Peony 'Sarah Bernhardt'

Peony 'Sarah Bernhardt'

Monday, April 16, 2018

Small Space Edible Gardening

Spring greetings gardening friends!

I hope you are well, surviving the dreary dark rainy Portland weather, and holding out hope that soon sunny weather is on its way. When the weather is uncooperative for gardening I can return my attention to writing.

This morning I am reflecting on this spring’s Small Space Organic Vegetable Gardening class I taught at Portland Nursery. About eight years I ago I wrote this curriculum and starting teaching about small space gardening techniques. This class was born out of my 20 years experience as an avid gardener gardening in the full spectrum of living situations.

From container gardening on apartment front stoops, participating in the founding of two urban community gardens, to “homesteading” every inch of an uncultivated backyard rental house, as an urban gardener in Portland I have experienced it all!

During the last ten years of teaching gardening in Portland I have observed gardeners are increasingly gardening in smaller spaces. Raised beds and containers appear to be the preferred methods of edible gardening. I have adapted all of my gardening classes to reflect this trend.

As many of you know, for the past seven years Jay and I have joyfully lived and lovingly tended the bountiful garden at our secret garden cottage in the vibrant Alberta Arts neighborhood. Four mature maple trees shade the majority of our yard. We creatively squeeze vegetables, herbs, fruits, and flowers into every available spot of sunshine.

If you are interested in gardening and think you don’t have enough room, I challenge you to reexamine your space. In our own current yard, we observed the only full sun site was along the pathway on the side of the front house we share our property with. It had 2 existing older raised beds, neglected by previous tenants, full of weeds, and was attractive to neighborhood cats as a litter box. We've spent a lot of money, time, and energy nurturing those old raised beds to their current healthy glory.

This area was also storage space for a composter and numerous trash and recycling bins sitting on a brick pad. This was truly the hottest and brightest spot in the yard and it was not being utilized to its fullest gardening potential. Creative thinking was vital to reimagining this neglected space as a potential new gardening space.

In small space gardening you really have to prioritize your needs and wants. Successful use of your space takes some organization and planning to prevent ending up with a jumbled overcrowded mess of plants competing with each other. Every year I evaluate, adapt, and replant our evolving small space garden.

My initial dreams included an ornamental flower garden to nourish bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds that would also supply me with cut flowers for my design work. I envisioned an abundant flower bed overflowing with my perennial favorites: dahlias, lilies, peonies, oriental poppies, bee balm, purple coneflower, and brown-eyed susan.

A very old rangy four-foot rosemary shrub consumed all the prime full sun in-ground space and it had to go! It took my then boyfriend, not even husband yet, Jay a half a day to tackle that project. Falling in love with a fellow plant nerd entails designing and building gardens together in the first few months of dating. Once removed, the garden bed extended several feet into unused space, and was lined with a cobblestone border repurposed for other parts of the yard. Viola! I had my new four foot by 6 foot flower bed.

On the other side of the raised beds lives a huge red flowering rhododendron. Absolutely it is very pretty in its few weeks of blooming glory in May. After that its just evergreen leaves taking up prime full-sun space. Rather try and remove it, I pruned it from the bottom and within to open it up. This strategic pruning scored me an additional 3.5 feet by 5 feet of growing space. Due to the rhododendron’s mature root system, I mostly plant annual cutting flowers here. In this new flower bed honeywort, strawflower, statice, cosmos, zinnia, sunflower and cleome have all flourished. I’m experimenting with the addition of perennial liatris, gladiola, and dahlias this year.

When the composter was moved to a shady unused part of the yard, this opened up space to build our third raised bed for vegetables that can tolerate bright indirect sunlight and some light shade. Moving the trash and recycling bins to a new part of the yard opened up a very warm and full sun space for both our fourth raised bed and multiple potato tubs.

In a part-sun space next to our abundant mature raspberry patch were three stunted unproductive old blueberry plants surrounded by overgrown roses, ferns, groundcover, and weeds. Removing the blueberry bushes and other unwanted plants cleared a 3 foot by 3 foot space that was lined with a repurposed brick border. This has been the ideal space for my 6 containers of mint plants.

Three of our raised beds are reserved for vegetables with companion annual flowers and herbs. One raised bed is reserved for perennial herbs. Herbs are essential to me so they were prioritized in the small space planning and design. Every one of our raised beds has a trellis along the backside for vines like peas, beans, and flowers. Utilizing vertical gardening techniques helps maximize your limited space.

Our raised beds total 92 square feet of growing space. An additional 20 square feet is reserved for rotating containers and another 24 square feet of ground space for berries. This gives us a total of 136 square feet of growing space for edibles.

To give you an idea of what is possible in your small space garden, here’s what we are able to grow in our 136 square feet:

Beans-pole & runner
Lettuce-butterhead & romaine
Mesclun Mix
Potatoes-5 varieties
Salad greens-arugula, cress, mache, orach & purslane
Summer squash
Tomatoes-5 varieties


Lemon balm
Lemon verbena
Mints-5 varieties
Oregano-2 varieties
Sage-6 varieties
Salad Burnett
Scented geraniums
Thyme-4 varieties

That is a lot of variety of food in such a small space! Are you surprised?

In addition to planning, my best advice for success in your small space garden is remembering healthy soil=healthy plants. Utilizing organic and no-till gardening methods promote optimum soil health and keep my raised beds performing at their peak. I annually top-dress with compost we make and a purchased compost with manure & earthworm castings, fertilize monthly throughout the growing season, utilize compost tea and sheet mulching, plant companion plants, practice crop rotation, fall plant cover crops, and give the raised beds a rest during the winter season. I avoid the use of all chemicals, even organic pesticide, fungicide, and herbicide.

Small space edible gardening is fun, abundant, and extremely rewarding. It just takes a little creativity, planning, and care. Through personalized edible gardening consultation I have helped many urban gardeners enjoy more success from their small space gardens. I have consultation appointments available in April and May just for you! Shoot me an email jolieann.donohue@gmail for more information and to schedule.

Happy Gardening,

Monday, April 2, 2018

What to Plant in the April Edible Garden

Good morning gardeners!

April heralds a bright beginning to the gardening season in Portland. As I write the sunshine has poked out behind the clouds and I think we may see a nice spring day unfold. If you did not plant any vegetables or herbs in March, you did not miss out and you are not too late. I, myself, held off on planting any vegetables or herbs until April. March weather is super unpredictable and still a chance of frost. When soil and air temperatures are cold, seeds are slow to germinate and small plants are slow to grow.

Our average last frost date in Portland is around March 15-March 31. Historically, our average last frost date was April 15 and I think we will be close to that this year. I see in the forecast that we are expecting frost tonight and tomorrow morning April 3. This cooler weather means we are still planting cool season vegetable crops throughout the entire month of April.

Here's what to plant now and the preferred planting method-seeds vs. starts:

Asian greens-seeds or starts
Beets-great time to plant seeds in April
Brussels sprouts (plant in spring for a fall harvest)-I recommend starts
Carrots-great time to plant seeds in April
Collards-seeds or starts
Florence Fennel-seeds or starts
Kale-seeds or starts
Lettuce-seeds or starts
Mesclun Mix-seeds
Mustard Greens-seeds or starts
Parsnips (plant now for a fall harvest)-seeds
Peas-don't like heat so get them in by the end of April-seeds or starts
Radicchio-seeds or starts
Salad greens-arugula, cress, endive, escarole, mache, purslane-seeds
Scallions-seeds or starts
Spinach-seeds or starts
Swiss Chard-seeds or starts

April is the perfect month for planting potatoes from certified seed potatoes.

Continue planting artichoke and rhubarb plants, horseradish from roots, and sunchokes from tubers. February and March are the ideal time for planting asparagus crowns, though you could still try planting in April.

Allium family-plant leeks from seeds or starts, onions from sets or bunches, garlic from cloves or starts.

Runner beans are the only type of bean that can be planted early and will tolerate light or dappled shade. Plant some seeds now in April, like scarlet or sunset runner. They make beautiful ornamental plants grown up a trellis as a vine hummingbirds will love. Harvest the pods while very young and small for fresh green beans. Or wait until pods are large and dry out for shelling/dry beans.

Herbs-plant cool season annual herbs like cilantro and chervil. Plant all perennial herbs now. Plant hardier annual herbs like dill and german chamomile. Wait on tender warm-season annual herbs like basil and shiso until May.

Fruit-keep planting strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and fruit trees through April.

WAIT until mid to late May when night temperatures are consistently above 55 degrees to plant warm season crops like: beans, celery, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, gourds, melons, peppers, pumpkins, summer squash, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, tomatillos, winter squash, and zucchini. Seriously, just wait until later in May. Planting now does not give you a "jump-start" it actually only risks stunting or outright killing these plants.

In April annual bedding plants become available at nurseries. Don't forget to interplant your veggie garden with annual flowers and herbs as companion plants for beneficial bugs. Some of my favorites: alyssum, calendula, cleome, cosmos, marigolds, nasturtium, and zinnia.

Mid-April is a great time to plant sunflower seeds directly into the garden. April is time to plant lily, gladiola, and liatris bulbs in the flower garden. Wait until May to plant dahlia tubers. April is when you will find the most excellent selection of perennial plants.

Remember to apply Sluggo organic slug bait all around your edible and ornamental garden. Reapply at 2 week intervals to keep slugs under control.

Thank you for reading my blog and I am happy to receive your gardening questions here in a comment. Please contact me at if you are interested in scheduling an in-person or email edible gardening consultation. Happy gardening and happy April!

Warmly, Jolie