Part 1- Birth of a Tiny Urban Garden
Our small apartment comes with a tiny balcony- just 2 m x 1.6 m- which would be just enough for us all to sit out for a meal. Thankfully the housing association (BRF) we are members of allows owners of ground floor apartments, as we are, to utilise the area outside the flat and create our own tiny urban garden.
The little garden expansion is governed, like everything in Sweden, by pretty stringent rules: we have to be 75cm away from the path, there can’t be pergolas or trampolines and so on.
In the autumn, we submitted our plans for a full-length raised deck, in line with the general guidelines and this was approved by the board. Our Tiny Garden project was about creating an outdoor room, an entertainment area and an extra chill out zone.
The approaching winter prevented us from realising the garden dreams immediately. We waited till this Spring. Which is just as well: in the meantime, Hugo has developed an utter fascination and enthusiasm for plants, gardening and growing produce.
This has meant our plans for our tiny urban garden have transformed:
We’ll still have a raised deck area, surrounded by plants. A perfect place for entertaining. This area is, however, half the size of originally planned – 4.7m x 2.3m (15’5″ x 7’6″) plus the original balcony area.
The rest of the space will be a narrow garden (a mere 4.2m x 2.3m – 13’9″ x 7’9″) with raised beds for growing vegetables and filled with fruit bushes, giving Hugo a chance to try his wings as a gardener.
It's always good to go back to basics and ask some questions before you spend any money on an urban garden, any garden, in fact! Here are some great pointers for how to plan a Tiny Urban Garden.
The demands on the spaces are, like for our small apartment, multi-level:
- It’s a garden to entertain
- It’s a garden to relax in- think hammocks and being tucked up with a good book
- It’s a garden to grow food
- It’s a garden to provide interest- through plants and structures- all year around … quite a challenge with such variation in temperatures!
- It’s a garden with some inconspicuous storage
Luckily we don’t need the space to play, as our apartment is surrounded by fabulous amenities and parks.
Our tiny urban garden plan
A deck area AND a garden area with raised beds.
Note that we are thinking in terms of 3 dimensions: the tall posts provide supports for running up beans and flowers. In the winter we can string lights up to bring light to the long dark nights. They can also have bird balls – high enough that rodents and cats can’t get at them.
Site survey & measuring out the garden
It’s important to know exactly what you are dealing with. We have a manhole cover that needs easy access and we had bushes lining the wall.
The bushes needed to be either killed off or moved. We decided that they provided a wonderful habitat for bugs, so we moved them- digging them up and relocating them to beside the cycle path running along the length of our apartment.
It was also useful to stake out the site and get a feeling for the space. The stakes also allowed builders to understand our requirements better. (It’s quite amazing how builders can lack a vision of translating plans to reality)
The groundworks for the raised deck
Part of the groundworks was done with a hired digger, but the footings needed to be dug out by hand.
We could’ve used a large corkscrew-like contraption, but that was just another thing to figure out how to use or try to get a contractor to quote for ….seriously, getting so-called professionals out to look at a project and give a quote has been the most difficult part of our whole small family apartment renovation project! Don’t even get me started on this topic!
Our contractor calculated that we needed 10 foundation pillars- these were off-the-shelf pre-cast concrete pillars.
The levelling and setting these concrete pillars took him 2 whole days. It’s a lot of strings and measuring levels with a spirit level, a lot of fiddling. He bedded them onto gravel.
Building the deck
Once the foundations were in and the joists secured, creating a sturdy base, the decking itself goes on pretty quickly. Our builder faffed around a bit with positioning the tall upright posts, having to reposition them a couple of times to give the right aesthetic.
The railings are probably the most challenging part of build.
In the meantime, while the builders took care of the decking, we got on with the raised beds in the vegetable garden side of our small patch.
We purchased raised bed collars, which are widely available in DIY stores and garden centers in Sweden, we oiled and assembled them. (We opted for raised bed because they are somewhat easier to manage, just that little bit less digging and crouching. Eventually, we may add a self-watering system to the beds too, but not this year.)
Then we played around with positioning them: had them square, had them as parallelograms… they didn’t quite feel the same spacing-wise in real life as they had on paper, which just goes to show the best-laid plans can still be tweaked when you come to implementation.
It took a while till we place the 4 big and 1 small raised bed.
We then found a supplier – our local recycling centre- who sells soil by the trailer load, instead of in plastic bags and picked up around 1.5 cubic meters of soil. (This would’ve been 30 plastic bags of soil!… at least)
The kids also helped to fill these with the soil.
Some beds are lined with cardboard to help suppress any previous weeds. We haven’t bothered with this for the double beds.
Between the collars, we put down landscaping fabric and covered this with gravel we had left over from the deck building.
Next up, putting up fencing, planting and making the space pretty.
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