As the face of the Austin skyline continues to evolve, the number of apartments and condos is at an all-time high. Add to that the burgeoning construction of townhouses, retirement communities and tiny houses, and you’ve got a sizeable market for a different style of gardening.
Small-space living doesn’t mean forgoing a garden. Even if your balcony or outdoor area looks more like a Mini Cooper than a Chevy Suburban, you can still enjoy a charming garden of your own. If you have a budding green thumb and are itching to get your hands in the dirt, it’s never been easier to create a compact outdoor room.
Good design is even more important in a small-space garden. With a simple plan, the right plants and pots and some size-appropriate accessories, you can transform your limited outdoor area into an oasis.
Whether you want to grow herbs, veggies or ornamental plants, these 10 tips will help you get you started:
1. Think about what you want from your outdoor area — a serene and secluded space to read a book or enjoy a glass of wine? Or a lush, colorful space to visit with a friend or two or cook on the grill?
2. Determine what design style you’d like to incorporate into your project. What’s your style inside your home? Is it formal or casual? Do you like an eclectic mix of decor or is your go-to lean, clean and minimalist? Do you prefer bright colors or a more neutral palette?
3. Plan your space. Look through magazines or Pinterest for inspiration and then sketch out your ideas. Consider your views from both inside and outside as you place chairs, tables or focal points. Decide if you want to include hanging or tall plants to add some privacy.
4. Know your environment and growing conditions. Does the space fill with bright sunshine most of the day, or is it a shady, more protected area? Are you willing or able water regularly? Would you prefer the most drought-tolerant plants for easier maintenance?
5. Determine how much time you can spend on maintenance and watering. A travel schedule that takes you away occasionally in the heat of summer means you’ll need extremely drought-tolerant plants or a very helpful neighbor.
6. Pick your plants carefully. Head to your local independent nursery, photos in hand, and ask about container-friendly plants for your growing conditions. For flowers, consider a mix of evergreens, perennials that come back year after year and colorful annuals for seasonal interest. If herbs and veggies are your passion, determine which ones will do well in your light conditions. Most importantly, remember all plants will grow. Ignore the label at your own peril. If it indicates a 3-foot-by-3-foot mature size, that’s the size it will become, even if you’re buying it in a cute little quart-size pot.
7. Don’t scrimp on soil – cheaper probably isn’t better. And buy the right soil for the right plant. For example, cacti and agaves need a special mix you can either buy prepackaged or create your own. Always use potting soil in containers, not garden soil. The most important thing is for the roots to have access to some air so the water drains well. Potting soils typically include vermiculite or perlite and sand to aid with drainage.
8. Be creative with containers. They can add whimsy to your outdoor room. They allow you to highlight favorite decor items or transform everyday items. Vintage-looking veggie cans, coffee cups or pitchers bursting with perky greenery can add interest to your space. Even watering cans, shells and even shoes can be filled with plants. As long as it has a drainage hole, almost any vessel can serve as a plant container. Don’t fool yourself into thinking a few rocks in the bottom of the cup or bowl will suffice for drainage. It won’t. If you’re placing a plastic nursery pot with holes into another container without a hole, that’s OK, as long as you don’t overwater. Use a drill to add holes to other interesting repurposed items.
9. Maximize your space by gardening vertically. Just like photos on the walls of your home, use outdoor walls or fences to grow plants and display decor around your garden room. Hanging baskets draw the eye upward and help frame your space. Shelves can share space with small plants and collectibles on bare walls. Pinterest photos, garden catalogs and nurseries are full of the latest creative vertical planters. Specially designed over-the-balcony planters enable you to enjoy free-flowing trailing plants to provide more privacy. Widely available wall planters run the gamut from metal to wood to coir and even cloth pockets for planting.
10. To complete your oasis, look for furniture, decor and accessories that complement your chosen style. For example, tropical style is characterized by brilliant color, shape and form. Design elements can include wicker or bamboo, bright rugs, pillows and decor. Once it’s set up, use your garden room to enjoy themed gatherings — luau-style food, fruity umbrella drinks and scented candles can put the finishing touches on the mood.