Growing in small spaces

Nibbly bed in July
CourtyardThe courtyard garden at the back of the house is in fine fettle currently. There are bees and hoverflies buzzing around and the plants are all healthy and vibrant, along with the small amount of veg growing too in abundance. The courtyard only began it’s journey to a new lease of life just last spring. We’d moved into the house the previous autumn, and I gave myself a challenge of turning it from an area of sterile tarmac into a wildlife friendly courtyard garden.

CourtyardIt’s not a big space, the main area is just 16ft by 19ft with a helpful side return along the side of the kitchen, which now houses a bike shelter and a small shady bed. The courtyard also has to house our collection of council wheelie bins and recycling bins (now disguised by a willow hurdle type affair), along with the general family clutter (4 bikes, roof rack for car, roof pod for the car, my gardening tools, plus a few other bits and bobs too.).

ugly tarmacSo last spring bit by bit with a lumphammer and chisel the tarmac was slowly lifted up. The soil underneath was in a poor state, most of the yards round here have never been gardens and always covered by concrete or other. Then after a fence and gate was added, raised beds were built. Three for my plants that I’d brought from my last garden and one for a small veggie bed. And last July (2012) the planting up began. Since then I’ve added a couple more planters (the nibbly bed being one of them!) and braved digging into the heavy clay to make a small circular bed in the middle of the courtyard. It took two days to dig out to a depth where the water would drain as it was so compacted from the tarmac and years prior being covered and now is home to a meddly of summer fun for visiting pollinators and also a young and beautiful Betula medwedewii and the edges planted with Stipa tenuissima. The surface of the courtyard is covered with a mix of gravel and some rather wonderful stone carpet setts and still needs finishing off. (see the journey of tarmac to garden on flickr here).

With nature being so close and watching all the different bees and hoverflies that come and visit, I’ve become more aware of the flowers and herbs I’m growing, and aiming to fill in any gaps with more pollinator friendly plants to hopefully provide a succession of nectar for them throughout the seasons. There’s a tiny pond, and behind that also a stack of sticks and leaves for other bugs to delight in too.
There’s an abundance of aphids on my small fruit trees, and am hoping in time as the biodiversity builds up that more predators come too to help balance it all out. Nature doesn’t always work fast, so am hoping in a few years time there will be more balance. Spiders are appearing everywhere though and making fine webs amongst the plants, which is a welcome sight as last year, there was nothing here.

Bee on false mallowLast summer I grew a few veggies in the yard (purple sprouting broccoli, leeks, parsnip, kale and so on in the raised bed, potatoes in sacks and toms and peppers in planters) and even though never enough to feed a family, was good to know that even in a small space and with tight careful planting a good variety of vegetables can be grown. This year I’ve extended the courtyard growing with a new planter that currently has a mix of lettuces, tomatos, some bunching onions, sunflowers and alongside these are two tubs with the cucumbers in undersown with rocket too. In the bigger raised bed (1.5m by 1m) there are more tomatoes, basil, beetroot and bunching onions all squeezed in.

Having raised beds means more watering on hot summer days compared to my allotment crops, but it’s easy to manage and weeding and tending to plants is easier with the beds being higher up off the ground. I’m still pining to have a big garden again one day, but a compact and buzzy courtyard is a nice thing too.

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  1. Gail says:

    Gracious I love what you have done with this garden. Am thinking of moving house and will save this into a garden folder as I expect I will end with a small garden and want to make it look and feel lovely and be good for nature. What an inspiration.

    Gail x

  2. Buzzy Gardener says:

    Hi Gail, Thanks for the comments. I still miss my bigger old garden, but transforming this little courtyard has been fun and also become a haven for wildlife too!

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