I long desire a space with acres of seemingly endless rows of beautiful vegetables, herbs, and flowers. But for now, my reality is a patch with pots, a bed, and a fence.
Like many people during the pandemic, I was inspired to try my hand at gardening after several failed attempts the seasons before. I had once tried to desperately grow things from the shady window ledges and balconies of my city apartments, only to have my poor plants suffer with their water logged roots.
2020 was different, however. I made the effort to research what I was doing before buying pounds of seeds. There was plenty of trial and error, terror at bugs and insects, and many mistakes made from being too impulsive with insecticides and other harsh chemicals.
Three years later and I’m definitely not an expert, but I have had a stable garden with far fewer disasters. But I have to admit: sometimes I really wish I had a larger garden. But, the reality is that my garden is small, and will remain small until further notice.
This is not necessarily a bad thing.
I learned quite a few things about having a smaller garden and truly reaped some unexpected benefits. It became a dream garden despite its limitations. Here is how to make your small garden a dream garden.
Let your garden be fueled by memories and personal connections
Sometimes a garden connects us to those who have passed on.
My grandfather and I have a unique relationship. Although he was anticipating my birth as his first grandchild, he passed away from cancer two weeks before I was born. Even though I never met him personally, he was always a part of my life from his military and law enforcement legacy, to my parents’ memories of him, to his deep love of nature. He even owned some farmland when my dad and his brothers were kids in upstate New York.
Sometimes I miss him more than family members I grew up with; probably because I missed out on what would have been an extra special relationship. I feel closest to him when I plant something and keep it alive; it is like spending time with him, even though it is only through touching the fertile soil.
Let your garden expand your creativity
I let my garden be more than just about flowers, herbs, and vegetables. I used it as an opportunity to paint. Painting is a skill I sometimes neglect, and this makes me ashamed at times. So, I decided to revamp, refurbish, and liven up the terracotta pots that once held dying plants.
Painting the flower pots reminded me that I could be creative in more ways than one. I named most of the pots after special people in my life.
The painted pots still hold their ground years later and make my garden colorful even when the flowers have died back.
Let your garden improve your mood
Do the colors in your garden effect your mood?
I noticed that the colors in my garden effect mine. When I need to feel a certain way, I will adjust the color scheme to provoke that change.
When I feel warped with anger, anxiety, or desperation, I must have a golden yellow garden to ease into joy and happiness. When I am overwhelmed with exhaustion and stress, pastel pinks and rich mulberry colors release the tension.
When my garden is overgrown, I need to trim back the excess foliage. Even though I love the color green, too much of it in the garden and I feel lost and tangled, as though I am trapped in a thick jungle—so, I must add some color.
When I feel that the world is ending, I harvest something—anything! With my bare hands, I pinch off some herbs, some beans if they’re ready, and sometimes some mint to smell to relieve the distress.
When I return to my house, I am better for it. I am always amazed at how my mind shifts after simply touching one of my wonderful plants.
Grow your favorite things… and things that taste good to you!
It is important to grow things that work with your climate while also being visually appealing and/or delicious to you.
I used to try to stuff any variety of plant I could in my tiny garden. However, I learned that not everything is worth growing and that too many varieties may be overwhelming to care for.
My tried and true favorite things to grow are dragon tongue beans, lemon thyme, marjoram, spearmint, and bay laurel. I just have to have these because they are the items I enjoy eating and caring for the most.
In terms of flowers, I love lantanas, geraniums, and buttercups. I also adore marigolds, but I am going to have to retire them because they are getting decimated by the slugs.
Add a personal touch to your garden
I underestimated the power of a gnome or decorative stone.
My angel puppy is like a memorial for all of the furry babies I loved and have passed on. Along with the stone that says “Let your dreams set sail,” it is a reminder of how precious life is and that we must live it to the fullest each day.
Both stones are also odes to my family legacy. We’re all dog lovers and we sail boats.
At some point, I want to decorate my plot with wooden signs that identify what I’ve planted. I could stain some wooden slabs myself and write the names in calligraphic letters.
Perhaps your personal touch will be a collection of kitten statues, baby bunnies, or scruffy animals with mushrooms. Maybe you love sugar skulls and scare crows?
What do your personal touches symbolize?
Your garden is not just your plot
I sometimes feel that anywhere can be my garden if it is a place where I am enjoying nature and getting lost in thought.
“Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive—it’s such an interesting world. It wouldn’t be half so interesting if we knew all about everything, would it? There’d be no scope for imagination then, would there?”Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
When our little plots feel too small, there are gardens beyond in museums, communities, schools, and libraries.
Admittedly, caring for a massive garden is a lot of work for one or even two people. I can enjoy the scenery around my local public gardens without worrying about the insane amount of care it requires.