Limited space doesn't have to be an impediment to a determined gardener. Renee Lewis, with the encouragement of her husband, Andy Speier...

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Limited space doesn’t have to be an impediment to a determined gardener.

Renee Lewis, with the encouragement of her husband, Andy Speier, has created an inspiring garden in the small yard surrounding her home on Phinney Ridge. With a 10-foot-deep front yard, narrow side yards and almost no backyard, she has learned to make maximum use of her space. For her first project after moving into the house five years ago, she replaced the thirsty lawn in the narrow planting strip with drought-tolerant plants. Her goal was to make the sidewalk look like a meandering path, and even though the planting strip is less than 3 feet wide, the plants add drama as they spill over the walk.

A place for everything

She has taken advantage of a skinny side yard, just 5 feet wide, to create a shade garden. The path is made of square pavers that add a rich pattern and provide a walkway through the plants on either side. At the far end of the path, rustic rock columns 3 feet high are grouped to make a focal point. The rough surfaces add texture and make a strong tie to the natural world.

“Everything I grow is either drought-tolerant or edible,” Lewis says. She wanted raspberries, which need full sun, so she squeezed a patch of them into a space on the south side of the front porch, just above the street, supported by a bamboo trellis.

The backyard is only 6 feet deep, and most of it is taken up by a walkway to the basement door and a deck. To grow more plants, she built a trellis and has planted kiwi vines on it.

Vertical gardening is always a good strategy when space is limited. Lewis just completed a trellis and arbor for the front of the house that will give shade to a sitting area and provide a place for grapes. She also grows fragrant jasmine and spring-blooming clematis on a trellis that separates her from neighbor.


• Garden vertically by growing climbers to add impact to a narrow space.

• Add fragrant plants to give another dimension to the garden experience.

• Use plants that express seasonal change with summer flowers, fall color and winter berries or attractive bark.

Big payoffs from small spaces

Besides the grapes, Lewis grows other edibles in containers, with pole beans and tomatoes in large pots and lettuce and basil in boxes attached to the front porch railings. The salad garden boxes add a decorative touch and are surprisingly productive for their small size.

Herbs thrive in pots in a sunny spot. Small quantities of herbs go a long way when used in cooking, so they offer a large return on effort and space. Consider growing sage, tarragon, parsley and rosemary, just a few of the herbs that do well in niche gardens.

While some of her garden areas are low-maintenance, including the planting strip, the containers take a lot of work. Lewis enjoys tending them. She works at building the health of the soil in the containers by recycling it every year. The soil from the pots goes into worm bins along with kitchen peelings and horse manure. A compost tumbler in the driveway attests to her stewardship of the land, too.

Picking plants for pots

Ornamentals can do well in containers and offer gardening opportunities for those who have no yard at all but do have access to a deck or porch. Lewis has put together arrangements of pots on the entry walk and on the porch next to the front door. In her entry walk pots, Lewis first tried strawberries but found that they dried out too fast when she was away on vacation, so she replaced them with sedum that can survive infrequent watering. The salad boxes have a drip system for irrigation.

Lewis says that when she started she wanted a peaceful, low-maintenance garden. She has accomplished that, along with a place to exercise her very green thumb.

Phil Wood has a degree in landscape architecture and designs and builds gardens. Send questions to Sorry, no personal replies.