Garden Without a Yard

Even if you don’t have a yard, patio, or even a sunny windowsill, there are still plenty of ways to get out there and garden.

Community Gardens
According to the American Community Garden Association, a community garden is very simply “any piece of land gardened by a group of people.” But it’s more that just that. Community gardening builds connections, provides educational and mentoring opportunities for new and experienced gardeners alike, improves the standard of living for those who garden there by providing healthier food as well as exercise in tending the plants that provide it, and helps individuals and communities become more self-reliant.

There are community gardens in neighborhoods throughout the country and the world. Most charge a nominal annual fee to cover operating expenses. To find a community garden in your area check the garden finder on the American Community Garden Association’s home page. You can also check out your town’s government pages or your local park and rec department.

Don’t have a community garden in your neighborhood? Start your own.

Yard Sharing

If you’re an urban farmer without a place to plant, consider sharing space in a neighbor’s yard, or even creating a small farming business across multiple yards. According to, a yard sharing community site, yard sharing is:

“…an arrangement between people to share skills and gardening resources; space, time, strength, tools or skills, in order to grow food as locally as possible, to make neighborhoods resilient, kids healthy and food much cheaper! The group can be friends, family, neighbors, members of a faith community (or any combination!)”

Perhaps you have a neighbor who doesn’t have time to garden but would love fresh vegetables. Or a great aunt who can’t garden herself anymore but misses watching fresh fruit ripening on a vine. Yardsharing doesn’t just give landless gardeners a place to practice their art, it builds community, teaches the values of working together, of sharing, and, if successful, can raise the standard of living by improving the quality and availability of food for an entire neighborhood or group.


If you are willing to garden for the joy and experience instead of for crops, consider volunteering your time to a local educational or other charitable organization. Botanical gardens, public gardens, and educational farms can be found throughout the country and many are  suffering in this economic down-turn. Here are just a few that could use your help:

Try searching Volunteer Match for opportunities in your area. You might also consider helping out your local senior center or school gardens. If you don’t find one in your community, consider helping them start one.

Guerrilla Gardening
In some cases, you just have to garden where you can. For guerrilla gardeners, that means roadsides, sidewalk tree surrounds, street dividers, and abandoned lots. If you’re looking to add a few wildflowers to an empty field, that’s easy enough, but if your goal is vegetable gardening you’ll want to keep a few important things in mind:

  • Soil condition: If the land isn’t yours you have no way of knowing what’s been dumped there. Test the soil thoroughly before you plant anything you may want to eat.
  • Maintenance: It’s one thing to put up an overnight garden and another to make sure it gets watered and fertilized enough to thrive.
  • Vandalism and theft: There are those who may not share your love of gardening and decide to voice their dissent by pulling up your work by the roots. Still others may appreciate it too much and decide they want the plants or produce for their own yards. (For one sad cautionary tale visit
  • Legal ramifications: Technically, gardening someone else’s land is against the law. If the land you choose is a neglected median, chances are the owners will look the other way, but that may not always be the case. The best defense is to know what you’re going to say should someone stop you (non-confrontational is usually the best policy) and know when to walk away.

If you’re up to the task, guerrilla gardening can give great rewards not only in produce but in community-building and neighborhood beautification. Involve other locals to improve your success rate and share the fun. Get more tips and find like-minded gardeners at Guerrilla

Do-It-Yourself Gutter Garden

Looking for more space in a small garden? Consider this clever idea: Create a vertical garden using low-cost or salvaged rain gutters.

Suzanne Forsling of Juneau, Alaska attached gutters to the side of her house creating not only additional space, but a planting area that helped alleviate some of the problems associated with the difficult Alaska climate (cold ground, low light levels, etc.).

Of course because the gutters are relatively shallow, you’ll need to choose carefully what you’ll plant there. Salad greens are a great choice, but Suzanne also had good luck with radishes.

One Garden tip: If you don’t have a wall or fence available, consider mounting the gutters to free-standing posts. Add locking casters to create a movable living wall that can be used to divide your outdoor space into separate rooms.

Dig deeper:

Plant Profile: Green Globe Artichoke

If you’ve always thought of vegetables as something that should be hidden away in a separate part of the garden the Green Globe artichoke will change your mind. The large, deeply cut silver leaves and bright purple, thistle-like flowers would make a bold, ornamental statement in any garden, but the delicious edible buds make it a must have for those who want to grow their own food.

If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere artichokes thrive, you can harvest spring through fall, and because artichokes are perennial, they come back stronger, larger and more productive year after year. Green Globe is probably the most widely available artichoke, but you should also consider Violetta, a variety with purple buds. Steam them and serve them with melted butter or dip them in aioli. You can also slice the slightly licorice-flavored heart for use in salads or on pizzas.

Common name: Artichoke, Green Globe
Scientific name: Cynaria scolymus
Family: Asteraceae
Origin: Mediteranean
Type: Perennial
Exposure: Full sun (light shade in hottest areas)
Height: 6′
Width: 4′
Growth rate: Fast
Water: Regular
Zones: 8-9
Foliage color: Silver-green
Flower color: Purple
Edible: Flower buds
Harvest: Fall through spring
Propagation: Seeds, division
WARNING: Bud leaves have sharp spikes, trim before eating.

Welcome to One Garden

It all starts with a seed. In my case that seed is a kobocha squash seed saved from last year’s harvest. But in your case it will probably be different. What won’t be different: that inside each seed is a blueprint, an idea of the plant it could someday become… will become given the right soil and sun and water and love.

Our gardens are like that seed — full of potential. What they will become, what our families and communities and world will become, even what this site will become is in our hands.

Create a “Greenhouse” Window

Here is a great project from blogger Kelly Tirman. Originally built to hide an unsightly view, it’s also a perfect way to maximize sun exposure for indoor plants. Imagine each pot filled with a different herb, perched right above the kitchen sink. It would make cooking with the freshest ingredients a breeze.

Here are Kelly’s instructions.

Here is what you will need:

  • Measuring Tape
  • Screwdriver
  • L brackets (four brackets for each shelf)
  • 1/4 inch thick glass cut to fix your window (one for each shelf)
  • Small potted plants and/or collectibles

Prep: Measure your window to determine the size of your shelves and how many shelves you would like in your window. Consult your local glass company for the pieces of glass (I use Theisen Glass).

Installation: Secure your L brackets in place with a screwdriver and place your pieces of glass on top. Once the shelves are in place add your potted plants and/or collectibles.

I love this idea, especially for apartment dwellers who want to maximize their planting space. One note, if you rent you may want to check your rental agreement or talk to your landlord to make sure you won’t be charged for removal when you move out.

For more great money-saving ideas visit

Planting Containers

Once you’ve selected your container and decided which plants to fill it with, putting it all together is a breeze.

  1. Ensure your container has enough drainage, if not, drill some additional holes
  2. Cover holes with fine mesh, cheesecloth, or coffee filters to prevent soil from running out of the pot
  3. Fill your pot with soil; do not use soil from the garden as it may contain deseases or impurities which could become concentrated within the container and damage plants
  4. Leaving your plants in their pots, arrange them on the soil to decide where each plant will go, putting the tallest plants in the back so they don’t block the sun from reaching the smaller plants– be sure to pay close attention to the spacing requirements, especially with seeds (Tip: In containers, plant seeds approximately 1/3 closer together than in the garden to maximize space.)
  5. Dig a hole for each plant slightly wider and deeper than its current pot
  6. Plant each plant
  7. Water thouroughly
  8. Mulch to help preserve moisture

That’s it! Happy planting.

Money-Saving Gardening Tips

Growing vegetables can help you save money on groceries, but with a few simple tricks you can save even more. Some of them will even help you save a little time, too.

Start With Seed
The average cost for a pack of 100 organic seeds is $2.50. That’s 2.5 cents per plant. Even if only half of them make it to full plant-hood, that’s an unbelievably low price, especially when you compare it to the $3 or more many nurseries charge for a single organic seedling.

Share Seeds and Seedlings
Even if you’re planting one-seed-per-veggie plants like carrots or radishes, 100 seeds are probably more than you will ever use in a single season. Rather than buying a full pack of seeds for every vegetable you want to plant, go in with your gardening friends and have each of you pick a different variety to share. That way, if you want to grow three varieties of tomato, a zucchini, a pumpkin, two types of beans, shelling peas a sweet pea and a bell pepper instead of purchasing 10 seed packets at $2.50 each for a total cost of $25, you and 9 friends can each spend only $2.50 each and share the wealth. The same thing goes for seedlings. It’s just as easy to start several seedlings as it is to start one, so if you have space, considering growing a six-pack and trading plants instead of seeds.

Embrace Heirlooms
Most commercially available seeds are hybrid plants bred for disease resistance and productivity. Unfortunately, hybrids cannot be reliably reproduced from saved seeds. That means you need to buy a new pack of seeds every season. Not so with heirloom vegetables. If you save a seed from an heirloom and plant it, you will very likely wind up with the very same plant. And since one pumpkin alone can contain hundreds of seeds, you’ll have plenty for you and your friends to share at a grand total cost of $0.

NOTE: Many heirloom seeds of the same type cross-pollinate with each other. For example, if you have a miniature blue corn planted next to a giant sweet white corn, your following year’s plants may be a giant blue, a miniature white or even a regularly sized yellow, depending on how they combine. With things like corn, you’ll need to stick to a single variety to ensure a consistent crop. Still, since the seeds are essentially free, it might be a fun adventure to mix things up and see what you get.

Plant Perennials
Plant a perennial once and it comes back year after year (provided you take good care of it)—usually bigger and stronger. And because many perennials can be dug up and divided into smaller plants after several seasons of growth, you’ll save even more. A few examples of fantastic perennial vegetables are artichokes, asparagus, and rhubarb.

Shop End of Season Sales
As planting season winds down, many garden centers find themselves with lots of seeds left over. And since seeds are marked for a single growing season, they are forced to put them on sale. Lucky for us, most seeds stay viable for years longer than their original date, so shopping for next year is almost a no brainer. Websites also use sales to clear out their slower selling stock. Check out the ongoing Seed Sale at Park Seed, Co. for great prices on excess inventory, many as low as 75 cents a pack. Not only will you get a great bargain, you’ll have your seed shopping done well ahead of next year’s planting time.

Plant an Heirloom Victory Garden

If you’re looking for great taste, want to save your seeds to replant next year, hope to help preserve historic vegetable varieties, or just love plants with a sense of history, an heirloom vegetable garden may be just what you’re looking for.

For my heritage victory garden I chose an assortment of historic American favorites including:

  • 1 Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Buster tomato (Tip: If you have enough space, consider planting an assortment of heirloom tomatoes in a range of sizes, colors, and flavors.)
  • 1 Bull’s Blood beet
  • 1 packet Blue Lake bean seeds
  • 1 packet Danvers carrot seeds (Tip: If you’re planting carrots or other root vegetables in a container, select a dwarf variety to avoid mishapen roots.)
  • 1 packet Pink Beauty radish seeds

If you you have trouble finding heirloom seeds in your local nursery, try buying online. Seed Savers Exchage offers a wide variety of heritage vegetable seeds and has recently started shipping transplants as well.

You’ll need:

  • A large pot and potting soil or clear planting area in your garden that receives at least six full hours of sun per day
  • One tomato cage per tomato plant
  • Hooks and garden twine or a small trellis for beans to climb
  • Mulch
  • A variety of heirloom vegetable and herb plants

Plant your heirloom victory garden:

  • Leaving your plants in their pots, arrange them on the soil to decide where each plant will go–put the tallest plants in the back so they don’t block the sun from reaching the smaller plants, be sure to pay close attention to the spacing requirements, especially with seeds (Tip: In containers, plant seeds approximately 1/3 closer together than in a traditional garden to maximize space. Find container planting instructions and tips here.)
  • Dig a hole for each plant slightly wider and deeper than its current pot
  • Plant each plant
  • Water thouroughly
  • Mulch

Be sure to water regularly throughout the season and by late summer, you’ll be ready to declare victory over bland store-bought tomatoes and other long-distance produce.


Plant a Pizza Garden

If your family loves Italian food, why not plant a pizza garden? It’s simple, inexpensive and will help you add fresh Italian flair to any meal.

For my container pizza garden I chose:

  • 1 Super Italian Paste tomato
  • 1 Green Bush zucchini (mine came with three seedlings in one pot, and since there wasn’t room for all of them I shared the rest with friends)
  • 1 Italian oregano
  • 1 Genovese basil
  • 1 Italian Pesto basil (Growing Tip:f you’re new to growing a certain type of plant or haven’t had much luck with it in the past, selecting different varieties can improve your chances of success and help you learn which perform best in your area)
  • 3 trailing rosemary (Money Saving Tip: Be sure to check the groundcover section of your nursery–you can get more plants for less money and the smaller individual size makes them easier to work with, I plan to plant the other 3 from the six pack I bought in the pot that holds my Eureka lemon tree)

You’ll need:

  • A large pot and potting soil or clear planting area in your garden that receives at least six full hours of sun per day
  • One tomato cage per tomato plant
  • Mulch
  • A variety of Italian vegetable and herb plants

To plant your pizza garden:

  • Clear your planting bed of any rocks and weeds (find container planting instructions and tips here)
  • Leaving your plants in their pots, arrange them on the soil to decide where each plant will go–put the tallest plants in the back so they don’t block the sun from reaching the smaller plants
  • Dig a hole for each plant slightly wider and deeper than its current pot
  • Plant each plant
  • Water thouroughly
  • Mulch

Be sure to water regularly throughout the season and by late summer, you should have all the makings of the perfect Italian feast.


Designing an Edible Garden: Before You Start

The perfect garden is as individual as the person who dreams of it. Each of us has our own style, our own tastes, our own desires. The perfect garden cannot come from a template. It has to be created individually each time like a work of art. And like a work of art, before you sit down to create — whether you are creating the art for yourself or someone else — you have to make a few decisions: what medium will you use? What colors? How big will it be? What will be its purpose? The same is true for a garden. Some of the questions will be about the garden itself, while others delve into the person who will be using the garden, to help make sure it fits their personality, style, tastes, and needs. Before you embark on any gardening project ask yourself the following questions:

  • What space will you use for the garden: yard, patio with containers, a few pots in a sunny window?
  • What kind of garden do you want to create? If you’re here on this site, chances are you want it to include some kind of food, but how? Do you want a few strategically placed edibles or an entire garden dedicated to food? A traditional raised bed vegetable garden or an eclectic mix of flowers, fruits and foliage plants?
  • Are you starting with a blank slate or are you trying to incorporate edible plants into an existing garden plan?
  • What do you love about the garden you have?
  • What do you dislike about it?
  • What plants do you love?
  • What plants do you dislike?
  • What fruits and vegetables do you love to eat?
  • What things may impact where you place your plants: sun exposure, existing structures,desire to have food plants as close as possible to the kitchen?
  • Do you have any special requirements/considerations (access, kids, pets, pests, possible polution)?
  • What styles appeal to you (garden, architecture, interior design, clothes, cars…)?
  • Do you consider your tastes formal, casual, ecclectic, exotic, minimalist, or other (specify)?
  • How much time/energy do you have to devote to gardening?
  • What is your favorite type of cuisine?
  • What is your favorite vacation location? Why?

If you’re looking to create an edible garden experience rather than just adding a plant here or there, or if you are especially space constrained, you may want to make a garden plan before you start planting. Consider starting an inspiration file and fill it with photos of parks or neighboring gardens, postcards, pictures from books or magazines, wallpaper samples, you name it. Anything that captures the look or feel of what you’re hoping to create.

Once you’ve pulled these pieces together (along with a gridded map of the existing yard and structures), you’re ready to start designing. And that’s where the fun begins. With a little planning and preparation, your edible garden can be as beautiful as it is functional.