Small vegetable garden ideas – 15 ways to maximize your space
Get the most out of your growing space with these small vegetable garden ideas. Your plot will soon be brimming with fruit, vegetables and herbs
Small vegetable garden ideas can turn even the tiniest space into a productive patch. If carefully planned, you can grow all kinds of crops, from tactile herbs, through to root vegetables and fruit trees. These small vegetable garden ideas will help you to transform your plot into a highly productive, small-scale garden.
Whether you are starting from scratch and looking for vegetable garden ideas or just seeking ways to get the most from your plot, these tips and design ideas will give you inspiration for the best layouts as well as the best and easiest vegetables to grow for the highest yields.
Small vegetable garden ideas
Nothing beats the satisfaction of harvesting your first ripe tomato or pulling up your first carrot from the soil – edibles can be grown in the smallest of plots and now is the perfect time to have a go.
By incorporating a vegetable garden into your small garden ideas, you can increase the productivity of your space while still retaining a characterful and abundant garden scheme.It is also a great way to engage the younger generation when gardening with children. So take advantage of your tiny spaces to grow delicious options that will add a special homegrown flavor to your meals.
1. Opt for a multifunctional greenhouse
Greenhouse ideas form an essential part of the vegetable garden, letting you start off as many seedlings as your heart desires, without the challenge of predicting the frost or worrying about where they are going to live. The benefits are not just felt at the start of the growing season, either, as even an unheated greenhouse can delay the effects of frost by several weeks, letting you maximise the yield of crops – such as picking fresh tomatoes well into fall.
However, when it comes to planning a greenhouse for your small vegetable garden ideas, you will inevitably be faced with the need for compromise; the most common being between a shed and a greenhouse. Both have benefits but often the necessity of a shed's storage potential will outweigh the botanical benefits of a greenhouse. This does not have to be the case, though. If you’re struggling to choose between a greenhouse and others shed ideas then consider a design that combines both elements. Here, the shed lets you store all your gardening tools out of sight while the adjoining lean-to greenhouse gives you plenty of space to raise your crops, making it a clever, compact solution for more petite spaces.
'In the summer months, a small greenhouse can be used to grow any of the traditional greenhouse plants, such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, or herbs and start off seedlings which you can later transfer outdoors. During colder months, a mini-greenhouse can also be used to plant more temperature-sensitive crops,' explains expert at Hartley Botanic.
Once you've got your greenhouse up and running, discover the best food to grow in a greenhouse to help you on your way.
2. Make the most of vertical height with hanging baskets
The best plants for hanging baskets aren't just trailing blooms, in fact hanging baskets can also be used to grow a wide range of vegetables, helping to increase the productivity of your small vegetable garden ideas.
Taking up no ground space, they provide a versatile growing platform for a wide range of vegetables, working particularly well with cut and come again lettuce, rocket, and spinach as well as being able to be used for growing tomatoes or as herb planter ideas. Since the vegetables are elevated above the ground they are inaccessible to slugs, snails, rabbits and other animals who may decimate your crops when grown at ground level – protecting them from this helps to boost your yields.
3. Grow vegetables over your pergola
Vertical garden ideas are a great way to go when designing your small vegetable garden ideas. Traditionally rambling roses or the best flowering climbers are the natural choices for training over a pergola, however, you can also use them to support vegetable vines. The best vegetables to pair with your pergola ideas are cucumbers, squash, pumpkins and beans as these require a support system in order to grow.
Growing your crops vertically will not only make the most of the available space but will also help to protect them from slugs and other pests – they are also easier to care for. 'When growing vegetables over a pergola, it is easier to reach the fruit as it grows,' explains Lindsey Hyland, founder of UrbanOrganic Yield. 'You'll also save on your garden's water consumption since the plant's roots are confined to a much smaller surface area.'
If you're wondering how to begin growing vegetables over a pergola, then learning how to grow cucumbers vertically is a great place to start.
4. Grow vegetables in pots
Shady areas are often a problem in smaller gardens, however, vegetable garden container ideas offer the perfect solution as you can move them to follow the sun throughout the day. This means that you're not just limited to vegetables to grow in shade but in fact can grow a wide array of edibles in your small vegetable garden ideas.
Gardening expert Carol Klein says: 'There are loads of vegetables you can grow in pots. Absolutely masses of them. All the salad crops you can grow so easily.'
Potted edibles and other container gardening ideas are particularly convenient for small vegetable garden ideas. They are particularly useful for vegetable gardens that are part of balcony gardens or placed on patio ideas since they don't require borders or raised beds.
Planting a large container with a mix of flowers – particularly flowers that attract bees – and a range of crops, such as different salad leaves and chillies, is both decorative and practical. Regularly harvesting leaves of vegetables, such as chard, and lettuce planted in groups, will avoid crowding.
5. Embrace grafted fruit trees to maximize space
You don’t have to have an orchard to be able to grow your own fruit. Dwarf fruit trees are some of the best trees for small gardens and can be planted directly into an ornamental bed, valued for their pretty blossom as well as fruit, and intermingled with roses as ideal companions.
There are plenty of dwarf varieties that will thrive as part of your small vegetable garden ideas or even as part of your container garden. From apples and pears through to cherries and apricots, there are dwarf varieties available for most of the best fruit trees meaning you don't have to miss out despite your small plot.
If you are really short of space however, consider grafted fruit trees. In duo fruit trees, two different trees are grafted onto a single root stock, this means you can have multiple varieties of fruit from one tree. For example, this tree combines apples and pears on a single trunk – talk about making the most of your space! To ensure your new tree has the best start in life be sure you know how to plant a fruit tree.
6. Grow crops that offer rich rewards
The trick for a successful small vegetable garden is to grow small amounts of different crops that offer big rewards. Opt for easy bumper crops like cut and come again salad leaves, chilli plants, fresh herbs, leafy greens, and super-sweet peas straight from the pod.
‘Over the years certain plants and varieties have emerged as front runners in the time/reward ratio,’ says plantswoman Sarah Raven. ‘They’re the ones that are quick and easy to grow, so they will do well even if you don’t have much gardening experience. Whenever I’m asked by new grow-your-owners which plants to go for I say cut-and-come-again leaves every time.’
7. Use trellis for compact small vegetable garden ideas
A super-smart small vegetable garden idea is to try vegetable garden trellis ideas, to make the most of the space by using vertical surfaces to grow crops up – this is particularly useful if you are looking for ways to incorporate vegetable plants into courtyard garden ideas.
Add in some herbs, which make excellent potted plants and can also be beneficial for companion planting, and you could have all you need to rustle up a delicious homegrown meal at your fingertips.
8. Position a small vegetable garden near the kitchen
'Most of the plants going into vegetable patches are annuals. They are working with a short timescale and need to grow rapidly. To enable them to put on this performance, they need all the help they can get and plenty of food to fuel this growing process. That's only possible in full sun,' explains expert plantswoman Sarah Raven.
This small vegetable garden idea allows placement of the crops closer to the kitchen for ease of use, and so you can pay close attention to any pests and diseases.
9. Combine small vegetable garden ideas with blooms
If yours is a small garden, you will want to plan for the best of both worlds, combining small vegetable garden ideas with flower bed ideas. If this is the case, treat your vegetables just as you would other plants, growing three of the same vegetables alongside repeated flower planting to create an impactful, cohesive look.
10. Build a raised bed vegetable garden
Raised garden bed ideas are a popular way to grow edibles as part of small vegetable garden ideas.
Wood, brick or sleepers can be used to frame your bed, and there are plenty of kits on the market – or you can follow Monty Don's raised bed tips. Fill your beds with good-quality soil, and then add your fruit or vegetable crops.
You may like to plant in neat rows or decorative patterns for a mini potager effect, mixing in some companion planting.
Rotating the crops ensures pests and diseases don’t build up, and also makes the nutrients added by one plant available to the subsequent plants.
11. Look to vertical vegetable garden ideas to save space
Experiment with climbing crops to make the most of space when you plan a small garden:
- Cover fences or walls with wire, twine or lattice for beans, peas or espaliered fruit; train vines up pergolas, and create edible screens or step-over edging.
- Attach pots to walls – or you could use one of the many commercial living wall systems available.
- Outdoor plant stands tiered, using old ladders, stacked containers, palettes or metal stands, also offer the opportunity for a vertical vegetable garden and many different options for small vegetable garden ideas, even in a small garden with decking.
Do some research for a system that suits your location, and experiment with which crops work the best. In general, go for reliable choices, such as clumping and running herbs that regenerate after being cut back hard, red perilla, salad leaves, sugar snap peas, edible flowers and strawberries.
TOP TIP: If a wall is in a shady spot, it can also be painted white to reflect light back onto a climber, which will also make a small garden look bigger.
12. Plant a small vegetable garden amongst flowers
Small vegetable garden ideas require a bit of creative thinking. Mix edibles among your flowerbeds to emulate the traditional potager cottage garden ideas of the past, where flowers, vegetables, herbs and fruit were planted wherever they fitted.
The vegetable or fruit plants can blend attractively beside other plants. Decorative choices to tuck in for small vegetable garden ideas include frilly lettuces and cabbages, architectural cardoons, runner beans and peas scrambling up tepees, rainbow chard and feathery asparagus and fennel.
An informal scheme, with scattered edibles, allows for staggered cropping and avoids the situation of feast or famine and patches of empty soil.
Smaller edibles, such as chives, parsley and ferny-topped carrots, make attractive edging to garden beds. Perennial herbs look good year-round, such as sage and ground-covering thyme with its pretty flowers.
Adding veg and fruit among your flowerbeds has a further practical advantage of creating a mosaic tapestry of colors and scents that confuses insect pests, making it difficult for them to find the veg or fruit they want to feed on. Flowering herbs will also attract beneficial insects.
WARNING: Be sure, though, to avoid space-loving fruit and vegetable plants that don’t play well with ornamentals, including berries and larger root vegetables like potatoes.
13. Grow for color in a small vegetable garden
Of course you'll want to grow what you love to eat, what suits your space, its position and soil type, but if you choose to grow crops for color in small vegetable garden ideas, you will be rewarded two-fold with a tasty harvest that looks good while you are growing it. This rhubarb is a case in point.
14. Create a small vegetable garden in a window box
Window and planter box ideas are most suited to low-growing kitchen garden edibles, such as herbs and salad leaves, and need to suit the conditions that prevail at your window.
Planting ‘recipes’ to try include a mix of different mints, strawberries interspersed with parsley, or a one-stop salad garden with micro greens, salad leaves, chives, basil and edible flowers.
15. Grow fruit trees in containers
It is possible to include a lot of fruit in your small vegetable garden ideas. Most fruit prefers a sunny position, making them ideal when planning roof garden ideas, but if your garden is in semi-shade, many of the choices below will still do well.
These can also be lovely growing in pots in a range of patio ideas, so they are close to hand when you're tempted to pluck a ripe fruit off the bush as you sit outside enjoying your garden.
Gooseberry bushes can be trained against a wall and do well in a large pot or container with regular watering and feeding. They love a sunny spot but will also fruit in shade and need a free-draining moist soil. Prune annually in late autumn or winter.
Strawberries are easy to grow in pots, in the border or hanging baskets. They need rich, fertile soil and a sunny spot. Plant bare-root runners in late spring to early summer. Keep the compost moist and feed when the flowers appear.
Blueberries need an acid soil to do well so use well-drained ericaceous soil for containers. Don’t let it outgrow the space, and repot into a slightly larger size. Feed with a rhododendron fertilizer and water well. They are self-fertile and you could have a couple in containers that fruit at different times.
Apples can grow in pots. Select ones that have been grafted onto a container rootstock. M27 is the smallest dwarf size and M9 is still dwarfing but more vigorous. You can also espalier as step-overs or against a fence, or plant into a flowerbed. Options include Fiesta, Discovery, Sunset and Falstaff.
Citrus trees, such as lemons and kumquats, can be grown in containers outdoors in summer and over-wintered inside. Mix one part sand or grit to four parts soil potting mix. Use rainwater to water – ideal for sustainable small garden ideas.
What can I put in a small vegetable garden?
In small vegetable garden ideas, it is sensible to plant compact fruit and vegetable varieties that won't take up too much space - many seed and gardening websites list the best compact crops to grow in a restricted space.
Choose vegetable and fruit crops that can be continually harvested, which keeps them producing, rather than ones that are removed completely. Your space needs to be as productive as possible.
How do you start a small vegetable garden for beginners?
It is easy to start a small vegetable garden – there are plenty of small vegetable garden ideas to get your started – and before long you can be enjoying the taste and flavor of your own homegrown crops.
To grow well and be productive, vegetable and fruit plants ideally need:
- at least six hours of sunlight a day
- an open spot for good air circulation
- protection from strong winds
- soil that is loose, rich and drains well
How do you lay out a small vegetable garden?
Stagger the planting for small vegetable garden ideas so there is always something to harvest.
Longer-term crops, such as cabbages and broccoli, can be interplanted with faster-growing options, including cut-and-come-again salad mixes, pea shoots, mizuna, rocket and radishes, which are ready to eat from about six weeks from seed.
Many crops can be continually picked, including cherry tomatoes, chillies, chard, beans and snow peas.
For north-facing or spaces with less sunlight like some narrow, long gardens, try shade-tolerant edibles, such as spinach, chard, kale, rocket, sorrel, Asian and salad leaves, Alpine strawberries, rhubarb, currants, mint, bay, coriander, chives, parsley, chamomile and tarragon.
Also take into account when to plant vegetables as well as where to place them, this will help you to design your small vegetable garden.
What vegetables can you grow in a small space?
There are many crops you can consider when planning small vegetable garden ideas, but here are some of the best crops for small spaces:
SALAD LEAVES AND LETTUCES are easy to grow, great for beginners and definitely taste better picked fresh. Cut-and-come-again leaves will give you a selection for weeks, months even, and by sowing a succession you can enjoy them through the year.
BEANS, including dwarf varieties, are one of the easiest vegetables to grow. They need full sun, good drainage and are frost sensitive, so plant after frosts have passed. Choose a pot at least 16 inches in diameter, and make a tripod using three sticks tied together.
KALE lasts well into winter. Just a few plants are enough to keep you in supply for nearly the whole year. They are frost hardy – in fact a light frost improves the flavor, making leaves that may have become bitter at the end of summer, sweeter.
BEETROOT seeds are a cluster of four or five separate seeds, so planting a single seed in a 5-liter pot can yield a number of plants – ideal for small vegetable garden ideas. Look for smaller baby beets for growing in containers. Grow in full sun, although they can survive some shade.
CHARD is very productive as well as stunning to look at, and the leaves are cut-and-come-again so won’t leave holes in your ornamental planting.
TOMATOES, especially the mini varieties, grow well in pots, grow bags and hanging baskets. Plant young plants in May, water evenly and feed with a tomato fertilizer for continuing cropping, and consider the best crops for tomato companion planting.
CURRANTS are space saving trained on walls, or can also be grown in containers. They prefer well-drained, moisture-retentive soil in full sun, but tolerate part shade. Water well in dry periods, prune when dormant and harvest them in clusters.
This feature was created by H&G's sister brand, Period Living magazine
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Leigh Clapp is a professional photographer with over 25 years experience, primarily as a garden specialist photojournalist but also with food and travel. She delights in exploring gardens, discovering the tiny elements to their overall essence and meeting lots of enthusiastic gardeners along the way. Leigh’s work appears in magazines, newspapers and books, both in the UK and abroad, including Period Living, Country Life, and Gardens Illustrated; as well as being sole photographer for a number of books, including Garden Details, Feng Shui in the Garden, Vertical Gardens and From the Garden – fresh seasonal cooking.
- Rachel Crow
- Holly ReaneyContent Editor and Sub-editor
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