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The foolproof guide to gardening

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By Shelley Levitt

You don't need a green thumb -- or even a patch of earth -- to enjoy a vibrant home garden. Today, you can grow flowers, herbs, fruits and vegetables in the smallest spaces, from patios and rooftops to windowsills, even on a wall. "There are products on the market now that allow the most space-challenged apartment dweller to enjoy their own garden," says Shirley Bovshow, host of the online gardening show Garden World Report

Here's how to make your garden grow with the least amount of effort.

1. Swap manicured lawns for self-maintaining greenery. "High maintenance-gardens that require a lot of intervention are out," says Gerri Miller, founder of Home Grown Edible Landscapes, based in Manhattan Beach, Calif. Instead of raised vegetable beds, the modern garden mixes the ornamental with the edible, growing berries up a trellis alongside climbing roses, or tucking tomato plants around zinnias and sunflowers.

2. Outsmart a black thumb with self-watering pots and planters. If you've come home to a few too many drooping or wilted plants because you forgot to water them, consider self-watering containers. These have water reservoirs that keep soil perfectly moist for months at a time, and indicators that let you know when it's time for a refill. You can find self-watering pots for both indoor and outdoor planters in all sizes at gardening centers, online or big-box retail stores.

3. Harvest a fruit garden from a single tree. You can grow an orchard's worth of variety by planting a single fruit salad or fruit cocktail tree either in a pot or directly in the ground. These genetic wonders come in several varieties, including a stone fruit salad tree that grows peaches, plums, nectarines, apricots and peachcots, and a citrus tree that yields oranges, mandarins, lemons, limes, grapefruits and tangelos.

4. Make cramped spaces bloom. With ingenious new products, you can cultivate plants on a banister or even on your apartment wall. Woolly Pockets are felted planters made from recycled bottles; you hang the Wally version just like you would a painting, fill with soil, seeds or plants and watch your vertical garden grow. Other models work on floors or tabletops. The Greenbro Railing Planter snaps onto any railing -- round, square, straight, curved, inside or outdoors, and each planter is divided into two separate chambers so you can grow plants that have different water requirements. (Find it at GreenDzigns)

5. Plant a pre-seeded garden mat. As foolproof as gardening gets, these biodegradable mats come with seeds already spaced and covered with a weed barrier that protects the seeds and keeps them from being washed away or eaten by birds before they can start sprouting.  Just cover with topsoil and water. You can find mats pre-seeded with an herb garden; all the ingredients for salsa (including tomatoes, green onion, chili peppers and cilantro); a summer crop of corn, green beans, carrots, radishes; a variety of wildflowers or a mix of flowers that will attract butterflies. Visit the websites for An Easy Garden and Amber's Garden Mats.

6. Create a hanging spa garden. Cultivate herbs and plants that are traditionally used in beauty treatments and you'll be able to pluck yourself a spa experience. Maria Finn, author of A Little Piece of Earth, suggests growing lemon verbena. Pick two sprigs, chop, mix with a cup of sea salt, let sit for two weeks or more, and you have fragrant bath salts. For more instant gratification, plant an herbal tea garden of chamomile, bergamot and lavender. Pick a few flowers and leaves, rub to release essential oils and steep in boiling water for two to five minutes. 

Shelley Levitt, managing editor of The Style Glossy, is a former West Coast editor of Self magazine and senior writer at People.

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