The neighbor’s small backyard at first glance appeared to be an impressive example of elaborate landscaping with flagstone and gravel paths winding through raised beds of lush greenery.

A closer inspection, however, revealed the beds of various shapes and sizes to be growing food-producing plants of different types.

One attention grabber was a small tree growing against a brick wall with its primary limbs flush to the wall and pruned in the shape of candelabra. Amazingly, pears of some kind were hanging from the long, skinny limbs.

In a bed no more than six-foot square were melons of a kind normally associated with much larger garden spots. There weren’t many, but they were beauties.

“I’ve gotten into Japanese gardening,” the neighbor stated proudly in reference of a style of gardening developed in a crowded country where people are accustomed to dealing with spaces.

“It’s all organically grown, too,” the neighbor added, showing off a compost bin created with the grass clippings and leaves, kitchen leftovers and prunings from plants mixed in with pulverized cow chips obtained from the local garden store.

As a prime example of his earth-friendly food production, he pointed out a small circular bed where several loaded tomato plants surrounded a wire-mesh container filled with compost.

“All I do is water the compost and the nutrients drain right down to my tomato plants,” he explained. Clearly, the gent was way ahead of the current trend of small, home-grown gardens, which are popping up everywhere from the White House lawn to big-city patios.

An offshoot of the trend is so-called “square-foot gardening” where a surprising amount of produce can be grown in any small space receiving a few hours of sunlight each day.

The ideal situation is an enclosed section of yard containing raised bed of several squares filled with organic soil atop a cloth barrier to keep weeds and grass from growing through. However, a large flower pot or planter will do if only a porch or patio is available.

In conjunction with the trend , horticulturists have responded by developing and supplying nurseries with strains of vegetable plants especially suited for small spaces, such as “patio tomatoes” designed to be grown in flower pots.

Some nurseries are now offering complete “herb gardens” that can be grown in a space no larger than a window box.

To learn more about The Nature Conservancy’s work in Texas or to read other gardening tips, visit