As my writing depends on it, I am fortunate in that I have three allotments, all shared with my girlfriend Jeannine. Thanks to the local council’s policy of splitting plots in half (to please twice the number of gardeners) the reality is that we have three half plots – which strikes me as half a plot less than we are entitled to! Nonetheless, allotment waiting lists in most parts of the country now seem so long that you have to sign your grandchildren up, let alone yourself, so I count myself blessed!
We aren’t all lucky enough to have allotments or a large garden, but provided you’re not set on attaining complete self-sufficiency there is plenty you can do to grow your own in even a small space – perhaps a typical terraced-house garden, or even a patio or balcony.
Last summer I tested this theory by setting up an ultra-compact patio garden outside my kitchen door (you can see it above). The area measures something like two metres by 80cm, and I carefully arranged planters, pots and old packing boxes to make use of the space. These were filled with good quality compost, both home-made and shop-bought, because one trick to growing in small spaces is to make sure your plants are well fed. The quantity and diversity of the food I managed to produce really surprised me, although of course such an intensive little plot needs some looking after. Key to my success was the use of height – low-growing crops were interplanted with taller ones, and canes and support frames allowed climbing plants to double my ‘productive volume’. I even had some tomatoes growing in hanging baskets – although the watering regime was at times inconvenient.
Apart from growing veg, you can also include other aspects of a well-rounded garden in a smaller plot. Beneficial plants like marigolds and nasturtiums can be squeezed in, as can a rainwater harvesting system if you look out for a compact water butt (there are many such now available). And at the end of the garden cycle (or is it the beginning?) don’t forget a composter. Wormeries take up the minimum amount of room and will process your kitchen and some of your garden waste faster than any other design.
Perhaps the smallest possible growing area is a kitchen windowsill and, while no doubt limited, there are quite a few possibilities here. Herbs should be your first option, as they are so expensive to buy fresh in shops but take up relatively little room – just one pot each of rosemary, mint, coriander and basil will transform countless dishes. Another small-space star is a trough of cut-and-come-again salad, including some fast-growing Chinese leaves and rocket. These will re-grow several times provided you don’t harvest them too hard.
Let me know how you get on.