I’ve been cultivating a love for gardening in unexpected places, from urban gardening feats in my own city, like the Rooftop Farms, to revitalizing and small-scale farming efforts all over the world. When I moved into a tiny studio apartment (a.k.a. Tiny Palace) a few months ago, I fortuitously came upon the book, A Little Piece of Earth: How To Grow Your Own Food in Small Spaces by Maria Finn, which has helped me get my hands dirty and get some herbs growing in my windowsill.
Author Maria Finn also has a blog and weekly newsletter called City Dirt. She lives on a floating houseboat in Sausalito, CA that has a huge rooftop garden with lots of edible plants grown amidst the challenges of heavy winds and saltwater spray.
A woman in my dance class asked me for tips about her small terrace — she wanted a space to relax and to do yoga. That’s when the idea of a small spa terrace occurred to me. She could have chaise lounges in the center that could be folded and moved so that she could unfurl her yoga mat. Surrounding these, i suggested that she plant the flowers, fruits, and vegetables that spas traditionally use in treatments.
Herbs have long been cultivated for their culinary and medicinal uses, while their scents are prizes in and of themselves as therapeutic. They have the power to transport, relax, or revitalize you. Many soaps, shampoos, candles, and body lotions are scented with them, so there is no reason why you can’t grow and then create your own treatments. I’m picturing this terrace with modern, simple containers that are beige and white.
Photo of Maria Finn by Hilary Duffy
Lemon verbena is really easy to grow. It likes sun and for its soil to be on the dry side. This plant should come indoors for the winter (it will lose its leaves and then regenerate them the following summer). The leaves smell wonderful and retain their scent for quite some time when dried, so they are a good bet for making bath salts.
Apricot trees are great to have for ornamental purposes, as they have lovely pink and white flowers in the springtime and then are laden with fruit in mid- to late summer. After this their leaves turn yellow and russet-red before the tree goes dormant for the winter. They are also very versatile, as they handle temperatures from minus 30 to 100 degrees F. If you live somewhere that has long stretches of extreme heat or extreme cold, wheel them indoors during the hot or cold blasts. They are self-pollinating, so you only need one tree, which is practical on a small terrace. Remember to keep your apricot tree watered and to add organic fertilizer or fruit tree food at least once a month. When the tree is dormant, prune it by removing any unhealthy branches or limbs that are intersecting or hampering others. Apricots are rich in vitamin A, and so are often used topically for skin care. As well, they have vitamin C, and lots of amino acids and enzymes. Apricots make your hair stronger, more pliant, and shinier. But the best way to benefit from all the health benefits of apricots is to eat them.
Plant patches of violets under a tree or shrub on your terrace. Harvest and dry both the leaves and flowers and steep them in tea. The fragrance is wonderful, and the tea is a good source of vitamins A and C.
Also known as monarda or bee balm, this is an excellent plant to have in your terrace garden. Plant it in full sun and keep it watered. You want to harvest the leaves for tea before the flowers bloom. Bee balm tea helps relieve symptoms of colds, flu, and nausea. By mid- to late summer, the plant has big, bright bushy flowers that butterflies and hummingbirds love.
Chamomile can be used to fill in areas where you need a pretty little plant that is low growing and it makes for a nice ground cover. For tea, harvest the flowers when they are bright yellow. Once they turn dull, they are too old and have gone to seed. You can dry the seeds and plant them the following year.
There are many different species of hibiscus flowers, but the one most commonly made into tea is the hibiscus sabdariffa. These are for warmer climates, and don’t like freezes. They bloom best when the temperature is between 60 and 90 degrees F. To harvest them, wait until the flower has bloomed and has fallen off; it’s the calyx or outer bunch of leaves that you want. Wash them well and either dry them in the stove or out in the sun. Rich in vitamin C, hibiscus tea is also believed to aid in weight loss if a cup is consumed after meals as it helps reduce the absorption of carbohydrates.
Thank you to Maria Finn and the good folks at Universe Publishing for sharing this project with us. For more tips on gardening in small spaces, check out A Little Piece of Earth and Maria’s website, City Dirt.