Gardening Without a Yard

Gardening Without a Yard

Space is tight in the Bay area, and many of us, even those who love gardening and growing things and all things green find that we do not have the vast open space that we would like for our gardening.

We are lucky in that our weather, a Mediterranean climate, allows us many year-round options for growing. This means that even a small garden can still provide food, herbs, or beauty, year-round.

Depending on your living situation, you might have access to a small patio, a shady porch, just some inside counter space, or be lucky enough to get into a community garden.

Container Gardening

Low maintenance backyard? All those concrete slabs are not going to produce many plants that you’d like to grow (dandelions do just fine). Instead, there are many options for pots, raised beds, and just pretty much anything they can hold soil to grow yourself a nice little garden.

Anywhere in the Bay area, where yards are at a premium, you will find small jungles of terracotta pots full of succulents, grapes, even lemon trees. 
Container gardening means you get to choose your soil, and its composition, and do not have to deal with our local hard clay earth. But it also means you have to be very conscious of watering, since containers and anything higher than the ground will dry out faster and the ground itself. Knowing your plants before you plant is key to choosing containers that will let them grow as big as they can, to be as healthy and drought-resistant as they can possibly be.

Succulents are especially good for container gardening because they actually like to dry out, and sometimes suffer planted in the ground during our sometimes very wet rainy season.

One thing to know if you do choose to container garden, especially with succulents, is that plant thieves do exist, and those weirdos love rare and interesting looking succulents. Be sure to keep your most expensive or rare plants secure, either enclosed in your home or garden, or under video surveillance.

Shade Gardening

Some of us have yards that are beset by shade most of the day. Tomatoes and eggplants are not going to put up with too much shade, but there are lots of plants that even in the heat of the summer will thrive in a shady spot because they like it cool. Brassicas like kale, broccoli, and cauliflower don’t mind just a small amount of sun everyday. Lettuce and peas will also do well. To succeed at shade gardening in the Bay area, be sure to consult the planting calendar and make sure to plant in your shade garden at times listed for foggy areas only. 

Windowsill Gardening

If you’ve got a sunny enough window, you can grow plants that are only limited by your windowsill’s size. House plants and succulents thrive in this arrangement. Herbs are ideal, because they are right next to where you might cook with them.

Countertop Gardening

There is a thriving business in small, self-contained planters for your countertop, for those of us who do not have any outside space at all. These are small units with lights and sometimes watering functions, but many herbs and even lettuces and other small plants can thrive in tiny spaces and give you that gardening fix right in your own home. 

If you have space inside, you can even create a larger operation using grow lights to grow full size plants indoors.

Community Gardening

A variety of different plots in the Brisbane Community Garden, going strong!

If you are lucky enough to live near a community garden, and can get on the list to get a plot for yourself, you can have that Sunny outdoor spot that you always wanted. While travelling to your garden instead of walking out your back door is not quite as nice, a community garden plot has its benefits. 

Many community gardens charge a small fee and let you use communal water and compost. It’s instant community for you, as you can chat with your fellow gardeners, and learn from their successes and failures. And, some even have orchards and beehives that all of the gardeners may share.

Some Local Community Gardens

The Berkeley Community Gardening Collaborative has a comprehensive list of school and community gardens, plus links to more information about them.

Brisbane Community Garden
Brisbane has one Community Garden with a small orchard and beehives! You will need to contact the Parks & Recreation Department to inquire about a plot:

They have a vibrant gardening community (and great weather for gardening!)

San Francisco Community Gardens
The City runs 38 gardens in the city.

South San Francisco
SSF has one garden, and you need to contact them to get on the wait list.

Adopt an Empty Lot

A strip of shady land in Brisbane has been cultivated into a tiny oasis of green. To protect the plants, a small brick path and stepping stones allows people to get to and from their street-parked cars.

This option is a little trickier, but it can be done. If you know of an unkempt area of your neighborhood, you can try to contact the owner and maybe you can farm it for a few years. Or, consider using the often desolate strips of dirt between the sidewalk and the street.

It’s risky, since you don’t own it and can be asked to stop at any time. But, it may give you several years of garden food and experience in the meantime. 

There’s a great book by Novella Carpenter about her adventures in Oakland farming in a lot near her home, even raising pigs there!

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