Space Gardening

I hope to explain how most crops can be cultivated, but first let us make sure that you are using your garden space as effectively as you could. Space gardening is all about thinking in 3 dimensions, and maybe 4, if we include time.

Fruit trees can play a double role. They give attractive blossom in spring and juicy fruit later, followed often by autumn colour. They make splendid specimen trees for a lawn. But many of them are too large for a small garden. However, there are several forms of small trees from the ‘bush’ to other trained types.

Cordon forms of tree have been tried very successfully for many years and each takes up very little space. They can be grown against a wall or wire framework in the open. Using this method a fair number of varieties can be grown in a small area and the trees are easily managed. Single cordons, consisting of one main stem are the most common form. The cordons can either be upright or at an angle, when they are known as oblique cordons. The latter is preferred. The espalier shape of tree is one with a central stem 61-7 feet high and with a number of equally spread branches coming away from it in pairs.


This is a form in which fruit trees may be trained, the branches springing from a short leg and spreading out like the ribs of a fan, all on a single flat plane. Thus, a fan is an appropriate shape of tree to grow against a wall but this is not essential; fans can be trained against supporting wires in a similar way to espaliers. The fan is a popular form for peaches and other stone fruits but it is quite possible to grow apples and pears as fans.

fan trained apple cox's orange pippin

Later, when we come to discuss the individual fruits we shall learn more about these forms of training and how such trees are grown and pruned. We shall see that there are single, double and triple cordons and that this type of training is extended to soft fruits. This means that even in a tiny garden you can have a row of red-currants or gooseberries, perhaps along t he side of a path.

Cherries are such attractive trees. They blossom earlier than most and they are the first to flaunt their autumn colour. But they need space.

Plant standards 30 feet apart, half standards 25 feet and fan trees 15 feet. Cherries as a class dislike poorly drained, heavy soils. The sweet varieties do well on deep, light to medium loams while the sour ones will tolerate poor soils, provided they are not waterlogged. Lime in the soil is not an essential as is commonly supposed.

Trained trees can be prettily sited. In this country we have not yet fully appreciated or exploited the role that such plants can play.

In modern Britain fruit trees are trained for cropping rather than for ornamental purposes. On the Continent the free palmette system of training is widely fol-lowed with apples and pears. In this method the trees are provided with horizontal wire supports 2, 4 and 6 feet from soil level and pairs of branches, allowed to develop, rather like an espalier except that instead of the branches being horizontal they are trained at an angle of 30 degrees and thus become more vigorous than would the horizontal branches of an espalier.

red currants double cordon system

An interesting French contribution to fruit training is the arcure system. In this system, as with espaliers or fans, the tree is kept to one plane, being trained to horizontal wires. The maiden tree is bent over in an arch and tied: this will en-courage vertical growth from the top of the arch. The strongest shoot from the centre of the arc is selected and, the next July, this is, in its turn, arched over in the opposite direction. Each year the process is repeated, the shoots always being tied in the opposite direction to the previous year’s growth. The crop is carried on spurs.

Soft fruits can be fitted into many places about the garden. They can be trained along boundary wires and fences.

These fruits can be trained as fans, spread over the framework. New canes are looped along the lowest wire as they grow and then in autumn take the place of the old.

Blackberries and loganberries

Fruiting takes place mainly on young shoots which grew in the previous year. A few varieties, e.g. ‘John Innes Berry’ form fruits on two-year-old shoots.

I have seen splendid raspberries growing in some hidden corner in a garden. These too need to be tied to supporting wires.


Fruit is formed on canes which grew the year before. During the summer the canes make branch-lets on which flowers and fruits form. After picking. The canes and leaves turn brown. These canes are cut close to ground level and burnt. Young canes from the ground will take over next season.

If you have a south or west wall you can grow grapes. Some varieties will give you lovely autumn colour in the leaves. Cultivation All vines grow best in rich soil, though they are tolerant of most soils. They are most satisfactory in milder areas. Most climb by means of tendrils. And so must be placed near a support, such as trellis or, where the most vigorous kinds are concerned, a tree. A good bed should be dug out beside the tree to give the young plant a good start and the shoots trained up into the branches by temporary sup-ports. It is important to remember when planting against walls or on pergolas that a great deal of space will eventually be required.

My great standby is my row of alpine strawberries. These flower more or less continuously from May to November. They are really attractive little plants. I grow mine along the edge of the garden path with lettuce close behind.

In my opinion, rhubarb is a handsome plant and need not be hidden from view. It is so easy to grow. Mature roots are divided in spring in such a way that each piece has a crown. When planted this crown should always be above the surface. You should be patient for the first year or two and not pull the stems. Once the plant is established crowns can either be covered or lifted in winter and forced to provide those beautifully coloured succulent stems.

Many herbs and vegetables are attractive enough to grow near the true ornamental plants. I have seen cabbages blue-green behind a bed of pink roses, neat bright lettuces growing between clumps of vivid annuals, pretty edgings of alpine strawberries, parsley and chives planted alternately before a handsome row of wine and green beetroot.

Chopped chives are excellent in salads, sandwiches and omelettes; they are a good flavouring for mashed potatoes. The bulbs can be used either fried or cooked in a number of other ways. The flowers are a pretty mauve colour: they too can be eaten and form a delicate garnish to a salad or mayonnaise.


Chives are the smallest and the most delicately flavoured of the onion family species. Both the bulbs and leaves can be used though it is more usual to use the latter, known as the ‘grass’. Those who object to the strong taste of garlic, or even of onion, frequently appreciate chives. The grass grows 6-10 inches high and should be cut close to the ground when required for use; this will encourage fresh growth. It is advisable to cut from time to time even if not required, for frequent cut-ting keeps the growth tender and sweet, whereas if not cut the growth and flavour become coarse and the plants will flower. Cultivation The plant can be propagated from seed, but propagation is more easily effected by division of the clumps in the autumn. Any soil is suitable. If they are to be grown on a large scale plant clusters 6 inches apart in the rows with 1 foot between the rows. One or two clumps, however, is normally enough in most gardens. Early ‘grass’ can be obtained by putting a cloche over a clump in February. Plants may be attacked by rust disease, in which case they should be destroyed and new plants should be raised from seed.

Catch cropping

Another good way to save and conserve space is by catch cropping. The term applied to a short period crop which is planted in vacant ground and matures before the main crop is planted. A crop which can be grown and used before the main crop grows sufficiently to require the total space available. A catch crop such as lettuce, spinach, turnip or radish is frequently grown on the ridges of celery trenches in June and July, before the celery has made much growth or, on rich, good growing soils, dwarf beans may be used for this purpose. In cloche gardening, catch crops are even more popular. So that the maximum use is made of the glass available, plant lettuce on either side of a crop of autumn sown peas. The lettuce matures as the cloches are removed in April. In glasshouses and frames, lettuce, radish or carrots can be grown between the main crop of tomatoes during early summer or, if glass is at a premium, the catch crop can be grown in pots or boxes, e.g. tomatoes for outdoor planting of ornamental plants grown for bedding purposes.

If you intend to go in for vegetable gardening really seriously I would advise you to consider the following:

Intensive cultivation

There is very little space for food crops in the small gardens on many new housing estates. What space is available must be put to good use by intensive cultivation. Instead of producing one crop each season, each square yard of soil must be encouraged to produce two, three or even four crops. The method is only practicable where drainage is good, the site unshaded by walls, tall fences, trees and shrubs, the soil extremely fertile and water always to hand during the summer.

intensive cultivation space gardening

Pipe drainage is necessary on very stiff clay. On other soils, drainage is improved by initially digging deeply and adding bulky manure, compost, wool shoddy, peat etc. into the second or third spit. A light, sandy soil also requires similarly heavy dressings of organic matter to assist its capacity to hold moisture. Heavy dressings of very well rotted farmyard manure or garden compost are spread on the surface of the garden each season. After several years, the structure of the topsoil resembles the rich terreau of the French system of gardening. A sprinkler system is an advantage and windbreaks set up in exposed areas. A cold frame and a set of barn type cloches are also needed. Liming must be regular where large quantities of animal manure are used. Many of the crops benefit, too, from liquid manure feeds in summer.

The season starts in late February or early March in the south – two to three weeks later in most northern areas – when seeds of early maturing varieties of lettuce, radish and cabbage are sown in the cold frame. The cloches will be set over a row of early peas at the same time. In late March or early April, seeds of autumn and winter cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and lettuce will be sown in the cold frame or in the open. In the south, seeds of Outdoor Girl tomato may be sown in the frame in early April. The southern gardener may also raise plants of frame and outdoor cucumbers, melons, sweet corn and vegetable marrows by sowing in peat pots in the frame around mid April. In other parts of the country, the frame may be used for a sowing of hardy cucumbers, sweet corn and vegetable marrows in early May. Plants of dwarf and runner beans may also be raised in pots or boxes in the cold frame.

Plants from the earliest sowing are set out in the open in May; those from later sowings in June. The cloches are moved from the pea row in late May to protect tomatoes or melons. During the autumn, the cloches may help to ripen off the tomato crop and from then until the spring, they protect strawberry plants or August-sown lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower and onions. The frame is used for a cucumber or melon crop during the summer and for protecting August-sown plants during the winter.

Successional, catch cropping and inter-cropping must be practised and some form of rotation of crops devised. Provided quick-growing, short or compact varieties are chosen, traditional sowing and planting distances may often be disregarded. Mulching will prevent most annual weeds by smothering the weed seedlings. Particular care must be taken to prevent out-breaks of green or black aphids among the thick stand of plants.

Have a few lettuce seedlings on hand to fill odd spaces, not necessarily rows. Even if these cannot be left long enough to mature properly they are still acceptable for mixed salads. Where you know a crop must soon be harvested and where the plants are not likely to become damaged, lettuce and other seedlings can be planted quite close to the row. This gives them protection and an interval in which to become well rooted before they need space to expand.

Radishes can be sown in the same drill as many other vegetables right through spring and summer and so need not have an area to themselves. Sow the seed thinly, after the other seed, and pull the roots as soon as they are ready.

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