Perhaps one of the most important aspects of gardening in small urban plots is optimizing space to take advantage of all useful growing space. When you lay out your garden this spring keep in mind not only your crops’ light requirements but also the flow of the space. You’ll need to be able to access each planting to water and weed without trampling neighboring crops or falling on your face.
The Central Walkway
In my small plot, I’ve found a central walkway from the near end of the garden, stopping about 4 feet short of the far end, to be helpful. Because my garden was initially carved out of my previously well-manicured turf lawn, I created the walkway using existing natural grass. It’s about 2 feet wide and roughly divides my plot into three main beds: two 8-by-20-foot beds on either side of the walkway and a 4-by-18-foot bed at that the far end. If you wanted to install a central walkway in your own garden, it could be made of any number of materials—grass (like mine), a thick layer of hardwood mulch, decorative stones, or something sturdy like large, rounded river cobbles.
Because the beds on either side of my walkway are so deep, it is essential to create access arteries into the bed to plant, maintain and harvest your plantings. For my garden, I find myself putting in a number of different shallow but stable materials as paths to access these areas: well-spaced brick pavers, broken slate slabs or whatever materials you can find. Feel free to get creative in your material choice, but don’t make them too permanent, as crop rotations in your plot will often require your paths to shift between seasons.
These semi-permanent paths to the sides or corner of the garden do not need to be barren spaces. Think about interspacing stepping stones with low-growing greens or clusters of in-ground offerings, like onions or carrots to increase your gardens yield. Use flowering ornamentals to line the paths to add some vibrant color and pest protection, or make each step a fragrant experience by planting a hardy herb, like thyme, around the individual stepping stones.
Finally when installing your pathways, think about how you will be watering your crops, whether by watering can or hose. If you’ll be using a hose, consider ways to prevent the hose from crushing plantings near the entrance to your paths by using a short length of bamboo driven into the ground to direct the hose away from plantings.