Small Space – Big Ideas!

At this year’s BBC Gardeners’ World Live Show (16-19 June 2022) at Birmingham NEC, an innovative, tiny organic garden will be on display to prove just how much can be achieved in the most compact outdoor areas, whatever the budget. 

The ‘Small Space – Big Ideas’ Garden has been created by experts at horticultural charity, Garden Organic to show how a beautiful, biodiverse and productive oasis is available to all budding gardeners, no matter how petite their yard or balcony.   

The team hopes to inspire green-fingered visitors by demonstrating just how many sustainable techniques and growing areas can be squeezed into a 5x5m space.  

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The fully paved garden will feature clever container hacks, tips on how to grow vertically, plants such as borage and nasturtium to attract welcome insects, DIY eco-projects and genius ways to maximise planting space with raised beds

The small plot garden has been created by Garden Organic’s Head Gardener, Emma O’Neill alongside the charity’s Head of Organic Horticulture and former Blue Peter gardener, Chris Collins. 

The duo say it is in answer to the regular laments they hear from would-be gardeners who ‘wish’ they could grow their own produce or invite more wildlife into their spaces but mistakenly believe they cannot due to lack of space. 

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Chris Collins, said; “I have a small balcony in London and I’m always amazed by the food and flowers I can grow and the creatures I share my space with. All it takes is a little know-how and some creative ideas, which is what we will demonstrate at the BBC Gardener’s World Show.” 

The exhibition garden, replicating a typical ‘hard-standing’ urban front garden, has been designed not just with aesthetics in mind but also to demonstrate how people can sustainably grow their own fruit and vegetables and create a thriving habitat for biodiversity – all with space for a pond to attract birds, bees and hoverflies and a mini greenhouse for tender seedlings, too.  

The ideas being demonstrated are not just for those with front gardens, they will inspire people with balconies or tiny yards to think outside the box when it comes to growing, looking after soil, DIY compost and conserving rain water.  

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Emma O’Neill added; “We’re looking forward to showcasing some simple projects that can easily be replicated at home. A bog garden, a vertical insect hotel with damp shady spaces for toads and beetles and a 1m² vegetable bed.  

“Plus, a compost bin made from recycled pallets, featuring a built-in comfrey feed drain attached to the side. Yes, you can create your own plant feed in a tiny garden. We have even included small planters for salad crops and a hedgehog tunnel going through it as a wildlife corridor. 

“We promise, even those with the tiniest of spaces can recreate these projects!” 

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The show garden will predominantly feature vegetables grown from seed which Garden Organic has protected through its Heritage Seed Library based at Ryton, Coventry. This important conservation project, assisted by a team of volunteer Seed Guardians has ‘saved’ hundreds of rare varieties/cultivars from going extinct.  

These include unusual gems such as the Afghan Purple carrot, the Vermont Cranberry dwarf French bean, the Slovenian White runner bean, the Blue Pea and the Solid Pink celery, all of which have fascinating back stories*. 

Afghan Purple Carrot

Purple carrots are thought to date back to around 2000BC where Egyptian cave paintings appear to depict them; the orange varieties we are familiar with today were not developed until the 16th century. The Afghan Purple Carrot was donated by the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Virginia, USA, it produces 20-25cm roots that, when sliced, reveal a bright yellow core. They have a more pronounced ‘carroty’ flavour than orange varieties, and also show some resistance to carrot root fly. 

The Blue Pea

For the design-conscious, the growing areas will be punctuated by pre-loved furniture providing plant shelving, a potting bench and tool store and, of course, an essential seating area to relax amongst the birds, bees and butterflies. It will also feature a stunning mosaic walkway, hand-made by a team of Garden Organic volunteers.


Vermont Cranberry Dwarf French Bean

Garden Organic’s garden also keeps small budgets front of mind. The majority of items within the garden will be recycled, homemade or sustainably-sourced, showing visitors how they can achieve a beautiful and productive organic oasis without impacting heavily on the environment or their bank balance. 

For visitors interested in learning more about how to put organic principles into practice in their tiny spaces, Emma, Chris and other experts from Garden Organic will be running four demonstration talks each day during the show which will cover small space sustainable growing tips, successful peat-free growing, wildlife friendly gardening and growing organic food in hanging baskets. The team will also be on hand at the show garden to answer questions. 

Chris added; “Come and visit us to join our movement of growers who care about the environment and biodiversity in all its forms.”  

“If all gardeners adopted just one or two organic growing methods in their own growing space our collective impact would be huge.”  

For more information, hints and tips about organic gardening and other benefits of being a Garden Organic member please visit or follow @GardenOrganicUK on social media. 

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About the Author

Tony Flanagan
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