Just because you have a small garden space doesn’t mean you can’t use it in a big way. There are so many ways to increase the production and usefulness of a small garden or backyard! Small spaces can have big uses, if you want them to!
One of my favorite stores is Ikea, because I love to walk through the displays and see what creative ways people have come up with to have multi-functional spaces. Stacking different uses in one location is one way to get the most out of the space you have. Too bad there isn’t an Ikea for backyards!
One of the best ways to start planning out a small garden is to think of all the different activities and features you’d like it to have. Pond, seating, barbecue, herbs, veggies, fruit, chickens, play space for kids, trampoline, what do YOU need?
Some people may love to have a bit of lawn to play with the kids on. I have kids, but we tend to head to the park for that kind of thing, and don’t need to maintain our own lawn. However, I love having chickens, so that’s a must have for me.
Once you know what you really want, look at what you already have. Is there an amazing fruit tree that’s already grown? Sweet! Use that shade for an awesome seating arrangement. Want more veggies, but don’t have the land? Container growing here you come!
Since we don’t have an actual gardening Ikea to get ideas from, here are some digital ideas that will help inspire you to make the most of your small garden.
How Much Sun Do You Get?
If you want to plant vegetables, chances are you’ll need at least a few hours of sunlight. If you don’t have a feel for what areas of your yard are sunny and shady, go out periodically throughout the day and take a look. You can get super fancy and make a chart, and record it throughout the year if you like.
Or you can be like me and slap something in the ground and hope it works.
I can guarantee you will have better results though, if you take some time to figure out where your full sun, part sun, and completely shady spots are. If you have lots of sun, you will probably have some happy vegetables and fruits. If you’re in a hot area, you may want to intentionally plant some shade trees!
Those of us with lots of shade, should not despair at the prospect of a garden of only impatients. There are plenty of great plants that will grow in shade. Here’s a list of 38 edible options for you.
If you know where your sunniest spots are, you can also take advantage of that to extend your gardening season with a cold frame. A cold frame is like a combination between a greenhouse and a raised bed! They’re pretty easy to make and in the right areas you can even grow year round with them. Here are some tips on cold-frame gardening.
Or, you could even make portable garden beds that you move with the sun’s movements! This is one of the great tips from Creative Green Living on gardening in shade. Little red wagon of lettuce!
Where Can You Dig?
If you want to plant directly into the ground, where will you be able to dig down? Go out to the side walk and look for your water meter. Look for gas lines, electric lines, phone lines, fence posts, and tree roots. Notice where utilities enter the house and where your sewer line is likely to be. Call 211 or a similar number if your city offers to locate underground utilities for you.
If you don’t have much space to put in a garden in your backyard, think out of the box. Herbs can be a lovely addition to front yard landscaping. You can even plant vegetables in the front yard. It’s not as big here in San Antonio, but it’s quite normal in Portland. There’s no reason why it can’t become normal everywhere! Read Beautiful Front Yard Gardens Save You Time and Money.
Don’t be afraid to make an island in your grass either. A contoured attractive planting can add to your curb appeal and isn’t that difficult to put in. Check out how to do it here by Dana Vento.
If you don’t want to dig out your grass, here’s another way to get rid of unwanted grass, by Creative Green Living.
If you can’t dig down, you can always raise your garden up. A simple raised bed can be made in an afternoon. I’ve even managed to make my own, and I’m pretty terrible at building stuff. My husband made a couple back in Portland that we placed in the front yard.
If you aren’t into building and are interested in a customized garden bed, check out Olle Gardens. Their galvanized steel bottomless garden beds in a variety of shapes, colors, and sizes. They’re designed to last for up to 20 years, resist rust and harsh weather, and of course they’re safe for planting! If you decide they’re right for you, use the discount code KATHRYN for a 10% discount!
Once you frame in a bed with wood or rocks, you add layers of material that will compost down into great soil for your plants. For ideas on what to include in your layers, see this post by Learning and Yearning. One of my favorites is straw, especially if it’s been used as chicken bedding first.
If you’d like to learn more about mulch and compost check out the following posts!
Think Out Of The Box
Just because you can’t have a fenced off section of your backyard dedicated solely to veggies doesn’t mean you can’t squish some more plants into unconventional spaces. Check out this cute side yard garden from Ginger Casa:
You’d be surprised at how many plants will grow happily in a small side yard. If you have the right varieties, you can even grow fruit trees. We’ve planted columnar apples, which are apple trees that grow straight up. They take a very small amount of space. Espaliered fruit trees could do well in a side yard too.
Or grow some unusual plants! Artichokes are one of my favorites. They make a striking plant, have gorgeous flowers, and are so fun to eat when the flowers are done. They are rather big, so if you need some smaller ideas, here are over 40 edible flowers from Practical Self Reliance.
And for even MORE ideas on what to plant, check out this list of perennial vegetables, fruits, and herbs from Schneider Peeps. Perennials are an awesome choice for a low maintenance garden because they come back year after year without you needing to replant or save seeds.
Companion planting is a great way to get more harvest from the same amount of space. I like to grow asparagus in the strawberry bed. Strawberries have shallow roots, and asparagus reach down farther, so they won’t be competing for the same nutrients.
I also had mint planted down the rows of my raspberry patch (although in that case they both have similar root zones). Chives, marigolds and garlic all make fantastic companion plants for just about anything because of their pest repelling qualities.
Here’s how to grow mushrooms in the same bed as strawberries! This is on my must try list now.
Perhaps instead of gardening on the ground, reach for the sky! Vertical gardening is a great way to make do with less space. Here are some posts to get you started with vertical gardening.
For some ideas on which specific plants to try, check out Easy Landscaping Ideas For Concealed Food In The City.
Grow A Container Garden
And of course, the smallest of gardens can be portable and grown on a deck, patio, or balcony. Just because you are growing in containers doesn’t mean you can’t have a large harvest and variety of vegetables.
Plan to Enjoy Your Small Garden
So much of Farming My Backyard is dedicated to being as productive as possible in the space that you have. However, lately I’ve been attempting to learn how to balance a bit better and include fun and relaxation a bit more. I love the ideas on how to create a relaxing garden getaway from Chicken Scratch NY.
My current house has a big covered patio, and while I do plan to grow some vining kiwi up the posts and add some mosquito discouraging herbs around the perimeter, the plan for the patio is for enjoyment rather than production. (At least it will be once I can get the chickens to STAY OFF!).
One of my favorite things out there right now are our string lights. I’d always meant to get solar lights going at our last house and I never did. I think that’s why that’s one of the first things I’ve done here. Of course having them go on sale at Costco helps!
Another crucial element of having comfortable, usable spaces is seating. When there are inviting benches and chairs in well planned places it’s easy to sit down and enjoy peaceful moments, even when they’re not very long. Also having comfortable outdoor seating can encourage you to live more outdoors, whether that’s reading outside, making a phone call, or chatting with a family member.
Outdoor furniture doesn’t have to be expensive. Start with some simple plastic patio chairs and maybe add a few pillows. If you are handy, you can make a simple bench out of two by fours that can be used both inside and out!
Something else I always seem to overlook is garden markers. I often think because I have a small garden I will remember everything I plant. But NO! I’m always out there a couple months later going, I think this is collard greens? Maybe? Or are they beets? What did I plant here! Gardens are much more enjoyable when you know what you have in them. Here are some ideas on how to make cute garden markers.
Want To Raise Happy Chickens?
Subscribe for our newsletter and get the free email course Intro To Backyard Chickens as well as a free printable checklist to walk you through step by step!