A huge kitchen garden isn't essential for growing vegetables - a small, easily managed plot can produce plenty of crops for busy people. The secret of success is making best use of available space.
Discover low-maintenance fruit and veg to grow.
To grow good veg you need a sheltered site that gets full sun for at least half the day, with deep, fertile, well-drained soil that has been enriched with organic matter. Deep, no-dig raised beds are perfect for small gardens.
By working the soil deeply and adding organic matter to the surface, you can plant veg at two-thirds’ normal spacing, with no paths between rows, so you pack lots into the space.
You can also use large patio containers for certain crops, or create a decorative potager – a walk-through area with beds planted prettily with vegetables instead of flowers.
Grow crops that grow fast and crop quickly, so that you have a quick turnover of produce and can avoid any gaps. Pests and diseases are more of a problem with closely spaced crops, so opt for modern pest- and disease-resistant varieties, where possible.
Make the best use of your space by growing the crops suggested below.
Spring onions are easy to grow and give high yields in a small space. Most varieties ‘bulb up’ if not pulled young, so any you don’t use turn into small ‘normal’ onions later in the season.
When grown on a small scale, watercress doesn’t need a chalk stream; just a bucket of waterlogged potting compost in a sheltered corner close to the house. Watercress needs lots of light, but not hot midday sun. Start by rooting sprigs from a bundle.
These heavy-yielding climbing plants keep cropping all summer, so one sowing should be enough. Runner beans are easy and reliable, and their flowers are pretty enough for them to grow up a fence, trellis or arch, or in a deep container on the patio. Read our runner bean Grow Guide.
Varieties such as ‘Lollo Rossa’ and ‘Salad Bowl’ can be picked a few leaves at a time as they are needed, leaving the rest of the plant to keep growing. Salad leaves are good for containers or growing in the ground. Read our salad leaves Grow Guide.
Chillies are very easy to grow and are attractive plants that do well in pots as well as in the ground. Like your chillies hot? Discover some hot chillies to grow and get advice on six steps to hotter chillies.
Radishes are very easy to grow and crop in as little as four weeks - perfect for smaller veg plots. You can also sow them between other, slower growing crops. Discover the best varieties of radish to grow.
Trained fruit trees grown on small root stocks take up hardly any space. Stepover apples are an attractive edge to a plot, and cordons and espaliers can be grown against a wall or fence. Look for standard or semi-standard plants of gooseberries or redcurrants, too. Discover three ways to train fruit trees.
Try intercroppingThe idea of this is to sow or plant quick-growing crops, such as lettuce, radish or spinach, between big, slow- growing crops, such as sweetcorn or winter brassicas. The idea is that the quick crops use the spare space before their neighbours grow large enough to cover the soil (don’t try this on deep or raised beds, because the plants are already as closely spaced as you dare). Watch our video guide to sowing radishes in gaps.
Tips for growing space-saving veg
- Grow what you love. If space is limited, choose crops you love to eat and that are difficult to find or expensive to buy in the shops.
- Stretch the season - use cloches or horticultural fleece to cover early and late crops. Make full use of early varieties of veg such as carrots and peas, since these mature faster than maincrop varieties, for early and late cultivation.
- Use your borders. Grow gorgeous globe artichokes or Jerusalem artichokes for their height at the back of a perennial bed. Team edible flowers such as heartsease, borage and calendula marigold with frilly red cut-and-come-again lettuce, or unusual salad leaves such as purslane or buckler-leaf sorrel.
- Think vertically – grow climbing crops such as runner beans over arches, on trellis or fences. Grow herbs or cherry tomatoes in hanging baskets, and salad leaves and herbs in window boxes.
- Avoid growing crops that take up a large amount of space (such as asparagus, or maincrop potatoes)
- Avoid crops that take months to grow (such as pumpkins, leeks and parsnips).
- Have seedlings ready. As one crop comes to an end have the next batch of young plants in pots, ready to take their place. Just clear the row and refresh the ground with organic matter and fertiliser.
- Grow space-saving varieties. You’ll find bush versions of courgettes and pumpkins instead of traditional long, trailing kinds. There are also mini or baby veg, varieties that naturally start cropping early.