Review: Tiny Garden, Huge Harvest by Caleb Warnock

There’s a commonly held view that growing veg is possible only if you have a large garden or access to an allotment. Tiny plots, courtyards or the balconies and window boxes of generation rent make grow your own impossible. Or do they? In Tiny Garden, Huge Harvest, Caleb Warnock sets out to prove otherwise.

tiny garden huge harvestThe American self-sufficiency expert believes it’s possible to grow in the tiniest of spaces, in fact he says a small space can be beneficial: “For busy families, a tiny garden creates a manageable and sustainable workload.”

And he tells us that in a garden of just 8ft by 8ft, he managed to harvest 207lbs of veg.

The key is choosing the right things to grow – and the best varieties – and making full use of the space available.

In Tiny Garden, Huge Harvest, Warnock, who is based in the Rocky Mountains, sets out how to achieve this and passes on the tips and tricks for using space efficiently that he’s learned over the years.

tiny garden huge harvest
The book has charts and lists to help

In a small garden, there’s no room for passengers so the first rule is to grow only what you like to eat: “This may seem obvious at first, but surprisingly, many people fail to take this into consideration.”

Crops that take up a lot of room for relatively small reward, such as sweetcorn, are also best avoided and it pays to look carefully at the time from sowing to harvesting when choosing varieties.

One good trick is to grow things that give a long season of cropping. Cut-and-come-again lettuce is an obvious example but you could do the same with many other crops, including chard, kale and celery.

He also points out that the leaves of beetroot and turnips can be harvested for weeks before the roots are used, giving two crops in one.

Every inch of a small plot needs to earn its keep and successional sowing is a good way of making sure ground is never idle. A chart giving four possible crop plans is just one of many handy charts and there are also suggestions for things that will grow in shade.

tiny garden huge harvest
Chard can be harvested over many weeks

Having outlined what to grow, the book turns to how to plan your space. This covers traditional small gardens, balconies, containers and even vertical gardens in a bookcase-sized area: “Imagine you are in a library standing in front of a shelf full of books – except instead of books, these shelves are lined with potted plants.” Even potatoes, cabbage and squash could be grown using this method, he says, while a trickle-down watering system is easy and efficient.

The book is small – just over 60 pages – pocket-sized, making it ideal for use outside, and easy to read with Warnock’s ideas clearly and simply explained. Unfortunately, while his ideas of sustainable, grow-your-own living are very current, the book has a rather dated feel due to the black-and-white photos, used, presumably, to keep production costs down.

It’s worth ignoring the initial impression this gives as the book has many easy and interesting ideas and, while it doesn’t cover how to grow, it would be ideal for novice or established gardeners who want to get more out of their garden.

Tiny Garden, Huge Harvest by Caleb Warnock is published by Familius, RRP £4.99. Buy now (If you buy via the link, I get a small payment. The price you pay is not affected.)

Review copy supplied by Familius.

Read more book reviews here

Downsizing a garden in style

Moving to a smaller plot is never easy but it’s a problem that one Gloucestershire gardener has solved with style.

When it comes to plants I’m a greedy gardener. I want to grow something of everything and whatever’s in flower is my current must-have. Downsizing my garden is unthinkable.

But it’s something that many gardeners have to do – unless they have the money to employ help – and it can be challenging. What do you keep and what do you resign yourself to not growing? How do you plan a smaller plot when you’re used to the space to indulge your plant passion?

downsizing a garden
Veg was the first thing to go into the new garden

It’s a dilemma Pamela Buckland faced when she moved from her cottage in Coalway in the Forest of Dean to a nearby bungalow. Well known in the Gloucestershire National Garden Scheme – she’s a former assistant county organiser – she swapped a third of an acre for a plot that’s roughly half the size.

Think ahead

The key is to downsizing a garden is planning ahead and don’t leave moving plants to the last minute: “I potted up my favourite perennials early in the year,” Pamela tells me.

downsizing a garden
Grasses were one of the collections that moved with Pamela

Limit yourself to those favourites and unusual varieties; in Pamela’s case these included heucheras, geraniums, her collection of around 20 different varieties of hosta and several grasses.

She took on a garden that had obviously been loved but was badly in need of an overhaul. Paving slab paths criss-crossed the area – “Everywhere I moved something or cleared a space there were paths” – and the many shrubs were too large for the space, while a heather bed spread 8ft by 6ft and there was an enormous pampas grass.

“You really couldn’t see what was here,” she recalls.

downsizing a garden
Bird cages add a decorative element

Pamela started by sorting out the sloping ground at the side of the bungalow, which became two distinct levels: vegetables in raised beds at the top and flowers below.

“The vegetable garden was the first thing I did.”

Putting in a small greenhouse came next – it’s used for tomatoes, cucumbers and raising seeds – and only then did Pamela start to think about the rest of the garden.

Plan carefully

It’s tempting to start by clearing a bit of space and getting on with planting but it’s far better to get rid of everything you don’t want first rather than doing it piecemeal.

downsizing a garden
A large magnolia is one of the few original plants

In Pamela’s case, this included removing several large shrubs, including hydrangeas, weigela and choisya, the many paths and filling 10 green refuse bins with Spanish bluebells.

Once the garden was cleared, it was easier to see how to change the design.

Keep it simple

The danger with moving from a large garden to a smaller space is that you try to have a bit of everything with the result looking far from planned.

downsizing a garden
Sticking to simple colour themes helps with planning

It’s a pitfall Pamela has avoided by grouping plants according to colour. Two side borders have distinct themes: one is pink and white with dierama, geraniums and astrantia; the other a hot bed of reds and oranges, including Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’.

Meanwhile, at the front, she’s ‘disguised’ the driveway by bringing planting into the gravel and putting many of her pots of hostas into one corner; the rest now occupy a side path.

“I like what you can do with pots,” she says, adding that not all are planted up but instead form a feature in their own right.

downsizing a garden
Pots are used as a feature

The main area of garden at the back of the bungalow has a blue and green theme that’s reinforced not only with the planting but also with the hard landscaping. An ugly concrete path has been painted, as have the fence and a table and bench, while a necessary storage shed blends in thanks to a coat of blue paint. Even a breeze block wall has been painted and reused as a trough for lavender.

downsizing a garden
An old wall has become a planter

“I find the greens and blues such a relaxing colour scheme.”

In one bed, her collection of grasses is a delightful mix of green and cream with touches of bronze, while Ammi majus and pink cosmos give some seasonal colour.

Height comes from a pergola, which also helps to draw the eye away from neighbouring properties, while climbers such as clematis along the fences blur the boundaries.

downsizing a garden
The remodelled wall and painted path

Pamela’s also made a feature of what was a crumbling wall that divided the plot. The loose top and an end section have been removed and the ‘gap’ between bungalow and wall filled with a custom-made wrought iron gate and screen. The iron is continued over the top of the wall, creating a strong unifying effect.

“I like the fact you can see different areas.”

And that’s the real achievement: despite its size, this feels like a much bigger garden.

20 Forsdene Walk, Coalway, Gloucestershire, is open by arrangement for the National Gardens Scheme from May to September 2017. See NGS website for details.

Turning a forgotten space into an outdoor delight

The chance to review one of Brundle Gardener’s products has transformed a sad spot in my garden.

Many of us have a part of the garden that is somewhat neglected. An area that you walk past, averting your eyes and muttering ‘I really must do something about that’. Usually, lack of inspiration or time means little gets done.

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‘The Courtyard’ has long been in need of a rethink

In my case, the neglected spot is what we refer to as ‘The Courtyard’. It’s actually a rather grand title for what is little more than a tucked away area outside our basement kitchen; the strange layout of the house, which is dug into a slope, means that although technically the kitchen is under the rest of the house, it is actually on ground level.

The courtyard has a high retaining wall on two sides that holds back the garden, the house forms the third boundary and on the fourth there’s a fence that separates us from our neighbours.

courtyard
The wall planters needed redoing

North-east facing, it gets a little morning sun – a very little – but it’s really a rather gloomy spot. And, with quite a lot of garden elsewhere, it’s always been low on my list of priorities.

The impetus to finally do something about it came when I was asked if I would like to review one of Brundle Gardener’s products. A suggestion was a table and chairs set, which looked perfect for this tiny space. Not only is it a half-table, ideal for putting against a wall, the table also folds down to free up space when it’s not in use.

courtyard
The table and chairs are easy to put up

Before I had even set it up, I was impressed: both the table and the two chairs were well packaged to ensure they weren’t damaged in transit.

It’s also easy to put up – no assembly and just a lift and click into place mechanism for the table flap. It has a grey, powder coated steel frame with a toughened glass top, while the folding seats have the same steel frame with a checked manmade fibre seat and back, which are water resistant. They have proved to be remarkably comfortable.

Of course, merely plonking somewhere to sit into the courtyard wasn’t going to be enough to transform it. There was definitely a need to revamp the planting as well. Not that there is much scope: the available soil amounts to little more than a narrow strip at the foot of the wall and fence and the lack of direct sunlight limits the choices.

courtyard
The euonymus needed cutting back

The first step was a good clean, using a wire brush to get rid of moss on the paving. A Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald Gaiety’, used to provide a screen between the courtyard and next door, had got out of hand, with some reverting to plain green. It’s been pruned hard to remove the green and reduce the overhang into the courtyard.

courtyard
The euonymus has been tidied up

The remains of a Clematis ‘Guernsey Cream’ that until this year was doing well, were removed and I’m planning to replace it in the autumn, though possibly elsewhere in the garden.

Deciding I needed some expert advice for the difficult narrow ‘borders’, I paid a visit to ShadyPlants.com in Painswick. Tony and Sylvia Marden specialise in plants for those tricky places and we spent a happy hour discussing possibilities and looking through their stock.

courtyard
The back of the Begonia evansiana leaves are beautiful

For the space against the fence, where there is marginally more soil, they recommended two evergreen ferns: Polystichum makinoi and Phyllitis scolopendrium cristatum.

courtyard
Begonia southerlandii has lovely orange flowers

Now, I’ve never been a huge fan of begonias but I fell in love with the orange flowers of Begonia southerlandii and Tony suggested the white flowered Begonia evansiana ‘Snowpop’ would be a good partner. Both, he assured me, are fully hardy and well able to cope with the less than ideal conditions.

courtyard
Cardamine trifolia was suggested as ground cover

For the thin strip at the foot of the wall, they suggested Cardamine trifolia, which has what Sylvia describes as ‘clouds of white flowers’. It should spread happily to fill the space.

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New planting in the wall pots

Continuing with the begonia theme, wall planters that have in the past been used for violas, now have some cream-flowered begonias that I found at another local grower, Dundry Nurseries. I liked their long, tubular flowers and slight bronze tinge to the stems, which works well with the rusty planters and old bricks. The begonias are in plastic pots that sit inside the terracotta so that I can change the planting easily.

Finally, I shifted the old sink into a better position in the courtyard and planted it with mint while the chimney pot has been moved to another part of the garden.

courtyard
The courtyard has been transformed

I’m pleased with the transformation and the courtyard is already proving popular – especially as a cool place to escape the recent heat. I can see the table and chairs being well used.

Brundle Gardener’s table and chairs are available from garden centres and online stockists. The suggested retail price is £119.99.

Tips for small gardens

small gardens

Small gardens may be easier to maintain than rolling acres but they are far more challenging to design. Hidden away in the heart of Cheltenham is a walled garden packed with interest and some great ideas for dealing with a small space.

Faced with a town centre garden that is little more than a courtyard, few of us would start by planting trees.

Yet, that’s just what Ro Swait did when she took on her Cheltenham garden.

Rather than planting in scale with a plot that is just 40ft at its widest point, she went big with Cornus ‘Norman Hadden’ and a katsura tree.

small gardens
The garden has lots of pots to give height

“You need to think big,” she explains. “and not be afraid to. The most important thing is structure, which you can then build on.”

It was all very different when Ro moved in 11 years ago. Then, the L-shaped, south west-facing plot was wall-to-wall paving, burning hot in summer and devoid of anything green.

“I nearly wept,” admits Ro, who works as a gardener with her daughter, Tam.

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Salvias add late season colour

One of her most successful alterations was extending out from the house using metal girders and glass to create a covered area.

“It keeps everything sheltered and means I can have really tender plants and keep them outdoors. It makes them tougher too.”

They include aeoniums, aloe and echeveria that are displayed on shelving against the house wall and in pots clustered on tables. Other containers have sempervivums, grasses and small shrubs.

Kalanchoe, more commonly seen as a houseplant, is thriving in its outdoor setting.

“I have some indoors as well but the one outside is doing much better.”

small gardens
The trees are pruned to keep them small

Further into the garden, the cornus and katsura now give all-important shade. They are cut back each winter to stop them getting too big and are gradually being trained to arch over the garden. Likewise, a Judas tree and Morello cherry are also kept small.

And they are not the only large scale plants as Ro has also planted holly, pittosporum, yew, eucalyptus and even a Magnolia grandiflora.

These provide winter interest and form a backdrop to seasonal colour that ranges from Martagon lilies, sedum and actaea to jasmine, campsis and echinacea.

Much of the planting is in raised beds and ground-level borders, created by lifting most of the original paving. The rest is in pots that frequently contain more than one plant.

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The elegant blooms of Actea simplex stand out against painted walls

“Things have to double up,” Ro says with a smile.

She also makes the most of the borders, keeping the ‘skirts’ of shrubs high to create space to plant underneath, while the walls, which have been painted to give them more interest, are used for climbers.

The high walls and closely planted borders mean that Ro is rarely troubled by weeds but the restricted space does mean she thinks carefully before buying something new.

“You have to really want the plant,” she says.

7 ideas for small gardens

small gardens

Make storage space double up as a plant display area. These shelves hold bamboo poles and labels as well as plants.

small gardens

Even small gardens can have fruit and veg. Here a tomato is grown in a pot.

small gardens

Plant in layers and lift the skirts of shrubs to give space for bulbs and low-growing things.

small gardens

Play with levels either with raised beds or by putting pots on tables or plinths.

small gardens

Add a seat – small gardens are better suited to sitting in than walking around.

small gardens

• Use containers to change the display, either with seasonal bedding or bulbs, or by simply moving them around to create a new look.

small gardens

• Think big: fewer but bigger plants will be more effective than lots of small things.

Read my review of New Small Garden by Noel Kingsbury here

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Review: New Small Garden by Noel Kingsbury

new small garden

In common with many people, my first proper garden was small. A typical back-of-terrace town plot, it was narrow, overlooked and filled with a mismatched assortment of plants, the legacy of numerous owners. Looking back, I’m not sure I vastly improved things.

Reading Noel Kingsbury’s latest book, New Small Garden, I began to wish I could go back and do things differently. Armed with the advice he dispenses – and quite a few years of experience – how much better I could have handled things.

I’m not usually completely convinced by garden ‘design’ books. Beautiful to look at, they can seem more aspirational than inspirational, akin to many show gardens that are too often beyond the reach and budget of the average gardener.

Of course, this book starts with an advantage in that it deals with the sort of small space most gardeners have; even the modest garden of my childhood would seem large by today’s standards. Most of the gardens featured are under 100 sq.m. (328 sq.ft.) and a few are mere balconies or rooftop plots.

Even so, there is still a danger of making the solutions irrelevant to the average person, a failing that Kingsbury highlights: “Too many books on small gardens feature lots of pictures of hard landscaping or designs at flower shows where no expense has been spared.”

new small garden
Designing on the diagonal helps to make a garden seem bigger.

In contrast, this book is grounded in reality. The pictures (with the exception of one or two) are of real gardens, so the designs have been drawn up to please clients rather than impress show judges and the gardens have been paid for by gardeners not corporate sponsors. The result is a series of ideas that are easy to copy.

These range from ways to ‘borrow’ the landscape beyond your plot and the use of false doors and mirrors to create a visual illusion of more space, to using green roofs and plants with two seasons of interest to make each inch work twice as hard.

Ideas are clearly illustrated with pictures that demonstrate the suggested solution and stop the book being a mere design textbook. As a writer I hate to admit it but there are times when a picture is far more effective than words; one example has the same garden photographed in different seasons showing how the planting emphasis changes.

The book is thorough in its approach: chapters cover everything from the need to consider function and aspect to planting for wildlife, containers for small spaces and adding a vertical dimension with plants. Case studies at the end of many of the chapters show how these ideas have been put into practice in a real life garden.

new small garden
Plants can disguise boundaries

Some of the advice is aimed at the inexperienced with explanations on how to check your soil type, water containers and types of fruit. Yet, there is enough breadth to offer something of interest to those with more gardening years behind them. I will definitely be trying out the idea of photographing my borders in black-and-white to assess how well they are structured.

As well as hard landscaping and layout, the book also deals with what to plant and where. There’s advice on plants for every situation and soil type; ideas for designing with grasses, evergreens, or exotics; an explanation of how to layer with plants in a way that mimics nature.

“By learning how to combine them in this way, you will be able to make the most out of your small space,” advises Kingsbury.

The varied presentation of these ideas – conventional chapters, ‘masterclasses’ and case studies – keep the reader’s interest engaged with the photographs, highlighted quotes and smaller, inset sections of text breaking up the pages to make them visually appealing.

It’s been some time since I had the sort of small garden this book tackles but the advice is still relevant. Many of these ideas – be it plants for containers or how to get an all-year-round look – are just as important in a bigger plot. I just wish I’d had it all those years ago.

New Small Garden by Noel Kingsbury is published by Frances Lincoln, priced at £20 RRP. Photographs by Maayke de Ridder. Buy now (If you buy through the link, I receive a small payment. The price you pay is not affected.)

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