Small-space Food Garden Design Secrets

Get the dirt on growing organic food with very little square footage.

Credit: Jackie Connelly

This garden’s design is asymmetrical, yet it feels orderly; some of the best garden designs are successful because they blend formal and informal elements.

Create a gorgeous food garden even in a small space with these simple design principles 

The following is an excerpt from Sugar Snaps and Strawberries: Simple Solutions for Creating Your Own Small-Space Edible Garden.

As much as I sometimes covet a big backyard, I know that some blessings come with a small garden. A small garden forces you to be organized, because you have no place to hide junk or plants and containers that you don’t really like. (And you’ll like your garden more after you have edited it.)

The best thing about a small garden is that it is manageable. No need to spend hours fussing over, well, anything – unless you want to.

A Quick Garden Design Lesson

In designer-speak, gardens can usually be divided into two types: formal and informal. Of course, some combine the best of both.

Get familiar with a few of the basic principles behind these styles, because this can help you identify common elements in the types of gardens you find appealing. And understanding the key characteristics of gardens you love will help you to create something just as beautiful in your own space.


Formal Garden Designs

Formal garden designs emphasize order, symmetry and geometry. But even if you think of yourself as a casual, rule-bending personality type, you need not dismiss formality entirely. Vegetable gardens are traditionally laid out with straight rows and rectangular plots for a reason.

Humans are predisposed to finding appeal in the repetitive harmony of a formal design. Pattern is pleasing – whether it is introduced through a series of perfectly aligned raised beds, in fruit trees in identical containers marking the four corners of a patio, or in a variety of red and green lettuces grown in patchwork squares.


patio container garden
Repetition, symmetry and pattern work to make this patio container garden a modern, comfortable space.

Formal designs also tend to work well with urban architecture – from the geometry of a city skyline to the straight lines of your own home.

Finally, formal gardens tend to hold their shape – and their interest – year-round. Even when your crops are buried under snow, the rhythm and balance of a formal garden will still be clearly defined by the placement and outline of beds, containers, arbours and obelisks. 


Informal Edible Gardens

artichoke in edible garden
Artichokes are large, sculptural plants that provide interest and structure in an edible landscape.

If flowing curves, a casual or eclectic look, a “natural” appearance, or an edible landscape appeal to you, you might prefer informal garden designs to the rigidity of traditional formal gardens.

Compared to the obvious symmetry and geometry of formal garden designs, informal gardens can seem haphazard and wild (frankly, sometimes they are). But the best informal designs use some of the same principles used in formal garden designs – balance and pattern – yet use them in a different way.

Designing an informal garden often takes more planning than a formal garden design. For example, using formal principles to design a balcony garden, you could buy identical containers and place them neatly along the base of the balcony railing. Regardless of what you plant in the containers, their placement will have a satisfying rhythm.

In contrast, if you want to create an informal design on that same patio, you might choose several different, yet harmonious, containers in various colours and materials, and arrange them in eye-pleasing groups of three and five. (Groups of odd numbers of items look more natural than do groups of even-numbered items.) 

You could then choose and place plants with an eye to creating a balance of colours, textures and forms.

Sugar Snaps and Strawberries by Andrea Bellamy

In her new book, Sugar Snaps and Strawberries: 
Simple Solutions for Creating Your Own Small-Space Edible Garden published by Timber Press and available in bookstores December 2010, Vancouver’s Andrea Bellamy — the founder of the acclaimed blog HeavyPetal — gives you the dirt on growing gorgeous organic food with very little square footage.

Simple, straightforward advice, beautifully complemented by luscious photography by Jackie Connelly, will help you transform just a snippet of space into a stylish and edible oasis. Bellamy goes beyond the surface and shows you how to maintain healthy soil, and decide what and when to plant. But, most importantly, she shows you how to enjoy the process. 

— Carol Pope, GardenWise editor

Related Links:

7 design tips for edible gardens