Bigger may be better. But when it comes to gardening, smaller is hot.
The idea of growing more in less space started gaining popularity about 30 years ago, when gardener Mel Bartholomew came out with his book All-New Square-Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space. It espoused intensive planting in square-foot grids instead of traditional rows to maximize returns while minimizing resources used.
Since then, the idea of getting more satisfaction by growing less has really, well, grown, says Marla McAfee, in sales at McNamara Florist and Garden Center, 4322 DeForest Ave., off Bluffton Road.
At recent garden trade shows, she says, she noticed more and more products aimed at gardeners who want to go small. There’s tons of options. They’re increasing every year as manufacturers are coming up with more and more things, she says.
The popularity of gardening in small space is linked to housing and lifestyle trends, McAfee says. More people are living in apartments or condos without easy access to ground and have busy work schedules with little gardening time. And then there are the aging of baby boomers who love to garden but have physical conditions that limit their ability to tend one.
Don’t expect a small-scale garden to light up the neighborhood or feed a family for an entire season or year – aim for a few small, high-quality plants or harvests, says Ricky Kemery, Allen County horticulture educator for the Purdue Extension.
In some ways, having smaller spaces can be preferable because it makes it easier to take care of things, he says.
If you’re a slave to a huge perennial garden or a 40-foot vegetable garden, it can be a lot of work. It’s like a kid who takes a huge portion of food on his plate, and then he can’t eat it all.
With northeast Indiana’s notoriously finicky clay soil and undependable weather, Kemery adds, soil quality and moisture conditions in a small garden, even a portable garden, can be easier to control.
Here are some ideas and products for those looking to scale down.
Breeders know that not everybody has room for large plants. Most of the catalogs now are talking about how certain shrub varieties are designed for smaller spaces, Kemery says.
A case in point: dwarf Korean lilacs (Syringa meyeri Palibin), hardy, fragrant purple late-spring bloomers. These lilacs, hardy enough for this region’s winter temperatures and even colder areas, grow only about 4 feet tall and 5 feet wide in a dense, rounded shape. The growing habit makes them good for a hedge or small foundation bed because they won’t obscure windows.
Hydrangeas also come in compact varieties such the Cityline series, and so do easy-to-grow spirea. In the realm of perennials and annuals, there are dwarf lilies, gladioluses, dahlias, snapdragons and sunflowers.
Another trend is petite vegetables – tiny carrots and beets, for example. Certain zucchini varieties also grow in a more compact shape instead of a long, gangly vine that takes up garden space, Kemery says.
If you’re without ground altogether, many things will grow in pots on a deck or patio, says Julie Stuckey, in sales at Stuckey’s Greenhouses at the 1919 Tyler Ave. location.
Stuckey’s is known for its pre-made floral containers, many of which include newer varieties and unusual color schemes (black petunias, anyone?) and for its hanging planters.
But the business, which also has a location at 8023 Lima Road, also stocks vegetable varieties that can be planted in pots and city lettuce, pre-planted, container-suitable green and red leaf lettuce that will continue to bear with frequent cuttings.
Also available are patio and cherry tomatoes, pepper varieties that do well in containers and a large selection of herbs that will flourish in a flower box or other container. Stuckey says she planted a container with some of her favorites and kept it by her family’s grill last summer.
McAfee says unusual containers are proliferating. McNamara is carrying GeoPots, which are made of fabric with ventilated bottoms and handles that allow plants to be moved from place to place.
To save space, think vertical, McAfee says. A small strip of ground, a raised bed or container can accommodate vines encouraged to grow on a trellis.
Among many suitable flowers and ornamentals – clematis, morning glory, sweet potato vine. Vegetables include peas, pole beans and certain varieties of cucumbers, squash and tomatoes.
If you’ve ever marveled at the green wall at the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, you can do something similar at home.
McNamara also carries wall garden systems – planting grids to be hung on a wall. Suitable plants include succulents, many tropicals and ferns, she says; more ideas can be had at www.pinterest.com/kosie/vertical-gardens/.
Tiered gardens also save space. McNamara’s carries a three-tiered, wrought-iron planter with round baskets designed for Coco-mat liners. Stuckey’s carries annuals, including begonias and impatiens, planted in tiered plastic sleeves that can be hung on a wall or fence.
These bring small-space gardening up from the ground to about waist-high and allow for sowing greens throughout the season.
Many times, gardeners design and build them themselves (www.marthastewart.com/267317/salad-table), but now McNamara stocks one that can be assembled from a box.
U.S.-made by Arboria, the table is made of of western cedar wood, 17 inches wide by 45 inches long and about 9 inches deep, with a bottom shelf for containers or supplies.
For those with a fanciful streak and desirous of something truly small, these fill the bill. They’re typically container gardens with the tiniest of miniature plants and accessorized with fairy statuary and accessories.
Carolee’s Plants & Gifts in Hartford City pioneered these and carries many unusual plants, including miniature hostas, tiny coral bells and baby tears.
At McNamara’s, look for pre-planted terrarium-style gardens featuring air plants – species of the Tillandsia genus that grow without soil – and container gardens.
Stuckey’s is labeling plants suitable for fairy gardens. Both places carry accessories, including fairy houses at Stuckey’s made by Carrie Barcus of Fort Wayne, sister of Julie Stuckey, who says the gardens make good projects for kids and parents or grandparents.