What Will My Garden Grow?

by Katy on April 22, 2009 · 27 comments

vegetable_gardenI have an insanely shady backyard, which means that I only have a small space approximately four feet square in which to plant vegetables. Although I stretch this out by planting lettuce in a wheelbarrow and beans in window-box planters, it’s still not much. (Blueberries and raspberries also grab a few rare sunny spots.)

But I won’t exactly be living off the land.

So far I have tomatoes, beans, lettuce and garlic planted.

But I do have a bit of extra space approximately two feet square, which begs the questions:

What should I grow in this precious sunny spot?

Please, dear readers — Please tell me what should I grow in this last bit of my urban garden.

Or perhaps you have some gardening advice to share with the Non-Consumer Advocate community? What are you growing in your garden this year? Please share your ideas in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

JP April 22, 2009 at 9:50 pm

Peas!! Snap peas. I didn’t think I liked peas until I grew them in my garden last year. They grew like crazy (I let them climb a couple tomato cages), and we ate them for months–pod and all. The kids thought they were great too (ages 1 and 4)


Angela April 22, 2009 at 10:19 pm

I am not a gardener, but I think you should try either zucchini or eggplant- a lot of people seem to have luck with those.

Or you could plant whatever you love to eat the most. I would probably plant more berries- yum! Or sweet potatoes.


Catherine April 23, 2009 at 2:55 am

Bell Peppers definitely.


Jessica April 23, 2009 at 5:46 am

Do you have an elderly neighbor with a sunnier plot? My husband and I grow our vegetables in our neighbor’s garden since our neighbor, a former botany professor, has dementia and can no longer take care of it (his wife has no interest in gardening). He is still a wealth of knowledge and for the price of a few free veggies, we get to plant to our hearts content. And they get to enjoy a fully planted garden without the work or worry.


Kat April 23, 2009 at 5:49 am

I’d say peas as well because they’re almost like candy fresh off the vine. Zucchini also grows really well in most areas; so well it likes to take over gardens and that’s why the people who grow it always have tons to give away.
I know my mom’s gotten several salads out of her greens and eaten up all her radishes already. Stray cats keep messing up or eating the rest.


stephanie April 23, 2009 at 5:53 am

What if you put a trellis at the back of the space (assuming it wouldn’t shade out anything,) and put first peas, then a vining summer squash (after the peas were done) on it, then planted one eggplant and one pepper in front of it. You might also be able to squeeze in a basil plant in between, or thyme around the edges (or both!) It could be your little ratatouille patch 🙂 This depends on your climate, of course, but I am assuming you live where the summers get reasonably hot.


Emily April 23, 2009 at 9:40 am

I’m using a modified Square Foot Gardening plan for part of my garden this year. It has great suggestions for how to max out a small area. http://www.squarefootgardening.com/


Stephanie April 23, 2009 at 11:31 am

We’ve had good luck with cucumbers, and they were easy to grow.


Kristen @TheFrugalGirl April 23, 2009 at 1:05 pm

Basil!(well, if you like it). It’s very, very easy to grow, but so expensive to buy fresh.


A. Marie April 23, 2009 at 3:45 pm

Over at http://www.cheapvegetablegardener.com, they did a post a while back that included a chart on how to get the most bang for the buck per square foot of garden (check the archives there). Personally, I’d recommend either one or two of your favorite herbs, or fava beans if you’re fond of those (grow the beans up some sort of pole or other support).


Donna in SC April 23, 2009 at 7:48 pm

With such a small ‘patch of earth to plant, I suggest that you go to a home improvement center…buy a 4X4 post about 6 feet long and invest in a steel post holder that you pound into the ground. On each side of the post close to the top install a closet rod bracket (also from the home center). you have more than doubled your space. Plant tomatoes in some inverted hanging planters, (you can make them rom 3 liter bottles) and maybe a couple pepper plants in the original earth!


Klara Le Vine April 23, 2009 at 7:57 pm

Katy, how many times can I say you pick incredibly on topic topics!!!!!

If you’re emphasizing frugality, I would definitely think what is the most expensive vegetable you buy and try your luck with that.

If you’re a bit lazy as I am and not so great with plants, as I am, I’d go with easy, I have kale going which thrives on benign neglect, my kind of plant, plus it’s so healthy and we don’t have it available in local stores. (tho happily, and as part of frugality, I share many many seedlings and seeds with others so I can get more people growing it)

I second Square Foot Garden suggestion, and if you succeed (which I didn’t :<( ) let me know all the little secrets (beyond what the book says)

also in the line of frugality, kale reseeds itself – wonderful to have a vegetable that keeps coming back.


Teresa April 23, 2009 at 8:13 pm

Oh, how about growing something up? We’ve had luck with beans and peas of course. Small pumpkins can be fun that way. We grew ours along some cyclone fencing. Cucumbers work sometimes. Now I see someone offered similiar advice. Great minds think alike.


Jeni April 23, 2009 at 9:23 pm

Hi Katy, I don’t know if you remember me but I am an RN that worked with you at the hospital up until early December. Then I took a little bit lower paying job so that I could have better hours and spend more time with my family. I recently signed up for your blog and I have already learned so much! Since I took my new job I have been trying to be less wasteful and much more careful with our spending. Here is my question for you: We are getting ready to put our townhouse on the market. We love it but have totally outgrown it. I don’t have a “yard” but I do have a small area in the front that belongs to us. I want to give it some curb appeal so I want to put down some new bark dust and plant some flowers. Any ideas on where I can score some cheap or free flower starts and bark dust? Just thought I’d see if you had any ideas. Thanks!


Kate April 23, 2009 at 9:36 pm

I love Sun Gold tomatoes – a orange cherry-sized tomato that is super sweet. I’ve had luck growing these in quite a bit of shade, although they do require some space.


thenonconsumeradvocate April 23, 2009 at 10:33 pm

I’m thinking cucumbers. Although I may really cram as much as possible in there.

Keep the great ideas coming!

Katy Wolk-Stanley
The Non-Consumer Advocate


Leah April 24, 2009 at 2:22 am

I have that same problem – too much shade and only a small area that gets sun. For that reason, as well as the deer, I have started focusing on things that last awhile, and even can be dried for the winter, like herbs. So many veggies have such a short season, but herbs give out all summer. I would do sage, rosemary, parsley and basil for sure(you might not have room for all of that, unless you get a little basil) If you live in the south, rosemary will grow all year. Even in new england I pick sage up through Christmas, digging it out from under the snow.

You can even dry them for over the winter. The other thing that I have started doing is planting one or two hot red pepper plants – the long thin red ones. When they are ripe I pick them and just set them in a bowl on the counter and they dry right up. I keep them in a jar on the counter with cheese cloth over them, and then crush a half a one up in soups, stews, stir fries and stuff – more for chile and things like that. Then you have a little of your garden all year long, and all that stuff – fress herbs and things – cost alot at the store.


Jeanne April 24, 2009 at 4:32 am

Hi Katy,

If you haven’t yet read my gardening blog, I invite you (and your readers) to click the link on my comment. It’s the Seven Oaks blog and I write it for beginning/new/hobby gardeners.

For your little space, grow something that grows UP rather than uses the ground. You could squeeze in one pepper plant and one good bush cucumber in that spot. Also, could you fit more pots into your sunny areas? If so, you can grow a lot more – tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, and I have even grown cantaloupes (Minnesota midget variety) in pots.

Although I am now blessed to own a small hobby farm, I grew up gardening on the outskirts of New York City, so I know the challenges of small space gardening. The tricks are to 1) work your soil so it is super rich – add lots of compost 2) if you have sun only in patches or on a deck and the rest of the yard is in shade, plant in pots. They don’t have to be fancy. You can use garbage cans and all sorts of things. Plants aren’t fussy. I have found cracked plastic garbage cans in people’s trash and even beautiful decorative pots. They all found a home and a use with me back when I gardened in the city/suburbia. GOOD LUCK and let us know how your garden grows!

Jeanne, Seven Oaks (blog, farm, and gardening writer among many hats!)


Lisa April 24, 2009 at 6:08 am

I have an area near my patio where I have always had potted plants. I love having that burst of color when I walk out the door.

This year I left the perennials alone, but in the pots I normally plant with annuals I planted salad greens. This will free up some space in my garden for other veggies.

It will be a little less colorful but far more flavorful 8-).


Klara Le Vine April 24, 2009 at 6:19 am


Try nasturtiums, they’re colorful and delicious in salads – they come in reds, oranges and yellows.


Lisa April 24, 2009 at 7:46 am

Thanks Klara,

I love nasturtiums and have them in several places in the yard, already. The flowers are so pretty in salads, the leaves are nice and peppery, they re-seed themselves, and are very hardy. The perfect plant 😎


Linda April 24, 2009 at 8:01 am

Hi Katy,

My best advice would be to grow what you like to eat! If you’re going for cucumbers, be sure to get the bush type or have a trellis or tomato cage that the vines can grow up on to save your ground space. Do you like spinach? Swiss chard tastes like spinach but is not as fussy. Cut off the outer leaves & it keeps growing so you get lots eating without replanting.


marianne April 24, 2009 at 5:48 pm

peppers. great for salads in the summer, on pizzas, or roasted and frozen for winter use.


Catherine April 24, 2009 at 7:12 pm

I searched for Seven Oaks garden and found sevenoaks-jeanne.blogspot.com. Being less than an accomplished gardener, I loved today’s entry- Stop Telling Me It’s Easy! She is making the point that what’s easy in one garden might not be in another, but for me gardening is hard work where you sometimes get results! So why am I trying? I promised the grandkids we’d have a garden so the 3 of us are learning together. And we are having fun.


Kate@ExerciseInFrugality May 3, 2009 at 11:04 pm

Just saw this great space saving idea (a garden in a gutter):



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