Square-metre gardening: plant small gardens in sections

Planting a garden in sections uses a limited space more effectively - and you can access your plants without spoiling the soil.
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Square-metre gardening
© David Murray
Planting in a grid pattern uses a small area more effectively, wastes less compost and you can simply refresh each space and re-plant after picking
Square-metre gardening is the way forward for city gardeners with little space. The idea is that you grow edibles — or flowers, for that matter — in boxes that are one metre square, and each box is divided into nine equal squares into which you plant or sow.

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Planting in squares instead of rows uses a limited space more effectively, you can access the plants from all sides without having to spoil the soil by walking all over it and you can easily cover the square with fleece or plastic to bring on plants earlier in the season.

You choose how many boxes you need so there is no soil wastage; every inch is used. Watering and liquid feeding is a breeze as the area is so small. However, the biggest bonus of this less work, less waste kind of gardening is that you get more produce.

Pioneer of square-metre gardening — originally square-foot gardening — is Californian Mel Bartholomew, who has been gardening in this way for 30 years and claims that you can save 80 per cent of the conventional space allotted to the same number of edibles.

In his book of the same name, he explains how to make it work for you: "If plants need to be spaced 30cm apart, eg cauliflower or aubergine, grow one plant in each square; if they need to be spaced 15cm apart, eg lettuce, I grow four plants in each square. If 10cm apart, for example parsley or spinach, I grow nine, and if 8cm apart, eg carrots or radish, I grow 16. What could be simpler?"

What might be simpler than copying his home-made compost formula, Mel's Mix, would be to buy bagged or loose topsoil especially suited for growing vegetables from garden centres or door-to-door from Dandys (dandystopsoil.co.uk). When you get growing, you'll find the soil level sinks annually so you can supplement with garden compost.

Square-metre gardening
© David Murray
You can thin out seedlings more easily by simply snipping out the weakest with small scissors

Raised bed kits
Bartholomew also knocks together his own timber boxes, but you could use bricks or buy one or more easy-toassemble raised bed kits in treated softwood or long-life, handsome oak (harrodhorticultural.com).

Instead of using timber strips as a grid, use string held taut with nails knocked into the timber edging. The depth he uses is just 15cm, so he suggests a deeper 30cm box for carrots or potatoes, but an option would be to grow a round carrot such as Parmex or Rondo — and potatoes in a deep sack.

Square-metre gardening
Raising vegetable plants in equal squares makes sowing and planting child's play
Square-metre gardening is short-cut gardening. Instead of thinning out seeds, which is fiddly, time-consuming and can affect the roots of the seedlings you want to remain, Bartholomew suggests you sow just a pinch of seed in the square, and use scissors to snip off all but the strongest. You can, of course, bypass the seed-sowing stage and buy plug plants for quicker results.

Whether you sow or plant, it makes sense to choose produce that doesn't sprawl or spread: Little Gem lettuces, for instance, with their neat, upright habit are better contenders for small-space gardening than big, blowsy butterheads.

Bartholomew's wheeze to grow tomato plants with no visible means of support is to stretch pea and bean netting taut across the box, a foot or so above, secured in place by four metal posts at each corner, so that the plants grow up through the netting.

No toolshed needed
It's an inexpensive way of gardening, too: no toolshed required, no hoes or spades. In fact there are only three tools needed: a trowel, pencil and pair of scissors. The trowel is for planting, for mixing in a trowel full of compost when you replant each square, and for loosening up and turning over the compost; the pencil is for poking holes and lifting out seedlings for transplanting; the scissors are for snipping out seedlings, harvesting leaves and deadheading flower heads.

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