My dad’s gardening tips from last week prompted Regina Tan
to ask if I’d discuss how to grow edibles in small, urban spaces. Instantly, I
was transported back to the days of living in a tiny apartment in Los Angeles. My
boyfriend (now husband) and I gained a nice size, albeit shady, plot right
under our kitchen window when a plumbing issue arose and plumbers had to dig up
Rory asked the landlord (a nice Korean lady) if we could grow stuff
in the 3 by 5-foot area, and she concurred. That summer I grew yellow pear
tomatoes, Japanese eggplant, basil, and squash. We went to Europe on vacation
(the bachelor postman upstairs watered for us) and returned to a jungly garden
You don’t need a lot of space to grow food to eat. In fact, Sunset magazine estimates that a 4 by 4-foot
space (square meter) is enough. But you can grow things in even small areas,
tucked into here and there. Wherever there’s a spot of consistent sun, you can
grow something. Think of it as nano or guerilla gardening. Some ideas to
Balcony or patio:
These are often places that get a good amount of sun each day. When my friends
Alec and Michelle lived in a Culver City condominium complex, they grew western
and Asian herbs on their small balcony. Alec salvaged a bunch of pots from his
mom’s house; they were lightweight and easy to maneuver. It was great to cook
dinner with them because we could harvest fresh rau ram (Vietnamese coriander),
tia to (purple perilla), and mint and add it to our dishes.
If you have a large balcony or better yet, a patio (small,
medium, or large) you can be more ambitious. When Rory and I rented a Santa
Monica apartment, this is how I grew a bunch of stuff years ago:
The concept is brilliant because you’re using a single giant
pot to grow upwards, downwards and in between. One big pot of soil retains
moisture well (you water less often) and the plants have room to root
downwards. Crowding the plants is okay! I often halve the suggesting spacing
Or, you can also stack two pots to create a small terrace
effect. It’s attractive but make sure the top one is set level on the bottom
Indoor counter and
ceiling: With no outdoor spaces, try using an Aerogarden. It’s pricey to
get all the equipment but once you have everything, you can start your own
Asian herbs from seed and cultivate them year round! Or, set your herbs in
small pots on a sunny window sill or counter. Put a water-proof tray below the
pots to prevent moisture from marring the surface underneath.
Walls and fences:
Pocket planters are charming and you can plant them individually or in rows
(vertical or horizontal). If you’re not handy, buy something like this
from Wooly Pocket. It holds half a cubic foot so you can grow a decent number
of herbs in it. Again, crowd them in.
Or, make your own from instructions from thekitchen.com.
Roof: My friends
John and Mike live in a building where some of the tenants grow potted herbs on
the rooftop. There’s a drip system so watering isn’t a major hassle. With no
taller building nearby, their plants enjoy full-sun exposure. And if your dog
doesn’t mind, how about growing food atop his/her dog house?
To survive the near-famine conditions of post-1975 Vietnam, an uncle of mine created a
small farm of sorts on the roof of the building where he lived in Saigon. As
long as there’s a flat space and sun, you can grow something to eat.
Share your small-space gardening ideas or experiences!