Go big or go home. It’s an adage that flatly implies if one does not go big, then they are indeed doing something wrong. The phrase seems to permeate into all of life’s ventures, and I often hear it tossed around during conversations about growing and gardening. However, through the years, I have begun to feel this phrase is more of a misconception than an outright truth. So, I am here to make the argument that sometimes smaller is better.
When I became a serious gardener more than 10 years ago, I started with one small 10x20-foot soil plot. Over time, my garden began to evolve. The small soil plot turned into two small plots. Those eventually became two larger plots measuring about 30x40 feet. Not long after that, I began adding raised beds and container-grown plants into the equation. At that point, my humble little garden resembled a small farm, and the work I was putting into maintenance sure made it feel like one. I went big and going home wasn’t much of an option because the garden required so much work and attention.
What’s more, I was a single guy with no family of my own. I wasn’t (and still am not) big into canning or other methods of preserving the harvest, and I had a limited circle of friends and family to off-load the extra bounties on. So, a lot of what I grew was at grave risk of going bad. For a time, I gave some of my harvests to a friend with a booth at a local farmers’ market. Though it did provide a little cash return, the hassle of working such a large garden on my own wasn’t worth the meager income.
The garden basically become a second job, and it started to feel like more of a chore than a hobby. The daily work in the garden became a giant hassle. The joy and relaxation I once had from working on it in the evening had begun to fade and be replaced by a feeling of loathing. My heart just wasn’t in it.
After evaluating the entire situation, I knew what I had to do. I needed to downsize. I needed to go small. First, I got rid of the raised beds and returned my soil plots to their original size. A year later, I downsized to a smaller soil plot that incorporated a container garden of 10-15 plants. I focused on growing plants I knew I would use.
Less Work with Smaller Gardens
As I began to make changes, the benefits became apparent right away. The more focused small garden took much less work during the initial planting and required less daily effort to maintain. By downsizing the garden and minimizing the amount of work I needed to do, I began to experience the same excitement and joy I had in my first few seasons. I no longer felt the stress and anxiety that had grown from years of unreasonable garden expansion. It was so refreshing to be able to sincerely enjoy working in my garden again.
I am glad I made the choice to drastically limit my garden’s size. Aside from the emotional impact, I’ve found a smaller garden is just as visually appealing as any big garden when done properly. The trick is to work with the area you have and to not squeeze too many plants into a small space.
Containers Limit Garden Size
There are many ways a gardener can successfully start small or downsize. The easiest way is to limit oneself to a container garden. Almost all vegetable plants can successfully grow in containers with a soilless potting mix and adequate fertilization. When going this route, research what the plant will need from seed to harvest to ensure the right container size and type of fertilizer are used. In similar fashion, a small raised bed is a great way to create a simple little garden that yields plenty of delicious food all season long. Growers can also use different techniques, such as the square foot gardening method or staggering plantings in accordance with seasonal changes, to ensure the small garden is truly a productive endeavor.
Also, don’t be afraid to get creative with small gardens. For example, if a little patch of turf beside the house gets a good amount of sun each day, why not skip over the ornamentals and plant a vegetable garden there instead?
If there is one thing many of us have in common in this ridiculously fast-paced world, it’s the fact we all have busy lives. Between work, kids, and social activities, it can be difficult and stressful to find time to maintain a large-scale garden. However, the garden should be a place where we can relax and forget the worries of the world. If your garden has you stressed out, downsizing could be the perfect step to take. Going small could help you once again feel the joy that came from digging your hands into the soil for the very first time.