Category Archives: Small Garden Design

Improving Your Soil with Cover Crops

When I planted my peas a couple of weeks ago I also planted some fava beans. Now fava beans are a sort of Italian delicacy, but I’m too lazy to eat and grow fava beans because they need a lot of shelling. The reason I planted fava beans is to use them as a cover crop or “green manure” crop. When the fava beans grow up a bit and I’m ready to plant something else I will turn the not yet fully grown bean plants into the soil where they will break down and enrich it.

Broad beans
Creative Commons License photo credit: net_efekt

Cover crops can be particularly important if you have a small garden or weed problems. I have a terrible problem with crab grass so I’m hoping that by planting fava beans I will be reducing the growth of the crab grass because the fava beans will grow up and compete for light. If you have a small garden like I do you can never get too many organic fertilizers. I make compost for my garden, but I don’t have a lot of time or money to spend collecting or buy soil additives for my garden. A “green manure” crops enrich the soil in a similar way to animal manures.

If you have the time and the space I would highly recommend keeping some small animals to produce manure for your garden. Rabbits or chickens can be good sources of manure. Even if you just have a child with a small animal pet like a guinea pig or a hamster you can add that bedding to your compost pile. However, if you are like me and live in an apartment or don’t have the time to commit to keeping animals, green manure crops are a great option for improving your soil.

How is the garden growing? The patio garden

I have been so busy with my graduate studies, I have barely had time to garden, let alone blog about gardening. I’m not sure how you all do it!

I have been enjoying patio garden. I planted a bunch of strawberries. They haven’t produced a lot of large berries, but the plants are attractive and they seem to be doing well in the high shade under the doug firs. I also planted some herbs and greens. In general the herbs are doing well. The sage seems to not be getting enough light. I have lots of oregano, chives, parsley, cilantro, thyme, lemon balm, mint, and rosemary. My attempts to grow vegetables though has been largely thwarted. I have managed a little lettuce, but it hasn’t looked healthy. The chard has been looking good, but I can’t produce much, even with us two of us.

There are lots of blogs and articles online the discuss growing vegetables in small spaces, but  frankly I doubt whether it’s really possible to grow much on an apartment balcony or patio. I think a patio is a great place to grow some herbs to enrich your boring menu, but I don’t think you can harvest much in such as smal space. Also, even larger containers require a lot more work than the same amount of actual garden soil.  You have to water and fertilize a lot more and the soil costs a lot more. Has anyone else had luck growing one thing or another on a patio?

Patio Gardening – Kitchen Herbs for Your Patio

Thyme
Creative Commons License photo credit: tillwe

I’m still getting my patio garden set up and arranged, but one of the first things I bought to plant was some herbs. Herbs make me happy. They are beautiful, they like to grow in pots, and they then I don’t spend a bunch of money when I need some fresh herbs for cooking. I don’t know about you but I always feel like it’s such a waste to buy fresh herbs from the store. A small bunch of herbs costs $1-$1.50. I use a few springs and then the rest rots in my fridge, it’s such a waste. A small herb plant only costs $2-3 dollars and you can continue to pick sprigs off it almost year round here in Eugene.

Here are a few of my favorite perennial herbs for a patio…

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Patio Gardening – Six Common Mistakes in Choosing Containers

the flower riot
Creative Commons License photo credit: la fattina

This fall I’m starting a brand new patio garden at my new home in Eugene. One of my first steps was acquiring some nice containers. My patio does have some soil around the edges, but it’s fairly shady and the soil is filled with tree roots, so I’m focusing on planting in containers for now.

Plants in containers are much more susceptible to overheating, lack of water, or drying winds than plants in your garden beds. In order to be successful in growing plants in containers you need to choose your containers carefully. Here are six common mistakes gardeners make when choosing containers for their patio garden:

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Patio Gardening – Geraniums

I love coming home to cheery flowers on my patio or front step. Geraniums are great easy perennial plants for patio gardening. When I say geraniums are great for a patio garden, I don’t mean actual Geraniums, although they might be nice as well, I mean pelergoniums. What’s the difference?

Geranium Nimbus
Creative Commons License photo credit: Mommy of Five

Here’s an actual geranium. It’s a member of the genus Geranium, sometimes also called “cranesbill.” Geraniums are a great plant for the front of a perennial border, but they aren’t what most people think of when one says “geranium.”

Geranium / Regal pelargonium 'Viola' / ?????
Creative Commons License photo credit: TANAKA Juuyoh (????)

Here’s what most people think of as geraniums. This plant is a member of the genus “Pelargonium.” It is a great plant to grow in pots on a sunny patio because it tolerates hot, dry conditions well. Pelargoniums also bloom over a long period, brightening up your patio all summer.

The common pelargoniums found at your local nursery will most likely come in bright colors such as hot pink, orange, or fire engine red. If very brightly colored flowers aren’t your style, you might consider planting “scented geraniums” on your patio instead. Scent geraniums are pelargoniums bred so that their leaves give off familiar scents. My favorite is “rose geranium” which has a wonderful scent of roses, soft fuzzy leaves, and lovely light pink flowers. Scented geraniums can actually be used as an herb to a their scent to sugar or baked goods. Once you discover how easy to grow and beautiful pelargoniums are you might even start collecting different varieties for your patio garden.

P1190343
Creative Commons License photo credit: shimgray

Patio Gardening – Succulents

Pictures 561
Creative Commons License photo credit: themissiah
One of the most difficult things about getting settled in a new home, is getting your garden restarted. I like to start with areas near the house, like patio gardens. Patio gardening can be very different than gardening in larger spaces because you need to be very conscious of the microclimate of your garden. One of my favorite things to grow on my patio is succulents, like the jade plant pictured above.

Plants in pots are much more sensitive to variations in temperature and moisture than plants whose roots have room to spread and find the nutrients and water they need. Because of this you have to plant your patio garden carefully, paying attention to sun and shade, wind and water.

Succulents such as jade plant, aloe, and hens and chicks seem to prefer to be neglected. (Whenever I pay too much attention to a succulent plant I manage to kill it with over watering.) They tolerate hot dry conditions extremely well, which is exactly the type of microclimate that tends to prevail on most people’s patios. I have also grown succulents well in partial shade, so don’t worry if you don’t have a super sunny spot.

The important thing is not to overwater your patio succulents! Water about every two weeks. I’m sure I have let my plants go longer without water and I have never killed them from lack of water. If you live in a colder climate, you will have to take your succulents inside when the weather turns cold, but they make fabulous easy care houseplants in a sunny spot.

Succulents are also traditionally associated with positive qualities. Most people know that aloe is a great remedy for burns and skin irritations. Jade plant is also called “money plant” because growing it is suppose to attract wealth to your home. Hens and chicks is a plant that was grown by the ancient romans to ward off lightening strikes. Including these lucky plants in your patio garden can’t hurt. Growing such easy plants will make you feel lucky to have discovered them.