The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

How to maximise your space for planting. Take a long hard look and think laterally.


Photo: Cutting down shrubs to create more space for flowers and vegetables

Photo: Cutting down shrubs to create more space for flowers and vegetables

“Danny I’m thinking of renting some more land. We just don’t have enough space for all our projects.”
“I’m sure that you could rent some land very easily around here but let’s wait until we have maximised the space at home first. Our land is free.”
“But we have maximised our space – increased the size of the borders and made the paths quite slim in the kitchen garden.”
“Well the forsythia in the front could go for a start. I’m having problems getting out of my car.”
He’s had it in for the forsythia for months now.

I like the forsythia but he did have a point. So we agreed to chop it virtually to the ground. This would give us some forsythia sprigs in the Spring, as it has plenty of time to throw out new growth. And we could use the extra space.

So for the past few days we have been wielding the chain saw and the long snips in the front garden. Hacking back the forsythia and the ivy that hangs in vast clumps on Next Door’s fence. Taking turns to relieve boredom.

Our shredder has already filled five 75 litre sacks and the piles that you see in the photo are about a third of what we have hacked down.

We discovered a long forgotten border – narrow but serviceable and found that the forsythia had been ten feet deep (it was also about fifteen feet long). Because I liked it I estimated that it would be a maximum of four feet deep. Thank goodness Danny wouldn’t gamble on the revealed depth. Having removed everything over the fence height we now have a lighter and ‘bigger’ front garden. The Sleeping Beauty look has finally gone.

“And of course we don’t really need a lawn.” Danny added as he paused to survey the new land. “We can keep generous sized paths and have space for far more flowers.”
“But I’ve just bought a new lawn mower.”
“Do you like mowing the lawn?”
“Not particularly.”
“Well there you go. And I’ve been looking at some of your gardening books – why aren’t we using the fences for planting in pouches? The fences in the front garden would be perfect for this.”
“What about the watering?”
“Surely you could run something up along the lines of the Drip Watering Kit that we have in the greenhouse.”

He’s right. We need to really stretch and be creative with our land before we even consider renting further afield. And I always thought that I was the practical one!

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  1. I also was thinking today that I would have a hard time giving up our two patches of grass. We are reducing their sizes so that we can plant more edibles, but I think the eye needs a controlled “landing spot” in order to help people (visitors, I guess) not feel overwhelmed in the garden. A hardscape patio can accomplish this, too. But it’s surprising how terrified people can be of the chaos in a garden. If there’s a patio or patch of grass to help them orient themselves again, they might feel the courage to explore more. That’s why there are so many photos of *really good* paths in gardening magazines.

  2. I echo everyone else: well done! Hard work, all that.

    I am doing the same lately — looking for more space. Perhaps next year we’ll begin the hard work of terracing the path down to the creek. This will give us a lot of very fertile growing space, but we have to widen paths first so that we can access the area better.

    I admire how well you and Danny work together on these projects.

  3. KateUK

    10×15…that’s loads of space! Brilliant, well worth the hard work. Forsythia is the pits- I really dislike it and it is such a thug, my one by the front gate is on borrowed time….

  4. Louisa @ RecycleThis

    We only moved into our new home late last autumn so this year, we’ve been mainly concentrating on getting the bulk of it usable (reclaiming five beds from overgrown shrubs etc) but next year is going to be about maximising — getting rid of the last overgrown shrubs (or rather, replacing them with fruit bushes), lots of wall planters/pockets on the fences/tree trunks (where the trunks get a lot of light), balcony troughs, hanging baskets/topsy-turvy tomatoes, maybe an aquaponics set up and beehives… We’ve also got a small concreted front garden to put to use. I imagine we’ll easily be able to double our output without expanding the size of the garden. Hurrah for efficiency!

  5. This is the reason we dug up our front garden! Hanging baskets on fences are great too (or walls). these are currently full of tumbling tomatoes

    We have a flat roofed kitchen extension which is being eyed up for bees too!!

  6. It is truely amazing how much space is hidden by rampant climbers. We cut down a Russian vine last weekend and have discovered enough space for a generous kennel and run for the new puppies without loosing any space at all. It was hard work, but I have viewed it as a free gift.

    Rather than renting land in the future how about seeing if there is someone locally who would let you use a spare border in their garden in return for your gardening skills. There must be people who are daunted by their garden, or can no longer cope.

  7. Toffeeapple

    Crikey, what a lot of work. Well worth the effort though, well done both of you.

  8. We got rid of arborvitae along both sides of the back yard and gained seven feet in on both sides. Amazing.

    I sure hope that you’ll post more pics as things grow and bloom. I suspect that your place is quite lovely and that you’re holding out on us.

    Fiona- you should think about doing a book. Throw in things like your sloe (gin?) and some of the other oddments you do and some gorgeous pictures; make the book run the seasons and I think you’d have something else to sell.

    I’d buy it. I’m a sucker for books with lots of fab photos and odd recipes…

  9. Pamela

    Well that was a radical change you must be worn out now! You don’t notice the imperceptible creep of the plants until they start to get in the way and then you realise that they have practically doubled in size. Front gardens are very under-utilised. How is the gateside stand going?

  10. Cookie Girl

    What an excellent post. You guys have been busy ! It’s amazing how much space you can find when you cut down a bush or get rid of the ivy, most unbelievable. A few years back we had some pouches along our fences, as you point out the only problem is keeping them well watered. They do look lovely though. Remember also you can grow a lot in tubs and hanging baskets. I am determined to do trailing cherry tomatoes in hanging baskets one year. This year I have my strawberries in pots and also several broad bean plants in a pot. The strawberries are doing fantastically. My husband is always going on about getting rid of the grass, it’s a step too far for me though.. so it’s staying for now, maybe in the next house… All the best to you both.

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