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Five Best Container Gardening and Small Space Gardening Books

Updated on June 30, 2014
Container garden zucchini
Container garden zucchini | Source

Top 5 Container and Small Space Gardening Books

If you ask a kid today where food comes from, you're likely to hear the confident reply "The grocery store, of course!" Many people today are so out of touch with food production that they literally believe food originates from the supermarket. Ask them how it gets to the grocery store and you're likely to be met with blank stares. If you live in the city, you may feel like food really does come from the grocery store. After all, how can you, with a tiny yard or no yard at all, possibly grow your own produce?

It is surprisingly easy. If you have a plan and a rough idea of what you're doing, it is actually possible to grow your own food, even if you don't have a single patch of ground to call your own. All you need is a good guide on small space gardening, if you have a small yard, or container gardening, if you've no yard, at all. As a life-long gardener and frequent apartment resident/city-dweller, these are my top five container and small space gardening books. Each one has specific strengths, so make sure to choose your go-to gardening book with your particular needs in mind. These books are listed in no particular order - each one is fantastic and worth owning.


Grow Great Grub Pros and Cons

Fantastic photography
A general guide, not highly-specific about most areas
Good information about various types of plants
Irreverent tone may not sit will with everyone
WItty and 'hip'

Grow Great Grub by Gayla Trail

Grow Great Grub is a fantastic primer if you want to explore container gardening. In summary, Trail's book is filled with her own beautiful photography and is perfect for people with little to no yard space who demand beauty, not just functionality. Anyone can show you how to garden on your fire escape, but Trail can show you how to do it beautifully. Founder of the ground-breaking website for non-traditional gardeners You Grow Girl, Trail is clearly a gardening expert with plenty of good advice.

Her sophomore book, Grow Great Grub, is as personality-filled as her website and first book, also titled You Grow Girl. For many, this is one of their favorite parts of the book. Her sharp wit makes it both stand apart from most gardening texts and perfect for a younger audience. If you are a very serious person who wants a gardening book with textbook-like style, this is not the book for you. It is also not for you if you're looking for really deep information on a particular subject. It is a fantastic general-purpose guide, but it is an overview. It addresses small space vegetables, fruits, and herbs, as well as ways to cook and preserve your produce, but if you are looking for highly-detailed information about any of these categories, you should purchase a specialty book. Think of Grow Great Grub as a Western Civilization textbook. It has information about the history of the western world - if you want in-depth coverage of the American Civil War, you should look in a book specifically about the ACW.


Bountiful Container Pros and Cons

Information about places you'd have never even though to grow food (houseboat roof, anyone?)
Traditional approach to gardening - may not engage a younger audience
Traditional gardening book - written by proven experts, illustrated with detailed drawings

McGee & Stuckey's Bountiful Container

This book is a fantastic resource for truly-unconventional container gardeners. McGee and Stuckey show you how to grow food on places you've probably never even imagined planting anything. The book also details how to grow plants you'd never guess could be grown in containers, as well as plants you might not even realize are edible. Even Bountiful Container can't show you how to grow corn or pumpkins in a container, but it does explain how to grow tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, beans, peas, herbs, edible flowers, and even a variety of fruits, including apples, peaches, and Meyer lemons.

Like most gardening books, Bountiful Container comes complete with tasty recipes. It also has ideas for using the same containers to grow different crops in the spring, summer, and fall for maximum harvests with minimum space. With a 2002 publication date, the book is comparatively new, but it has traditional drawn plant diagrams, not photographs. The tone and style of this book make it more suitable for an older audience that might not be amused by Trail's humor in Grow Great Grub.


Vertical Gardening Pros and Cons

Color photos
You either need the time and skills to build vertical equipment or the budget to buy it
Instructions for edible and decorative plants
Does not focus just on edible plants
Instructions for homemade and commercial vertical growing options

Vertical Gardening: Grow Up, Not Out by Derek Fell

Derek Fell's Vertical Gardening is perfect for you if you have some yard space and want to minimize your weeding while maximizing your yields. If you've ever started a traditional, row-style garden, you've probably grown grown tired of weeding it. Most people plant gardens that are too big, and then abandon large portions of their crops. By using vertical trellising, Vertical Gardening shows you how to grow vertical crops up, which minimizes the ground area you need to tend, and how to plant low-lying crops beneath these raised structures.

Fell's book is illustrated with 100 color photographs to help you clearly see how to plant, set up, and grow your garden. It also addresses a variety of commercially-available, as well as homemade, methods of growing vertical plants, including trellises, pergolas, and the popular topsy-turvy-style planters. I do mean plants - not just vegetables. Vertical Gardening shows you how to plant food crops, annuals, perennials, and shrubs.

Because growing up, and also down, takes extra infrastructure, this might not be the right choice for you if you have a very limited budget, time, or building experience. Also, because it deals with planting both food and decorative items, other books might be more appropriate if you only want to grow edibles.


Square Foot Gardening Pros and Cons

Shows you how to reduce your workload and improve your yields with 4'x4' beds
The square foot method won't work without adequate space
Includes suggestions for handicapped-accessible gardens
Has suggested garden layouts for 2 or 4 people

Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew

Square Foot Gardening is my first small-space gardening love, but it is best if you have a yard. The methods show you how to create one or two beds for rooftop or patio use, but this method is best for producing a lot of food in a small, easy to maintain, space.

Bartholomew utterly banishes the idea of planting in rows, over-planting seeds, and then thinning out seedlings. Instead, he instructs you to carefully plan your garden in 4'x4' plots. Each plot has 16 square feet, and each square foot is carefully planned according to the vegetable you intend to plant. For example, you might plant 16 carrots in one square block, but 4 Swiss chard in another because chard needs more space to grow. Square Foot Gardening comes with some suggested garden layouts to feed two or four people, as well as ideas on how to modify beds to be more accessible for elderly and handicapped gardeners.

If you have 16 square feet of space to spare for even one bed, I recommend Square Foot Gardening. I have loved this book for over a decade, and I don't intend to change my mind anytime soon! However, if you don't have a yard, or at least an accessible rooftop, this book will not help you.


Fresh Food From Small Spaces Pros and Cons

Shows you how to grow food anywhere
You might not like the food you can grow in a closet
Does not rely on artificial lighting or hydroponics
Some exotic plant varieties may be more difficult to find

Fresh Food from Small Spaces: The Square-Inch Gardener's Guide to Year-Round Growing, Fermenting, and Sprouting by R.J. Ruppenthal

Fresh Food from Small Spaces teaches you about a lot more than 'traditional' small space gardening. It is a guide to urban and suburban homesteading. R.J. Ruppenthal shows you how to grow vegetables, mushrooms, and sprouts, but branches out into producing fermented foods, keeping bees, and raising chickens. Yes, you can raise chickens in the city! I lived in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, next to a neighbor who owned chickens, so I know it can be done.

Ruppenthal's approach is ground-breaking because it doesn't rely on using lights or hydroponics to grow food indoors in the city. Instead, he shows you how to transform any space into your own private farm. You may not be able to grow tomatoes in an unused closet, but Ruppenthal demonstrates how to grow high-quality, edible mushrooms, instead. He also introduces you to more exotic varieties of edible plants that are better suited to indoor and container gardening.

If you are dedicated to growing food anywhere at all and are willing to try new varieties, this is the book for you. If you are looking for seeds you know are available at the local hardware store, you might want to try Grow Great Grub, instead.


What do you prefer to grow?

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Whether you have a small yard, a patio, balcony, a windowsill, or only a spare cabinet, you can grow your own food - you just have to pick the correct book for your situation.

As a recap, if you're young, or young at heart, and have a small to nonexistent yard, consider Grow Great Grub. If you don't have a yard, but want something more traditional, choose Bountiful Container. If you've no yard and a sense of adventure, Fresh Food from Small Spaces is the book for you.

If you're lucking enough to have a yard, even if it's small, you have to choose between Vertical Gardening and Square Foot Gardening. Both show you how to maximize your yields and minimize the amount of time you spend weeding. Because of its emphasis on taking advantage of vertical space, I think Vertical Gardening is slightly better if you have a yard, but are really cramped for space. If you have a little bit more room, I highly recommend Square Foot Gardening.

I wish you best of luck, no matter which book you choose! Each of books highlighted above is well-written and can guide you to delicious harvest of fresh fruits, vegetables, and more. In an era of rising fuel and food costs, heightened awareness about pesticides, and a focus on local-first initiatives, small space gardening is likely to continue gaining popularity. Take care of yourself, your wallet, and the planet by discover why its such a popular trend.


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    • Natashalh profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Hawaii

      You can actually (attempt to) grow many different plants in those containers, but they do tend to dehydrate quickly and yields will be reduced. I've never been very successful with them, either.

      Thanks for voting and I'm glad you found this hub useful =)

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 

      7 years ago from Florida

      You have some great ideas here on growing plants in small spaces. I try to do that as much as possible. Last year, I got one of those "topsy turvy" tomato growers, but mine didn't do well. Those things sold like hot cakes around here.

      I'm bookmarking this Hub to go back and reread.

      I voted this UP, etc.

    • Natashalh profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Hawaii

      Thanks for stopping by Judi Bee and denisemai! Keeping pets out of plants is difficult. My girl dog loves eating squash and mint, and my boy digs potatoes! I find I either have to put fencing/cages around plants or elevate them. I put a wire shelf outside and some short stools to keep the containers above dog pee and munching height. It works well!

    • denisemai profile image

      Denise Mai 

      7 years ago from Idaho

      I have a pretty big yard but I have pets and don't want to eat things they potty on. Container gardening sounds like a really great solution and McGee and Stucky book might be a good resource. Good info!

    • Judi Bee profile image

      Judi Brown 

      7 years ago from UK

      We have a paved back yard and in the past I've grown all sorts of veg and some fruit in containers: blueberries, carrots, potatoes, courgettes, salads and tomatoes, to name a few. Since we got a dog, I don't grow anything - she thinks I plant it for her to dig up. Good list of books - I've got a few books, including one on your list - the square foot gardening book.

    • Natashalh profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Hawaii

      It's so easy to get too ambitious and then grow a lot of nothing. Best of luck with next year's garden!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      My garden this past summer was a complete fail. (I literally yielded a half dozen green beans - and nothing else). Planning to go the container garden route next year, so I'll definitely have to take a look at these books.

    • Natashalh profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Hawaii

      Thanks so much!

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 

      7 years ago from Arizona

      Awesome suggestions. And the results are lovely. Voted UP.

    • Natashalh profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Hawaii

      Thanks do much for voting! I think any of these books would be a great choice.

    • Mama Kim 8 profile image

      Sasha Kim 

      7 years ago

      Thank you for the wonderful book suggestions! I'm going to have to pick a couple of these up ^_^ very useful, voted as such and up!

    • Natashalh profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Hawaii

      I hope it encourages some new people to start gardening! Gardening has such a reputation for being difficult and time consuming, but it really doesn't have to be.

      Thanks for stopping by!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      These books are great choices to highlight! Gardeners will find them useful, and they will encouraged would-be gardeners to begin.

    • Natashalh profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Hawaii

      It's not seeing the chickens you have to worry about - it's hearing them! And keeping them in their pens where they belong. My old neighbor's chickens escaped constantly.

      Thanks for stopping by and voting!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      7 years ago

      I think my husband is doing this. He has plants and veggies growing on our back patio. I am going to stop him if I see chickens. Enjoyed this very much and I know this will be so useful to those who want to start a container garden. Voted up.

    • Natashalh profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Hawaii

      That would be awesome! I'll look for your hub and try to work its link in, too. I've loved gardening since I planted my first tomatoes in a container in preschool, and I own a confusing amount of gardening books for someone who doesn't even have a yard right now!

    • bac2basics profile image


      7 years ago from Spain

      Hi Natashalh. What a great hub. I love the way you have read and commented on all these books. I like the sound of the first one very kind of style. Have voted you up etc, and if it´s OK will link this to one of my hubs on gardening in a small space.

    • Natashalh profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Hawaii

      Thank you, Mhatter99, jellygator, and CyberShelly for stopping by! I hope at least one of you gets the chance to grow some tasty, fresh food! Even if you have lots of space, jellygator, following the square foot method can give you such a beautiful, orderly garden and really cut down on the amount of time you spend weeding. Because nobody like weeding!

    • CyberShelley profile image

      Shelley Watson 

      7 years ago

      Great hub, with some very useful advice for me. Thank you for the book ideas, fresh new inspiration is what I need! Up, useful and interesting.

    • jellygator profile image


      7 years ago from USA

      We have plenty of room to garden on, but boy I've been making some mistakes!

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you for sharing your recommendations.

    • Natashalh profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Hawaii

      What little yard space I've had in recent years has mostly been too shady, but patios are a great place to plant a handy herb garden! I totally agree with you. I love gardening. The 'divider' on this page is part of a picture of my current basil plant. I love having fresh herbs close by.

      Thanks for stopping in, bridalletter!

    • bridalletter profile image

      Brenda Kyle 

      7 years ago from Blue Springs, Missouri, USA

      One can get a patio garden going with these books. That is where my tomatoes have to grow, the garden is too shaded. This is a nice way to plan an herb garden close to your kitchen.


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