15 Productive Garden Ideas That Won't Eat Up Your Backyard
No room for a vegie patch? No problem. Here are 15 stylish and space-smart ways to grow fruit and vegetables at home.
THE traditional vegie patch is not for everyone – perhaps you don’t have the space or maybe the style does not appeal. Whatever the reason, it should not stop you from growing your own fruit and vegetables. You may not be able to produce everything you need, but these 15 savvy ideas will definitely add to the bounty in your fridge and fruit bowl.
1. Make an entrance
In times past, people grew two bay trees at their front entrance: one symbolising peace and the other prosperity. According to legend, these handsome, herbaceous plants would always be slightly different heights because the world has yet to enjoy peace and prosperity at the same time.
These slow-growing shrubs, which come in smaller dwarf cultivars, thrive in most conditions except frosty climes and full shade, and you can prune them into almost any shape or topiary you desire.
Bay leaves are a welcome addition to soups, stews, pies, sauces and many a savoury dish, so it’s handy to grow your own tree. And once you’ve relished the pungency of fresh bay leaves you may never want to cook with their dried counterparts again.
2. Bring the outside in
Although there is no such thing as an indoor plant, there are plenty of plants that grow happily inside your home and many that even bear fruit. Sour citrus, such as dwarf lemon and lime trees, can do well indoors providing they’re planted near a window that basks in full sunlight.
Give plants brief holidays outside when you can (but introduce them to the elements gradually), keep up the water and fertiliser and with some luck your efforts will be rewarded with an abundant fruit bowl.
Fancy growing fruit trees that are more sweet and less sour? Many mulberry, fig and olive trees can happily fruit indoors too.
3. Espaliered elegance
If you have a sun-bathed wall and enough earth or a planter pot below it, then you can espalier fruit trees. Espaliered plants are trained to grow flat against a two-dimensional surface, such as a wall, instead of being allowed to form their natural, three-dimensional shapes. You can train branches to follow any shape you please by affixing wire to your wall, which acts as a trellis.
It’s not for the lazy gardener and you need to be ruthless with your secateurs, but under good conditions you’ll enjoy a bumper crop of apples, pears, persimmon, citrus, fig, stone fruits and other edibles. Tip: Use treated screws and trellis wire so they don’t rust and stain your walls.
4. Look up
We rarely consider the roof as a place to grow our food, but if you have a balcony, verandah or portico that gets plenty of sun, you may be able to coax some climbers up and along its supports. Grape vines, passionfruit and kiwifruit grow readily throughout most of Australia, just refrain from planting climbers that bear weightier fruit above head height.
5. Set the table
If you don’t think you have enough room for a fruit tree in your small outdoor dining area, think again. This ingenious design incorporates both, and with the shade provided by the canopy and the herbs underplanted around the trunk, the alfresco area is ready for service.
You could grow almost any tree you desire in this context – the most important thing is to choose one that thrives in your climate zone and gets the necessary amount of sunlight in your courtyard.
Imagine reaching up for a fresh avocado and cutting it straight into the salad bowl on the table, or picking a ripe lemon and squeezing it into your glass for a refreshing zing.
6. Make a statement
With the size of properties shrinking dramatically, many homes now have compact courtyards instead of sprawling gardens. If this sounds familiar, you can usually still find space for a statement tree in even the smallest space. Here, a statuesque fig takes centre stage and is illuminated from below by outdoor lights. Tip: Use a root barrier for trees planted close to houses, walls and plumbing.
7. Screen time
Trees are excellent screening devices. If you’re after shade in summer but light in winter, opt for a deciduous cultivar. If you’re craving year-round shade and privacy, plant a tree with a dense canopy. And if you want to screen out your neighbours but let light in, choose a variety with sparser branches such as these olive trees with their elegant grey-green foliage. Tip: Keen to grow olives? Some varieties are purely ornamental so check with your local nursery for a cultivar that fruits well in your area.
8. Inner-city garden
Retaining walls are not just for trees, they are ideal for growing your vegies as well. The repurposed pool in this urban New York building forms an alfresco dining area lined with herbs and edible plants. Its tiered timber walls are home to herbs including sage and rosemary, salad greens fresh for the picking, and strawberries that spill temptingly over the sides of the old pool.
9. Balcony bounty
Keen to grow your own salad greens but only have a small balcony? Many planter boxes fit over the railings on decks or balconies and come in removable and permanent options. These planters are filled with different types of lettuce and spinach, which can usually be grown year round in Australia. Tip: Vertical gardens on apartment walls are often embraced by body corporates that reject railing-mounted planters.
10. Window box wonders
You’ll always have fresh herbs and salad greens within easy reach if you plant some in a window box outside your kitchen.
Window boxes are great for homes that don’t have enough outdoor space to grow edibles or that don’t have enough sunlight flooding the garden for fruit and vegetables to thrive.
Like balcony planters, window boxes can be removable or permanent and come in countless colours, shapes and sizes. They can also provide excellent screening if your window overlooks the neighbours.
11. Mind the gap
Ground cover plants are excellent fillers as they can tolerate some light foot traffic and grow in small cracks that few plants other than weeds enjoy. For edible ground cover, look no further than creeping thyme, rosemary or oregano, all of which release a herbaceous scent underfoot and infuse food with unbeatable flavour. Tip: Be wary of claims that ground cover plants can withstand rigorous activity – after all, football fields are covered with grass, not creeping thyme.
12. Step it up
This design features plants, such as cauliflower, rocket, rosemary and other herbs and vegies, planted in the space between stone steps and terraced retaining walls.
13. Alfresco accessories
You can grow fruit and vegies almost anywhere if you choose the right plants for your climate and give them enough sunlight, water and nutrients. Repurposed objects can form a statement piece in any garden and, if you plant them with edibles, they’ll be practical too. So don’t throw away that rusted wheel barrow or chipped teapot just yet.
14. Hedge your bets
If you have the space and like the formal look of old-world parterre and knot gardens, there’s no reason why you can’t continue this grand gardening tradition. Plant your fruit and vegetables in neatly ordered rows and surround taller edibles and fruit trees with rosemary hedges, herb borders or edgings of salad greens.
15. Combine edibles and ornamentals
Regardless of whether you have acres of rambling orchards or a single pot plant, your garden – in whatever form it takes – should be a source of joy. So if you want to grow ornamental flowers and plants as well as edibles, there is no rule that says the two can’t mix. In fact, many flowers help attract all-important pollinators and increase your crop, which is the case with growing different cultivars of blueberries. All it takes is a trip to your local nursery and some horticultural care for you to enjoy your own harvest.