How to make the most of small and urban spaces

How to make the most of small and urban spaces
Olivine Harrington at Beech Hill garden centre in Montenotte. Pictures: Eddie O'Hare

Caroline Delaney has advice on how to turn that ‘yarden’ into the garden of your dreams.

Is your outdoor space more of a yarden than a garden?

If so, there are still plenty of planting projects you can tackle — whether you want a handful of fresh herbs, some sweet blossoms or just some “green” to take the bare look off the place.

Your tidy little garden — or even balcony — space may hold you back from ever being totally self-sufficient.

But it’s pretty fun to grow some herbs and garnishes in tubs.

IT’S MINT TO BE

Frances Hamilton, staff member, at Beech Hill garden centre in Montenotte.
Frances Hamilton, staff member, at Beech Hill garden centre in Montenotte.

A few mint leaves make that mojito feel even more well-earned.

Mint can even be too easy to grow and can muscle in on the space allocated to another herb if you’re not careful.

It’s lovely to just brush your hand over a lush mint plant and release the sweet spearminty scent.

And if you have a friend growing this you could take a ‘slip’ and pop it into a glass of water for a few days until it sprouts little roots and is ready to plant.

SWEET CHIVE O’ MINE

View over Cork from the Beech Hill garden centre in Montenotte.
View over Cork from the Beech Hill garden centre in Montenotte.

Chives are a cheap and easy way of livening up basic mashed potatoes or an omelette.

Grow them in a pot or bed and cut a few stalks as you need them.

You can chop and freeze some in little freezer bags too.

JUST DILL WITH IT

How to make the most of small and urban spaces

Dill is best used fresh, so unless you’re the ultra-organised type who actually plans every element of a meal, it might actually be easier to grow some yourself and grab a handful when you’ve having fresh fish.

Grow from seed. It can be best to grow in tubs again unless you’re sure you’ll be able to differentiate from weeds.

ROCKET MAN (OR WOMAN)

Eamonn Murphy, customer, at Beech Hill garden centre in Montenotte.
Eamonn Murphy, customer, at Beech Hill garden centre in Montenotte.

Rocket grows well in sunny spots. You may not have the time or room to grow the whole salad but even a handful of washed rocket mixed in with bought salad feels kinda special.

It’s a bonus that slugs don’t seem to like the peppery taste of rocket as much as soft, green lettuce leaves.

PARTY THYME

How to make the most of small and urban spaces

There’s a world of a difference between freshly picked thyme and the sad, dried-out little leaves you get free with a spice rack.

And it’s so satisfying to just hold a long sprig and run it backwards through your fingers to knock off all the pungent leaves.

Handy for stuffing or flavouring a nut roast.

SOME SAGE ADVICE

Eoin Fitzgerald who works at Beech Hill garden centre in Montenotte.
Eoin Fitzgerald who works at Beech Hill garden centre in Montenotte.

Lavender, tomatoes and sage are other great herbs and food plants for a holistic plot.

Window boxes, potted plants and making the most of small or urban spaces Olivine Harrington works in what’s got to be the garden centre with the best views of the city in Cork.

Beech Hill garden centre on Middle Glanmire Road in Montenotte is run by the not-for-profit organisation Cope Foundation.

The organisation supports more than 2,500 people with intellectual disabilities and/or autism to live “your life your way”.

The garden centre also normally features Roots Coffee House if you need to take a break and get your thoughts straight — am I the only one who forgets what I actually came to buy when I get to a garden centre?

The coffee house is temporarily closed due to Covid-19, but is one to keep in mind for other visits.

Anyway, Olivine’s key advice is that whether your garden is large or small, it should be regarded as an extension of your living space: “Somewhere to sit, eat and relax.”

With this in mind, Olivine suggests a few practical things to consider:

  • the aspect of your garden - is it south-facing?

  • the soil type — is it acid or alkaline? You can get soil testing kits but it’s easier and cheaper to just look at what’s already doing well in the garden or in your neighbours’ gardens.

    Olivine recommends planting in clusters rather than scattering plants throughout: “After you have given consideration to the best place to sit and relax, plan a border where all the plants occupy a single space and are not scattered randomly thoughout the garden.

    Always start with larger plants at the back, including evergreens, like camelias (only if you have acid soil, see if there are any growing in your neighbourhood), holly, viburnum tinus, daphne odora aureomarginata, and pieris.”

    Your middle area could include plants like hebes, heuchera, azaleas, dwarf rhododendrons, euonymous emerald gold, and lavender.

    Add some perennials like agapanthus, phlox, wallflowers, delphinium, lupins, alstromeria, aquilegia, penstemon, geraniums and rudbeckia.

    Also half-hardy annuals and bulbs like snowdrops, tete-a-tete daffodils, tulips, begonias, dahlias and nerines to ‘fill the gaps’.”

    Once you get hooked on gardening you’ll realise that it’s not just a fair weather thing — even if you’re not having a barbeque in November it can be just blissful to have a quick cuppa in your own ‘personal Newgrange’ — the spot that catches a ray of sun for 15 minutes.

    Make sure you have a few plants for winter interest so you’re not just sitting surrounded by empty bedding trays and rusting secateurs.

    WINTER

    How to make the most of small and urban spaces

    Plants for winter interest include buxes, conifers, camelia, pieris, sarcococca, skimmia japonica rubella fatsia japonica.

    Olivine notes that: “any evergreen can, of course, be surrounded by bedding plants to provide seasonal interest such as winter-flowering heathers, or cyclamen with trailing ivies.”

    SPRING

    How to make the most of small and urban spaces

    Lilies, tulips, daffodils and hellebores are good in pots.

    Tête-à-tête (dwarf) daffodils, crocus and primroses, pansies and violas are good in window boxes.

    Dwarf or mini varieties can be better ‘value’ if it breaks your heart to see the taller varieties get windswept and battered.

    SUMMER

    How to make the most of small and urban spaces

    Begonias, geraniums, busy Lizzies, lobelia, verbena, fuschia, alyssum, and petunias are ideal for windowboxes and hanging baskets.

    Water daily during the summer months and feed with tomato feed or seaweed fertiliser weekly, urges Olivine.

    Deadhead when flowers fade to encourage a new crop of flowers.

    AUTUMN

    How to make the most of small and urban spaces

    “The fall” is a good time to plant new shrubs and trees in pots.

    Also plant pansies, violas, cyclamen and argyranthemum.

    CACTUS MAKES PERFECT

    If you are very tight for space or just want a lowmaintenance patch — then cacti and succulents might be a good option.

    Good drainage is key here as they don’t generally like “soggy bottoms”.

    Perhaps a portable trug or step ladder for plants would work best and you could bring them inside during our “monsoon” season.

    YOU HAD ME AT ALOE

    Aloe vera has spiky fleshy leaves and is best kept indoors really as it doesn’t like wet weather at all.

    IT MAKES SCENTS

    How to make the most of small and urban spaces

    Some perfumed plants for containers: Daphne, jasminum, lilium regale, nicotinia, sarcococca, lavender and Rosmarinus.

    ALPINES

    Alpine plants do well in containers, sinks and troughs.

    The ideal plants are lewisias, gentians, saxifrages, primulas, sedums and auriculas.

    The most important requirement for alpines is good drainage.

    Either choose specially formulated compost, or add extra grit with your normal container compost.

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