Size doesn’t matter

Five tips for big gardens in small spaces

A dog needs to bark and a cat needs to meow. Does that mean a gardener needs a garden to garden?

Not really.

Some of the best gardeners have tiny balconies or do all their gardening on their front step. I learned this lesson in Dubrovnik, a centuries-old city in Europe where entire gardens are built on front steps.

In a Calgary walk-up apartment, townhouse or highrise tower, the garden may be small but the gardeners in the buildings still dream of big, bold plants and big pots creating rivers of colour spilling across a balcony or down the stairs.

To celebrate summer and draw the eye to your miniature landscape, here are some tips for small garden impact and care:

1. Repeat colours of pots or plants within the pots. Repetition makes a stairway garden calm even when plants are calling out with reckless abandon.

2. Use bigger pots than you think are possible. This bold approach makes for easier care and maintenance. Ban the use of any pot under 30 centimetres across.

3. Lightweight pots aren’t bad, but, in heavy Calgary winds, they are subject to blowing off a stair or rolling across a patio. Buy heavier pots or weigh down the ones you have by filling the bottom half with a sandbag or stack of bricks.

4. If you don’t have a big garden to borrow from, it is easier to use soilless mixes than real soil in pots and planters. To bring this “fake” soil to life, add a bit of natural soil from a garden or top up the pot with worm castings right after you plant, because soil and castings act like slow release fertilizer.

5. My sister asked me if she should buy a special tool to tell her if her hanging basket needed watering. I told her not to bother. If you have a finger, you don’t need any other tester. Just dip a finger into the pot and you will know what it needs. Plants can be allowed to dry out some of the time but not on a regular basis. If the finger test shows dry soil deeper than your first knuckle, it’s probably time to water. It’s easiest to use a hose with a shower head nozzle for watering in the mornings.

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