Making the Most of the Space You Have: Tiny But Beautiful Gardens

Most people’s dream garden covers acres, with flowerbeds, parkland and untamed woods rolling off towards the horizon. In real life, sadly, this is possible only for a few, and the rest of us have to make do with a patch of roof, a tiny back yard or even a couple of flowerpots on a windowsill.

On the other hand, having a small garden can be a kind of blessing: you don’t need to buy an expensive lawn mower, spend hours every weekend just to keep it looking respectable or worry too much about water restrictions. As it happens, there are also a number of ways to make a small garden more productive and pleasant than most people will believe.

Vertical Gardening

When you can’t go sideways, go up. When considering techniques such as trellising, vertical gardening really is nothing new, but it has been receiving much more attention recently as detached houses become more difficult to afford.

All you really need is a wall that receives at least some sun, which in a small courtyard might mean three out of four. The most labor-intensive part of setting up your own hanging gardens is usually building a structure, perhaps using old wooden pallets, that can support the weight – wet soil weighs more than you think! To this, you can attach ordinary flowerpots, guttering or even plastic bottles, fill these with potting mixture and start planting.

Vertical gardens are much easier to maintain and harvest, especially if your back isn’t what it used to be. Since the plants and flowers are at eye level, these “green walls” also look much larger than they have any right to, and with proper care, they can produce an astonishing amount of flowers and vegetables. Decorative species to consider include giant lilyturf, geraniums and star jasmine; while cucumbers, strawberries, peas, green beans and herbs of every kind also do well in a vertical garden.

Keeping Plants Indoors

Either due to their living arrangements or the climate, some people simply can’t do much gardening outdoors. A few of them, missing being surrounded by a little bit of foliage when relaxing, have simply moved their gardens inside.

This need not imply being restricted to sticking a wilted ficus in the corner and a struggling fern on your desk. Some people go much further, even adding a purpose-built “green room” to their houses to relax and entertain guests in.

Humidity is an obvious factor to bear in mind. If your house is built of brick, moisture-resistant paint and polyethylene sheets may be all that’s needed to keep this at bay. If you’re dealing with drywall…well, the clue is in the name.

Light quality is also, generally speaking, a concern. A few species of plant might be able to survive even in a north-facing room, but setting up an indoor garden may require you to change the way you currently use your space and even knock a few new holes in the walls. Luckily, there is a workaround in the form of grow lights, which come in handy especially during winter months.

Using Vermicompost

If you have a limited amount of space and only a few plants, you really want to do all you can to make them as lush and productive as possible. This obviously means feeding them well, and one of the most effective ways of doing so is to apply the ejecta of earthworms to the soil. The way this works is not really by adding more NPK, but by improving the concentration of helpful soil bacteria around the roots, meaning that your plants will be better able to make use of nutrients and be more resistant to disease. Just look at these seedlings:

Vermicompost can be found at any gardening center with an organic inclination, or simply be created by composting kitchen scraps and garden clippings with the aid of some worms. If there is one single thing any gardener can do to increase the health of her plants, it is to scatter a teaspoon of vermicompost around the base of each.

Getting Way, Way Out of Town to See Nature Blooming

Culinary tourism, historical pilgrimages and even traveling to disaster zones to help out have all become popular ways to holiday. If you are interested in botany and flowers in particular, you might have considered going to see Japan’s cherry trees blossom in spring, or perhaps visit the tulip farms of Holland. If you’re willing to go a little off the beaten track, though, there are places you can take holiday snaps that may rival anything you can find in National Geographic.

Triple Canopy Rainforest

For the more adventurous, there are a number of totally unique flowers that can be found only in the Amazon. The bad news is that seeing them typically requires you to sweat a little.

You will certainly require a local guide: bugs, spiders and snakes, oh my! It’s ridiculously easy to lose your bearings in the jungle unless you stay on waterways: the “horizon” is rarely more than twenty metres away and you will not be able to tell where the sun is coming from. Also, in Colombia at least, exploring botanists have actually wandered right into drug cartels’ hideouts…so really, pay a few dollars to someone who knows the area. One with a certification from the local tourist board will often know volumes about the rainforest’s ecology and be able to locate species you’d otherwise walk right past.

Perhaps the most exciting part of visiting the Amazon is not the hint of danger or its uniqueness, but the fact that you can actually experience three ecosystems at the same time. These take the form of horizontal layers, from the gloomy yet still beautiful world of the undergrowth, which receives little sunlight, to the still-mysterious canopy layer, where completely different kinds of flowering plants can be found.

In the past, studying the canopy was a somewhat risky process. An arrow trailing a fishing line was shot upwards, hopefully looping over a sturdy branch, after which a climbing rope was pulled up. With the canopy easily being 40 metres off the ground (i.e. the height of a 13 story building) and medical attention days away, this type of fieldwork was not for the faint of heart or frail of bone.

Today, though, remotely piloted drones make taking pictures of the upper layer much easier. These aircraft are available in a variety of price ranges. At the lower end, you can choose the Holy Stone F181, which can be charged from a power bank, but it doesn’t have a FPV (drone’s eye view) or obstacle avoidance capability. If you’re willing to spend $3,000 plus on a jaunt to South America, though, you can certainly afford something better, such as the 3D Robotics Solo.

Namaqualand

Climatically as different from the Amazon as you can get, Namaqualand in Namibia and South Africa consists of arid plains interspersed with low hills. Desolate scrubland for most of the time, the landscape explodes in a riot of color for a few weeks every year somewhere between August and October.

Several hundred species of flowers take advantage of the seasonal rains to propagate, making this biome unique. It also boasts the highest concentration of succulents of any desert locale – over a thousand local plant species aren’t found anywhere else. Photographs cannot do justice to the beauty of varicolored blooms literally carpeting the landscape; it is something that simply has to be experienced in person. The incongruity of seeing dryland animal species such as gemsbok, ostrich and springbok grazing among what might as well be a miles-wide flowerbed is by itself worth the trip. For best results, keep in mind that the flowers follow the sun, so the best viewing times are between noon and 3 o’clock, facing east.

Well-traveled by tourists, it’s possible to cycle or drive offroad through Namaqualand. Alternatively, guided bus tours are also available, usually taking routes that allow you to spend a few hours in the various charming towns scattered around. If flying into Cape Town, make sure to also include the fynbos region on the Cape Peninsula in your itinerary, as this ecology and the species it’s comprised of are also found only in this small area.