This year I moved into an apartment in the city. One if its best features is a 10 foot by 4 foot, South-facing patio that backs onto the quiet alley behind my building. When I first planted a few tomato seedlings in late March I never dreamed that this tiny space would become my sanctuary, complete with dappled shade and soft grass for sunbathing.
The tall vines grow up the railing, keeping me hidden from passersby in the alley below. And the best part – all of the plants in my garden are edible as greens, fruits or flowers!
Tips on Patio Gardening
1. Plant a zealous amount of seedlings of the climbing and vining type.
Planting a multitude of seedlings means you will have plenty of young healthy plants to choose from for your patio garden. I started my seedlings inside in March in a sunny window. My seedlings included black and red cherry tomatoes, sugar-snap peas, chives, thai basil, beets, chamomile, and lettuce mix.
2. You can buy mature plants at the garden center for your garden to give it some green in the early weeks.
I acquired a 4 foot tall rosemary tree that sits in the corner of the garden and brings the eye up. It gave the young garden some ‘height’ while the other plants were still tiny. Some tall leafy garlics and organic strawberry plants, and thickets of nasturtium and sorrel added instant color and body to my garden.
3. Choose planters that are lightweight and easy to move.
Weight is an important consideration for unsupported patios. A freshly watered planter with soil and a robust family of plants is surprisingly heavy. My 1’x1’x3′ planters weigh about 40 pounds each before watering.
Another reason to have easy to move planters is that your garden will evolve as the seasons progress and your plants get bigger, flower and produce fruit. You may want to move them around to give some plants more sun or shade depending on their preference. I arrange my garden like I arrange furniture, to freshen up the place and make it new again (this is a huge advantage of container gardening by the way). Get planters with handles for bonus points.
**Make sure your planters are at least 12 inches deep.**
My first set of planters were too small (only 6 inches deep) to sustain my tomatoes and peas so I ended up transplanting them into larger wooden pots mid-season so they could make it up to the top of the railing.
4. Arrange planters around the perimeter of the patio, leaving space in the center for your sanctuary.
I found a 3 foot by 9 foot roll of soft, realistic plastic grass to grace the center of my patio; I call it ‘the lawn’. It has become a second living room where I can read while laying in the sun. I even removed my deck chairs in favor of lounging on the lawn. This picture was taken in June when my peas and tomatoes where still less than a foot tall.
Decorating my garden included adding a couple of pretty river rocks that act as miniature tables, a peppermint plant from my mother in law’s garden and a small firepot for chilly nights. There is also a barbeque sitting over the railing. As you can see we managed to pack a lot of living into a small space. Next year I plan to get a garden gnome to guard the sanctuary!
5. Train your viney plants to grow up the railing, filling in the gaps with bushy flowering/fruiting plants.
Privacy is important to me. Although my patio backs onto a quiet alley I prefer to sit down on my lawn and pretend I live in a jungle. I can see out but my neighbors can’t see in.
Have Fun and Personalize Your Garden
Cherry tomatoes are my all-time favorite garden fruit! The amount of tomatoes we got out of our 3 3-foot planters is astounding, and with only 1 tray of lettuce we couldn’t keep up with eating what we produced.
Enjoy the Fruits of Your Labor
And while you are at it, take a picture of your patio garden to share with me and other gardeners in the comments below. Happy Herbing!