Stepping Outside The Box: Unusual Garden Ideas To Try

By Nikki Tilley | April 15, 2020
Image by Liz Baessler
by Nikki Tilley
April 15, 2020

One of the great things about gardening is having the opportunity to help others interested in doing the same. We always have tips to share on how to grow plants in the garden. But what about gardening outside the norm? Is it okay to try something new, like coloring outside the lines a bit or breaking traditional gardening rules? Absolutely! And here are some unusual garden ideas we’ve tried.

Non-Traditional Methods of Gardening

Perhaps, I’m not the best person to ask since I’ve never been one to follow the rules, at least not when it comes to the garden. I like to try different things and learn for myself what works and what doesn’t. That’s likely why I have far too many plants. I will grow them just about anywhere and in anything – old pocketbooks, shoes, computers, pots, etc. You name it and I’ve likely tried it! I call it creative upcycling.

There’s never a one size fits all with gardening. There are simply too many variables – different zones, different tastes, different methods, different plants, different gardeners, so on and so forth. That’s why I hate telling people to do this or do that. Instead, do what you feel and find what works for you! Here are some things my GKH team members have tried, some have worked well and others not so much, but it’s all about experimentation:

Espalier gardening

Heather Rhoades decided to grow fruit trees in her garden but wanted to try something different. So rather than sticking to the norm, she added some espalier fruit trees. It may not be for everyone, but it’s an interesting concept to think about, especially if you’re lacking in space.

“I am in year three,” she says, “and I can finally see how the end result will turn out and even have gotten some fruit from the trees. It is odd in this area to see trees trained to a wall, so it gets many odd looks from people.”

Building berms lasagna style

“I don’t know if it is breaking rules,” says GKH writer Bonnie Grant, “but my neighbors thought I was weird. I used the lasagna garden technique to build berms. Usually, it is just for beds, but I was removing a lot of sod in an area and had nowhere to put it, so I made a few “grassy knolls” in the yard. It was an interesting dimension but kind of a pain to keep mowed.”

Trees in containers – like nuts

Maybe not so odd today, but a millennium ago, or so it seems, fellow writer Amy was straight out of college and tried her hand at container growing trees on her tiny outdoor lanai.

“I wanted a tree. I started with a maple seedling from my mother’s yard and potted it. Fast forward 30 years or so and I still have that maple in a large container, along with two other trees all around 6 feet tall. I never thought it would work, but here we are. I’m just now starting a volunteer walnut tree in a container. The whole idea is to have trees without letting them get too tall.”

Vertical melon growing

Becca not only writes for us but she enjoys trying new things in the garden. One of her latest experiments is growing melons as a hanging crop.

“I remembered hearing in class that any crop that sprawls can be trained upward,” she said, “so I trained several vines. One got out of hand and I had melons hanging from a tree. Made little hammocks to support the fruits and had a substantial harvest. I pinched some blooms so there were not so many. It was fun and got a lot of attention from neighbors. People couldn’t believe it.”

Fence panels for tomato plants

Like other vining plants, tomatoes often require some type of support and one of our other writers uses a unique approach for this. In lieu of traditional tomato stakes, Laura uses stiff wire fence panels.

“I can support a twelve-foot panel with three stakes and can plant six tomatoes on each side of the fence. As the tomatoes grow, I weave the tender stems in and out of the openings. It’s a real time saver.”

Cucumber wine anyone?

Of course, in addition to interesting methods of gardening, there are unusual things you can try with your harvest too. One year our junior editor was overrun with cucumbers, and really into winemaking, so she decided to try her hand at making cucumber wine. Now that’s certainly something different and she took stepping outside the box to a whole new level!

How did it go? Liz laughed and said, “It was terrible. So astringent. There’s a reason you don’t see it in many stores.” She still has some – now it’s aged cucumber wine. Perhaps, it might be better. LOL

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