Tips & Tricks for Small Gardens in the City

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With the arrival of spring not only come warmer temperatures, heavier rains, and blooming cherry blossoms all over Vancouver, but also opportunities to grow all kinds of wonderful plants in your own patio or garden, from flowers to crops and herbs. But how should apartment and townhouse residents, who have less space to grow plants within their homes, approach gardening? We spoke to Kathy Shynkaryk, one of the buyers in the Garden Centre at UBC Botanical Garden and a member of The Friends of the Garden, the group of volunteers who run the Garden’s Shop and organize events throughout the year. She’s offered some tips and tricks on how to make the best of a smaller dwelling when growing plants.

“Tomatoes grow well in containers and [growing them like this] is also a way of avoiding blight from contaminated soil” explains Kathy, referring to the all-too-common cause for crop failure in larger plots. She mentions that “I like to plant my tomatoes in containers and place them underneath the overhang of my house”, which protects them from the rain, since tomatoes should be watered at the soil line rather than from above the plant. Kathy also recommends fertilizing containers of annuals regularly; Kathy herself fertilizes once a week, usually applying half the strength the fertilizer package recommends. During the summer months, she specifies daily watering is required.

Explaining a classic pitfall of small gardens, Kathy mentions that “some people buy trees that start off small but end up being too large for a typical city size garden”, and recommends keeping in mind the size the tree will grow to in 10 or 15 years. “In our plant centre, we try to select trees for sale that are a more appropriate size for the average city garden as well as trees and shrubs that do well in containers.” As a rule of thumb, she recommends letting the pot or lot size determine what trees or shrubs are right for a particular situation. Some possibilities she recommends for smaller gardens include Japanese maples, some magnolias, rhododendrons, and azaleas.

Down to Earth, the free interactive gardening event at UBC Botanical Garden on May 13, will feature demonstrations of how to grow a variety of crops and plants, including vegetables, tomatoes, strawberries (early blooming and everbearing), and herbs. There will be plant sales of shrubs and trees for small gardens and containers, some more exotic perennials, annuals, dried flowers, and more. For those wanting to explore more options, the Garden Centre will include a variety of shrubs, trees, blueberries, and blackberries for sale from May onwards, as well as a wide selection of herbs.

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