Marianne Binetti

How a pocket garden can give a big return from a small space

This backyard has a remodeled patio and pocket garden that is filled with hops, tomatoes and herbs.
This backyard has a remodeled patio and pocket garden that is filled with hops, tomatoes and herbs. Sacramento Bee, file

July kicks off the summer season of farmers’ markets. Here are some garden tips on creating pocket gardens — small space gardens and plants for problem areas.


Any small space can be turned into a pocket garden — from an urban alley that needs a bit of beauty to a small balcony or deck that can produce crops in pots.

Pocket gardening also can be about designing a theme or smaller garden area within the framework of a larger landscape.


New homes are getting larger but their yards are becoming smaller. Our need for more parking means available space for plants is being paved for driveways and garages. Yes, paradise really is being turned into a parking lot.

One of the biggest problems we now see is fewer plants for our pollinating insects, bees and butterflies. Adding just a few plants to a small space can improve air quality and provide nectar for hummingbirds and pollen for bees.

You can turn pavement into paradise — and a balcony into a bounty of edible plants

Even the ugliest alley way can support a few pots of herbs or some blooming sedums or succulents. A sunny balcony can grow a potted patio tomato and a patio or balcony facing north in the shade can grow mint for tea or impatiens for summer long color.

The trick is to figure out the right plant for the right place and then provide soil if needed for plants to grow.

Any plant, even a blooming weed is better than no plant when it comes to air quality and wild life. Growing your own edible plants does not have to mean canning beans or harvesting sweet corn. A pot of basil on a windowsill can add flavor to your cooking as well as life to your outdoor space.


The plants that will thrive in small spaces where nothing much wants to grow sometimes are the same plants that some gardeners call invasive weeds.

This is because the survivor methods used by really tough plants can get out of control when the plant has room and better conditions.

The best plants for beginning gardeners are the same plants that will survive a small space — plants that are adaptable and forgiving and just plain hard to kill.


Hens and chicks are succulents that grow even in the cracks of tile roofs all over Europe. This is how they get their other common name “house leaks” as they can stop a leaky roof.

In our climate, you can fill an old leather boot with potting soil and plant with hens and chicks or use the golden draping sedum Sedum Angelina to fill in narrow spaces or to spill from small pots.

Sage and salvia plants such as Hot Lips salvia and Tricolor Sage will adapt to dry soil and sunny sites and the bonus of the blooms on these tough plants makes pollinators happy.


Mint tea is full of healthful micro nutrients and growing any mint in a container is one way to keep it from spreading all over a garden.

Dry shade under trees, or an empty spot near the back door or along the northern side of the house can become a haven for growing not only shade-tolerant mint plants but also groundcovers such as Sweet Woodruff, ajuga, lamium and lungwarts.

Moss is also a plant. If you have an area that supports a bed of moss, add some stepping stones and call it a Japanese moss garden. Dwarf Nandina or heavenly bamboo, black mondo grass and a potted Japanese maple are other Japanese garden pants that can add to the Eastern garden theme.

Any space can be turned into a garden no matter how small. Every plant makes a difference and so every gardener has the power to improve our world. Leaving the world a better and more beautiful place is a pretty good legacy to leave behind.

Don’t give up, get growing.

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her through her website at or write to her at P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw WA 98022.

Meet Marianne

11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Sunday: Learn more about pocket gardens and problem-solving plants from Marianne Binetti at the Auburn Farmers’ Market free samples, located at the Auburn Sound Transit Center on A Street. More information is available at