Room by Room Tip

You don’t need a lot of time, money or space to grow food. Here are the 5 best veggies and herbs to grow plus essential tips for a happy balcony or pot plant garden.

Gardening in Small Spaces


Creating a DIY vertical garden with used tins

If you’re living in the city with minimal outdoor area, growing food successfully on a small scale and with a small budget is not as hard as you think. For a flourishing small garden you need to consider the basics of: garden position, required space, suitable growing medium, ideal plant selection and garden care. Peter Kearney, founder of Cityfood Growers, the largest organic gardening website in Australia shares his small garden tips with Liveability.

Small garden position and size

Light – The sun is mostly north of the east/west line, so it’s best to orient your food growing areas to the north and hopefully this is where you have the most unimpeded access to the sun. It is better to have too much sun and then create shade than to have too little sun all year round as this will greatly reduce your potential for a diverse range of vegetable, fruit and flowers
Required space – This is mostly a balance between the space you have available with enough sun and the time you are prepared to commit, a bigger garden requires more work but you do get more food.

Create a collection of terracotta pots – a great idea for a herb garden

Create a collection of terracotta pots – a great idea for a herb garden

Containers for growing

The ideal container size depends on what you intend to grow.

Here are some top tips:

  • The size of the container depends on the size of the root ball of the plant: Fruit trees with a large root mass will need much bigger container than herbs or vegetables.Herbs and small leafy plants with a shallow root mass only require small containers
  • Vegetables, especially root vegetables, require a reasonable depth of soil (up to 50cm) and will demand large pots.
  • Don’t select pots which are so large that they are too heavy to move, especially if you have a lack of sun at certain times of the year and may need to move them
Wally planters can be hung under each other to create a vertical wall

Wally planters can be hung under each other to create a vertical wall

Hanging planters

If you don’t feel like dragging pots up the lift, here’s a great way to start off your balcony garden.

Introducing the Wally Planter

Hanging Wally Planters is as simple as hanging a painting and they easily attach to wood, concrete, masonry and chain link. Hidden behind these little pockets is a whole lot of cleverness too; it’s a complete plant support system made from 100% recycled plastic water bottles. Wally come in one and three pockets, which are soft-sided; breathable and modular.

Managing soil

This is the most important job of a successful organic gardener.

Using containers adds challenges to growing food because it is not connected to the earth. Here are some tips for managing the soil challenge of container gardens

  • Start with a healthy soil mix in the container, not just commercial potting mix. The ideal is for some of the soil mix to be well made compost from your own composting process.
  • Plant a green manure crop in your soil to give it life.
  • Don’t attempt to grow plants that need high soil fertility  (In a vegetable garden, sustainable soil fertility comes from composting, green manure crops, appropriate soil additives, crop rotation, good drainage, absolutely no use of chemicals that destroy life in the soil and an appropriate blend of sand, clay and organic matter in your soil mix.)
  • Add organic liquid fertiliser to the soil more regularly than you would a garden bed.

At the end of each year remove the soil from the container and replace with a new soil mix that has compost. Don’t dispose of your old soil; use it in your compost process with plant, vegetable scraps and some animal manure to add life back into the soil.
If you choose to grow fruit trees and perennial herbs in containers, removing the soil each year will be challenging, especially for fruit trees which have a big root mass. Removing soil when your annual vegetable crops are finished each year will be quite easy.

Selecting plants

Lettuce, one of the 6 top vegetables to grow in containers

Lettuce, one of the 6 top vegetables to grow in containers

Vegetables and herbs:

  • Select plants with a high yield per space, ideally plants that like growing on a climbing frame
  • Select plant that are easy to grow and do not require high soil fertility
  • Select plants that do not take up too much space
  • Always plant in season for your location
  • Select plants that are not too hungry for water as soil in containers will always dry out faster than in ground soil.

Top 6 vegetables: peas, beans, cucumber, cherry tomato, lettuce and Asian greens
Top 6 herbs: basil, mint, coriander, lemon grass, oregano and rosemary

Fruit trees:

  • Only choose dwarf varieties
  • Select the best varieties for your climate
  • Citrus such as lemon, lime, mandarin are great to grow

Simple garden care

  • Do not over water your plants.
  • Make sure you mulch your soil.
  • Keep a watch on how your plants are going each day. If they are looking weak, check the moisture level; they may also need some liquid fertiliser.
  • Last but not least, enjoy the experience of growing food, it has challenges like anything in life but successful gardening in small spaces really is possible. is possible with the right attitude and consistent activity.

Photo sources:

Peter Kearney

Peter Kearney

Peter's commitment to organic food growing in cities commenced in his childhood and has carried through his work life whilst living in urban environments. His business Cityfood Growers, formed in 2007, has one of the largest urban food growing web sites in Australia.

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