Between the Rows: Growing up
Some people have small spaces for a garden. Some people can only care for a small garden. Some people are trying to make a big garden small. What all these people have in common is a desire to grow as many vegetables and flowers as they can in a small space.
There are a variety of ways to get more out of a given space. You can use containers for vegetables or flowers. You can plant your vegetables in wide beds instead of single rows. You can practice succession planting by putting in a new crop as soon as an early crop is harvested, making the best use of space — and time.
You can also grow up. You can grow vining plants — flowering and vegetables — as well as tall flowers. In their book “Garden Up! Smart Vertical Gardening for Small and Large Spaces,” Susan Morrison and Rebecca Sweet suggest dozens of ways you can create a beautiful and productive garden in a small space.
One of the ideas I liked was the way they created an abundant garden in a narrow bed against a wall or trellis with a vine that can be kept flat against the wall. It also had some tall flowers and some low plants. I have a vigorous hardy kiwi vine growing on our shed that I chose because of the green, white and pink foliage. I first saw this growing on a trellis, carefully pruned, at the Lakewold Gardens near Tacoma, Wash. In front of the vine it is possible to plant tall annuals like cosmos, or cleome, which would give lots of summer bloom. Delphiniums and foxglove would be another great choice for this layer. Low perennials can fill the front of this narrow bed. You could include foliage plants or even vegetables like lettuces and kale or any number of culinary herbs, chives, parsley, cilantro, or basil, which comes in different colors.
Other useful vines to grow on a fence or trellis this way are clematis, a dwarf honeysuckle vine like Clavey’s Dwarf, the annual black-eyed Susan vine (Thunbergia alata), hyacinth bean vine, or fragrant sweet peas. The Gloriosa lily is a brilliant and dramatic 6-foot vine that can be grown as a summer blooming bulb. Morrison and Sweet give a whole range of plants that work well in a small garden.
Trellises make growing vegetables up easy. Many people are familiar with planting peas on some metal fencing, or setting up bean poles. Tomatoes can be staked or caged. You can even hang up your tomato plant in a topsy-turvy, upside-down tomato planter, but remember this is a heavy proposition. In addition, crops like cucumbers, squash and melons can be grown on a bought or homemade trellis.
Gardener’s Supply Co. is just one catalog company that sells a freestanding trellis with a metal frame and 4-inch grid that will support cucumbers and winter squash.
If you are a little bit handy, it would not be difficult to contrive your own supports from some scrap lumber. Sometimes a plant support can add a sculptural element to the vegetable garden. Gardener’s Supply sells circular expandable willow trellises that would work for peas or beans, or bright nasturtiums or morning glories.
The seed companies know that some people are limited to gardening on their deck or patio and so they have bred plants that are happy in containers. You can put bean poles or pea supports in a large pot very easily, but creative do-it-yourselfers have thought of some other ways to grow up.
You can only grow a little lettuce in a pot, but you can grow more lettuce in a 6-foot length of gutter pipe. You can grow even more lettuce or kale, or other shallow rooted herbs like thyme, sage or cilantro, if you attach three or four or more gutters in horizontal rows to a fence. There is a growing interest in ways to grow flowers and vegetables on a fence, from gutters to various sorts of grow pockets like Woolly Pockets. Morrison and Sweet give directions for making and using these techniques.
They explain that drain gutters come in a variety of materials, but it is important to use something that doesn’t rust. Rust can contaminate plants and then contaminate you. Copper or stainless steel gutters, or PVC pipe cut in half will all work. All will also need caps at the end to hold soil in.
Potting mix can be heavy, especially when wet, so the mix for the gutter garden can be lightened with perlite or vermiculite. Holes need to be drilled in the bottom for drainage and the holes covered with screening or newspaper to keep the soil from washing out with each watering. With a small container like this, regular watering every day is essential. Maybe twice a day. This is my own caveat.
“Garden Up!” describes all kinds of gardens that are already up in the air, including fire escapes and balconies that can give the rest of us ideas. We don’t have to be limited to gardening on the ground. The sky’s the limit!
Bridge of Flowers plant sale today, 9 a.m. to noon
Don’t forget today is the Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale in Shelburne Falls on the Trinity Church Baptist Lot on Main Street. Sale begins promptly at 9 a.m. and ends at noon. Proceeds benefit the Bridge of Flowers.
Readers can leave comments at Pat Leuchtman’s Web site: www.commonweeder.com. Leuchtman has been writing and gardening in Heath at End of the Road Farm since 1980.