By Elizabeth and Crow Miller

The Little Garden That Could

It is in the little garden that the potted plants truly come into their own. When you lift a plant up above the others, you not only give it air and sun, but you highlight it. Without sacrificing an inch of precious room, you can present a notable picture. Fuchsias are beautiful anywhere, but put them in a hanging basket against a white wall and the effect is breathtaking.

Having space limitations started me growing tomatoes in large cans and buckets. A 5-gallon container with drainage holes filled with rich soil will hold a well-trained and pruned tomato plant through its whole bearing period. It has always seemed regrettable to me that we should grow tomatoes into rich bearing plants only to have them destroyed when they reach their peak performance. Find a reasonably bright, cool place inside for these container and you can stretch your tomato season right through the winter. Start these winter-into-spring tomatoes later than the others, but have them bearing when you take them into the house.

Treat the 3-Brussels sprouts you start in a 5-gallon container the same way. They should have a good nipping frost before they are brought in. Their need for sun is much less than that of the tomatoes, and they can be grown in a place that is all but frigid. Three healthy plants will give the average family all the Brussels sprouts they want throughout the winter.

Ok, with little space, we make a little garden. But when space is your problem, where do you put your compost pile? So, make your worst problem and turn it into your chief asset. It seems that garbage accumulates quickly So I bought a large wooden box, knocked out its bottom and made a close-fitting, easily removable top for it. I dug a large hole, and fitted my box over it. Then, I ordered a thousand earth-worms as my disposal unit.

They fell on all that garbage, literally and figuratively. I added a layer of soil from time to time, and a little sprinkling of water as I put in the food scrapes, and covered it all with the box top.

When my worm composting box was filled, I used an other bottomless box over another hole. By the time that was full, the first box was emptied, for earthworms work with speed and enthusiasm. Even in winter, business went on as usual in these mini-compost factories. This compost is a rich plant food that will gradually rebuild your garden into a little paradise.

I found other sources of wealth. Pine needles are an ideal mulch for alkaline soil, at once holding in the scarce water, and, decaying, helping to bring down the high pH to an acceptable level. I hesitated to put raw sawdust on my s0il at first, fearing that when it started to decay it would use up the nitrogen there was in the soil. Then it occurred to me to mix it with my garbage-earthworm-compost, and nothing could have been more satisfactory in appearance as well as performance.

Once, right in the center of one of my little gardens I put a pool. I sunk an old wooden tub into the ground, and felt that I was being very extravagant with space, to bring a little patch of blue sky into the scene. However, I made that tub pay for itself in utility as well as beauty by growing a summer-long supply of watercress in it.

Did you know that it's a simple matter to root watercress from the bunch you buy at the market ? Clip off an. inch or two of each stem, and stick the branches into a bowl that has enough sand in the bottom to hold them upright. Fill the bowl with water and put it on your windowsill.

Mist the cress with clear water every day. Repeat this process in late fall, taking the cress from your pool, and you'll have a supply in the house after frost and ice have put an end to that outdoors.

Don't feel that you must deprive yourself of fruit trees, even in the little garden. Buy a self-pollinating tree so that you don't need two.

Dwarf trees take very little space and bear beautifully. Or you may want to investigate the possibility of espaliering a tree. Both espaliered and dwarf trees can be covered on frosty nights, as a full-sized tree cannot, and often a crop can be saved by protecting blooms or fruit from freezing.

Copyright o 1995/ Crow Miller, Syndication / The Garden/ On-Line