30 Great Microgardening Ideas

Tour creative and well-designed small spaces and see how experts work food and plants into tiny backyards, balconies, decks and urban rooftops.

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November 12, 2015

Photo By: Christopher Oquendo

Photo By: Melinda Myers

Photo By: APLD

Photo By: Lexi Van Valkenburgh

Photo By: Lexi Van Valkenburgh

Photo By: Christopher Oquendo

Photo By: APLD

Photo By: Anne Gibson/TheMicroGardener.com

Photo By: Anne Gibson, Anne Gibson, The Micro Gardener

Photo By: Melinda Myers

Photo By: Anne Gibson

Photo By: Anne Gibson

Photo By: APLD

Photo By: Joseph De Sciose, Hydrangea Festival

Photo By: Topiarius

Photo By: Melinda Myers

Photo By: Anne Gibson

Photo By: Anne Gibson/TheMicroGardener.com

Photo By: Melinda Myers

Photo By: Melinda Myers

Photo By: Topiarius

Photo By: Topiarius

Photo By: Topiarius

Photo By: Topiarius

Photo By: APLD

Photo By: Lori Johnston

Photo By: Christopher Oquendo

Photo By: Home Depot

Photo By: APLD

Photo By: Melinda Myers

Rooftop Botany

Microgardening is the practice of intensively "farming" a diverse variety of plants in small urban spaces, says Anne Gibson, who coined the phase "The Micro Gardener" in 2010. 

Edible Arrangements

Microgardens can be created on roofs, balconies, small patios, fire escapes and small landscaped areas, using edibles as decorative and ornamental features instead of strictly edible plants, says urban gardener Melinda Myers.

San Francisco Deck

Built-in planter boxes made of redwood give a young family easy access to vegetable and herbs in their backyard, surrounded by two- and three-story apartment buildings in San Francisco. The project by St. John Landscapes won a 2015 award from the Association of Professional Landscape Designers.

Big Brooklyn Makeover

A once-bare, tiny yard behind a row house in Brooklyn, N.Y., now features a canopy of plants, such as crape myrtles and camellias. Landscape designer Michael Van Valkenburgh planted trees that naturally cool the garden terrace and house and created a bird habitat. The new paving is mica schist, which is arranged in a pattern that mimics logs flowing down a river. The garden was a 2015 ASLA award winner.

Ivy Walls

The small space behind a Brooklyn, N.Y., row house was enclosed on two sides by a 12-foot brick wall and was bare with no plants. To create the illusion of a bigger space, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, added ivy to the walls and brought in plants such as camellias and crape myrtles. The project was an 2015 American Society of Landscape Architects award winner.

Creative Uses for Cast-offs

A container garden and water feature made with concrete blocks fits in with the industrial style of an Atlanta loft and rooftop.

Built-in Beds

A family's raised vegetable and herb garden is positioned by St. John Landscapes to take advantage of the sunniest area of a small urban garden in San Francisco.

Compact Nature

Microgardens vary in size, including as tiny as a few square inches in a container or several square feet in a garden bed, says Anne Gibson of TheMicroGardener.com. Here, a small raised garden bed is intensively planted with edibles.

All in a Bowl

Try a "Pick ‘n’ Pluck Salad Bar": Loose leaf cut-and-come-again lettuce varieties can be planted as seeds or seedlings in a container for a quick pick salad. Choose salad ingredients with different leaf textures and colors for a vibrant and healthy salad, says microgardener Anne Gibson. Alternate these around the container and when the lettuces have at least eight leaves, you can start harvesting as you rotate around the pot.

Going Vertical

Vertical gardens are a great place to grow greens in a micro space, says urban gardener Melinda Myers.

Tiny Planters

Microgardens can be started in even the tiniest of containers and spaces. You can make miniature greenhouses for seed raising and microgreens by upcycling plastic food-grade punnets and bottles, suggests Anne Gibson of TheMicroGardener.com.

Weighty Matters

Position microgardens on balconies where there is structural strength. Moist soil gets very heavy, so consider the total weight (soil + pot + plants + water) of each container, says Anne Gibson of TheMicroGardener.com. You may need to consult an engineer to find out if the structural capacity can handle the additional weight. It is wise to position heavy pots close to the strength of the structural wall or around the perimeter.

Mod and Small

This contemporary patio in a coastal California home uses concrete pads surrounded by colored gravel and massed succulents, which can be a low-maintenance microgarden option. Grounded Modern Landscape Architecture designed the award-winning space.

On Wheels

When space is tight, you can use old items, such as a wheelbarrow to display and grow plants. Portable gardens are a creative solution for those who need to move plants into sun or shade during the day, says Anne Gibson of TheMicroGardener.com. Wheels allow heavy planters to be moved easily.

Gardening with a View

On a rooftop, to minimize some of the microgarden's weight on the roof or balcony, use containers with drainage holes, suggests Melinda Myers, an urban gardener.

High-Rise Horticulture

Winds tunneling through high rises and neighborhoods can be damaging and drying. Adjust watering as needed and provide supports for tall plants or decorative fencing/screening as a wind break, says Melinda Myers, an urban gardener.

For You, or Someone Else

Culinary and medicinal herbs look fabulous in upcycled containers, baskets and containers such as small boots. Group herbs with similar water and sun needs together, says Anne Gibson of TheMicroGardener.com. For example, drought-tolerant Mediterranean herbs like rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano and chives are perfect bed partners. These attractive planters also make edible gifts.

Stack It

Vertical stackable planters are one way to have a microgarden and suit shallow-rooted edibles like lettuces, flowers, strawberries and herbs, says Anne Gibson, known as The Micro Gardener. This setup also minimizes moisture loss when watering from the top. Group plants with the same water needs together on each tier and add a saucer at the base to collect any water or nutrients. 

Easy Access

Microgardens are designed to be highly productive, energy and space efficient, sustainable and affordable, and grown in healthy living soil, says Anne Gibson of The Micro Gardener.

Harvest Often

Regular harvesting will keep plants, such as these in containers along a walkway, producing. You also will get even more produce from your small space, says Melinda Myers, an urban gardener. For example, she suggests picking outer leaves of lettuce and other greens when they are 4 to 6 inches tall.

Urban Aesthetic

Privacy screening around and on top create a private urban rooftop garden designed by Topiarius. Plants include bonsai, such as Scots pine and boxwoods.

Boxwood Spot

'Green Velvet' boxwood (on the right) and Arctic Blue-leaf Willow are featured on a Chicago rooftop designed by Topiarius.

Private Spaces

Evergreens peek out of privacy panels around a rooftop garden in Chicago.

Custom Designs

The privacy panel cut in the shape of a tree reflects the effort to carve out a garden on a Chicago rooftop. The containers are custom made by Topiarius.

Making Room for Greenery

The courtyard of a Boston townhouse is bordered with hosta 'Center of Attention' and 'Green Mountain' boxwood in front of horizontal wooden fencing. The project, by A Blade of Grass, was a 2015 Association of Professional Landscape Designers award winner.

Mixed Uses

Roof gardens are a great way to grow in urban spaces, but Anne Gibson of The Micro Gardener.com says it's important to consider drainage and local weather conditions. If exposed to winds or strong sun without protection, plants tend to dry out more quickly. This rooftop garden is in a mixed-use development in Athens, Ga.

Planters in Urban Microgarden

To create a small garden on an Atlanta condo terrace, Cameron Watkins of C. Watkins Garden Co. designed the low-maintenance landscaping to have natural elements in the urban environment.

Wall Art

Vertical gardens are a space- and water-saving solution to maximize the number of plants you can grow in a tiny space, says Anne Gibson.

Sloped Setting

Vegetables, herbs and greens are grown around the deck of a San Francisco garden that slopes 8 feet from the back door and is bordered by apartments. St. John Landscapes used succulents, variegated plants, burgundy cordyline, evergreen vines that contrast with the ground cover border and evergreen grasses, for the APLD award-winning project.

Farming Vertically

There are a variety of microgardening techniques to maximize your harvest, including utilizing space wisely with vertical garden solutions, and efficient water management and nutrient cycling, says Anne Gibson of TheMicroGardener.com. This vertical garden has lemon thyme, peppers, tomatoes and other plants.

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