Going Small in a Big Way: How to Smartly Downsize Your Garden

You’ve heard the adage “go big or go home.” It gets repeated and applied to nearly every aspect of our lives. From business to athletics to so much more, the phrase seems to permeate into all of our ventures and flatly implies that if one does not “go big,” then they are indeed doing something wrong. I often hear this phrase tossed around when it comes to growing and gardening. Through the years, I have begun to feel that this phrase is more of a misconception than obvious truth. And as all misconceptions seem to get turned on their head eventually, I am here to make the argument that sometimes smaller is better.

When a Garden Gets Out of Hand

When I became a serious gardener over 10 years ago, I started with one small 10 by 20 ft soil plot. Over time my garden began to evolve with each passing year. The one small soil plot turned into two small plots, and those eventually became two larger-sized plots about 30 by 40 ft. Not long after that, I began adding several raised beds to the equation along with numerous container-grown plants.

At that point, my humble little garden began to resemble a small farm, and the work I was putting in to maintain it sure made it feel like one. The phrase “go big or go home” became a reality in my situation, to the point where going home wasn’t much of an option because the garden required so much work and attention. It had become like a second job.

I’m a single guy with no family of my own. I am not extremely active in canning or other methods of preserving the harvest, and I have a limited circle of friends and family to offload the extra bounties of a large garden. For a time, I would give some of my harvests to a friend with a booth at a local farmer’s market, which did provide a nice little cash return. But once again, the hassle of working such a large garden on my own wasn’t worth the meager returns. Simply put, most of what I grew was either enjoyed while fresh or at grave risk of going bad if not donated somewhere else.

As a result of “going big,” my garden started to feel like more of a chore than a hobby. The joy and relaxation I once had from working on it in the evening had begun to fade. The feeling of love and sense of adventure was beginning to be replaced by a much less welcome feeling of loathing towards the work at hand, and my heart just wasn’t in it anymore. That’s when I knew that it was time for a change.

The Benefits of Going Small

I began to make changes, and the benefits immediately became apparent. I first started to “de-evolve” my garden by getting rid of the maze of raised beds and returning my soil plots to their original size. A year after that, I downsized once again to a smaller soil plot while incorporating a container garden of around 10 to 15 plants. This allowed me to focus my garden in a more specific direction.

I considered a few things that I find to be beneficial with a smaller garden. I found that the key was to grow specific plants that I knew would get proper use. Now I strictly grow what I know I will either eat or use in another way, such as cayenne peppers to be dried and crushed into pepper flakes. In this way, a smaller, more focused garden took much less work during the initial planting and required less daily effort to maintain.

By downsizing the garden and minimizing the amount of work I needed to do, I began to experience the same excitement and joy that had been there in my first few seasons. I no longer felt the stress and anxiety that had grown from years of unreasonable garden expansion. It was so refreshing to be able to enjoy working in my garden again sincerely, and I am glad to have made the choice to limit its size drastically.

I’ve also begun to notice that, when done properly, a smaller garden can be just as appealing both visually and emotionally as any bigger garden I’ve grown. The trick is to work with the area you have and not to squeeze too many plants into a small space. Doing so can make the garden feel cramped and a bit overwhelming.

Tips for Downsizing Your Garden

There are many ways that any gardener can successfully downsize or just simply start small right off the bat. The easiest way is by going strictly to a container garden. Almost all vegetable plants can be successfully grown in containers with a soil-less potting mix and adequate fertilization. When going this route, research the needs of the particular plant from seed to harvest to ensure that the right container size and type of fertilizer are used. Doing so will greatly increase the success rates.

Smaller-sized gardens can also be placed in areas where other types of ornamental plants usually reside. Does that little 4 by 7 ft area on the side of your house get a good amount of sun each day? If so, why plant simple ornamentals when you can plant a vegetable garden and literally enjoy the bounty of your labor? In a similar fashion, a small raised bed is the perfect way to create a simple little garden that yields plenty of delicious food all season long. When it comes to smaller-sized gardens, don’t hesitate to be creative.

Just because a garden is small does not necessarily mean it can’t be extremely productive. By utilizing different techniques such as the “square foot” gardening method or staggering the plantings in accordance with seasonal changes, a small garden can truly be a productive endeavor. If you are careful in your planning and thoughtful when selecting what to grow and when to plant it, a small garden can be a perfect choice.

If there is one thing in this ridiculously fast-paced world that many of us have in common, it’s the fact that we all have very busy lives. From excessive hours at work to taking kids to and from school and other activities, it can be difficult to find the time to maintain a large-scale garden. At the very least, it isn’t easy to do and can cause us unneeded stress when, realistically speaking, it should be the one place where we can relax and forget the worries of the world. “Going Small” or downsizing a current garden can be a perfect step to take if your garden has you stressed out. And as the stress dissipates, you may start to feel once again the joy that came from digging your hands into the soil for the very first time.

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