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Gardening: Room to Grow

Apartment? Tiny yard? Cramped quarters? Don’t let them stop you from developing your green thumb.


What do you do when you have high horticultural hopes but a pittance of dirt or sunlight? What do you do for botanical satisfaction when you have a tiny yard, or no yard at all? The prospects may appear grim, but there are many options for the small-space gardener.

Work with the light

Margot Gunn of the Great Big Greenhouse and Nursery offers help: “It’s hard to talk about light. A lot of people don’t know the orientation of windows and how much light they receive.” Living in the city, with brick walls all around, light quality, intensity and duration are issues, and therefore lower-light plants are the small gardener’s most devoted friends.

Which ones? Look to the Philodendron cordatum (heart-leaf philodendron), Aglaonema (Chinese evergreen), Caryota (fishtail palm) or Sansevieria (snake plant) for hearty indoor plants that are not too needy. For the city dweller on the go, give the Aspidistra (cast-iron plant) a try: Abuse it, neglect it or keep it in low light, but this faithful plant will weather the worst of city conditions. Less light means slower growth, so space is saved, though as Gunn warns, “The lower the light, the less frequently you need to water.” And fewer repottings mean you can shell out the money for that jewel-encrusted pot.

See space vertically

For those who have a yard that spans two very large beach towels, think up. Employ shelves and potted plants, getting the eager flora above ground level. Get crazy with the pots, because the shade will prevent extravagant flowering. Increasing vertical space makes up for the lack of horizontal space.

Give that love affair a French twist: Espalier to conserve square-footage. Debbie Walton-Cale of the Great Big Greenhouse encourages this practice, using camellia, pyracantha, dwarf apple or peach to conceal brick. The venerable ginkgo is another good choice, as long as it is a male plant. Sexual politics notwithstanding, the female ginkgo is a troublesome tree with messy, smelly fruit. The two-dimensional training of these trees will increase visual zest.

Bring the indoors out

Perhaps the best way to improve a small yard is to turn it into a room. Use architectural features to your advantage. “You’re looking to create areas of interest,” Walton-Cale says. “A lot of people are looking to make a living area.”

Hang old shutters on that wall or fence to create windowlike frames, create pathways of stone or crushed granite to break up the space into “rooms.” Dwarfs are your friends: dwarf lilacs, dwarf English boxwoods and dwarf hinokis will grow slowly but steadily, adding fullness to the yard without getting out of control. Use a Japanese maple or other small tree as a focal point. Add a bench for contemplating the grandeur of it all, and raise a glass with a shrub to celebrate the success of botanical romance in your brick city.

Fan Garden Tour

Tickets On Sale

Tickets for the Fan Woman’s Club Kitchen and Garden Tour go on sale April 16. The event features 10 kitchens and gardens, including two gardens that have appeared in national magazines.

The tour takes place Sunday, May 2. It runs from 1-6 p.m., rain or shine. Tickets cost $15 in advance and $20 on the day of the tour, and are available at the Arcade on Grove, Trappings, Strawberry Street Vineyards, Sneed’s Nursery, the Compleat Gourmet, Lane Sanson, Shades of Light, BeDazzled, Belle and Kitchen Kuisine, Shockoe Espresso and Roastery, and Huckleberries. For details call (804) 257-9104.


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