insects suck the sap out of plants or chew leaves, while others bore into the roots, seeds or stems. You can tell if you have some unwanted visitors in your garden by the visual damage. You won’t see underground pest insects. However, you WILL be able to observe the evidence they’re in residence by the appearance of your plant aboveground.
Why do some Plants Attract Pest Insects?
Pest insects target plants that are minerally deficient. They are indicators of an imbalance. Weak malnourished plants are magnets for herbivorous insects. They are a CLUE you need to change something.
Professor Philip Callahan, the author of Tuning into Nature, observed that insect antennae enable them to sense a variety of environmental signals. He also found that plants emit infrared radiation (not visible to us). What’s really interesting is these signals vary depending on the nutrient levels inside the plant. He notes “A sick plant actually sends forth a beacon, carried in the infrared, attracting insects. It is then the insect’s role to dispose of this plant deemed unfit for life by nature.”
Survival of the Fittest
So, ‘pest’ insects are actually Nature’s ‘garbage collectors’. Their role is to remove ‘rubbish plants’ and help strong healthy plants survive! They leave plants with optimum nutrition levels alone. What can you learn from this? Grow nutrient-dense food and insect pests won’t bother your plants.
If you have a lot of pest insect problems in your garden, look at your soil health as a first step. Then, cultural practices like watering, feeding and position. It’s far easier to implement preventative strategies than deal with a big outbreak.
Pest insects select plants with a nutritional imbalance of one or more nutrients. They don’t have the pancreatic enzymes necessary to digest complex carbohydrates in healthy plants. Untouched plants are a clue you are meeting their needs. (more…)