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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Townhouse Gardening--What I've Learned

This is my first post in two years and three months, so if you thought I was finished with this blog, you're not alone! Life just got too busy for me to spend much time at the computer and I've been focusing on other things. But as fall approaches and I realize my gardening is drawing to a close for the season, I have been reflecting back on how far things have come and how much I've learned this past year about what I call "townhouse gardening." We never thought we'd end up in a townhouse, but it has been a blessing in many ways. However, when I first saw this tiny courtyard and realized my dreams for land would have to be postponed, my heart sank. Ugly rocks and cement was all I saw and it seemed too small to do anything with. Happily, over time my vision expanded as my imagination saw how it could be more. 
So if you, like me, want to garden but have only "a small bit of earth," read on... (See my list at the end of things learned so far.)

After building and filling a Square Foot Garden box (always a staple in our gardens), I turned my attention to other potential garden spots, focusing on areas that receive a lot of sun. I decided on three places and we cleared them of rocks. 

Two of the areas are shown in these first three pictures: the fenced-in place to the right of the stairs, and the area to the left of the front door. Thankfully, my husband was able to do most of the digging to loosen up the sad soil that has been smothered in rocks for who knows how long. (Now we're working on improving the soil, which process will include clearing another area soon for a compost pile.)

Five months ago I planted quite a few strawberry plants in this section--a total experiment, since summers are so hot here (triple digits for three or four months in a row). While most of the plants survived, they didn't get much bigger, so I recently opted to add other plants for ground cover and additional aesthetic appeal. Hopefully they'll spread well next spring and fill out this area.

At the back I added two lavender plants that smell lovely.

And interspersed among the strawberries I planted these fun sun roses. (The mesh effectively prevents the neighbors' cat from using this as a litter box.)

Last year I planted several things in buckets and some did better than others. This year the chard and basil (which was a volunteer) have done well all season. After my oldest daughter tried flowers from seed without enough success, we opted to fill them with flower plants instead. We have especially enjoyed the vinca, which has continued to bloom all summer and thrives in the high heat as long as we water it well every day. 

In the plot to the right of the stairs I planted more strawberry plants, which have thrived there. (Yay!) My second daughter planted sunflowers here as well, which are so fun to watch grow.

To the left of the stairs, for the second year, I planted tomatoes--with cilantro in the middle. It was very interesting and gratifying to see how much better the plants grew this year, after a winter of adding ash and charcoal to the soil. We'll keep working on it for next spring.

A couple months later later, the cilantro had grown taller than the tomato plants (here it is going to seed).

Behind the tomatoes we planted a row of marigolds for pest control and added beauty and they thrived beautifully in the early summer. Marigolds are always a great one to plant from seed!

In the garden box in front of the woodpile I first planted tomatoes and a pepper. Unfortunately, cockroaches ate up the pepper plant as well as everything else I planted there, except for tomatoes, squash, and some stevia. So I will be taking other measures next year, to protect against those beastly bugs. 

The tomato plants grew rapidly and thrived here, soon growing as tall as the woodpile.

Tomatoes plumping up!
And, while this is a poor picture, it shows how tall our tomato plants are now--taller than the fence behind it and nearly as tall as me!

So here are the five main things I have learned about townhouse gardening: 

1) Any improvement, no matter how small, makes a big difference quickly. 
2) It's less stress, much less overwhelming, and takes less time than a yard does (of course). 
3) It's less expensive to overhaul and maintain. 
4) It's easier to keep track of everything and know how each plant is doing. 

But here is the most important thing I've learned: 

5) If I can still garden with this small space, just about anyone can! No excuses! :)

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