The Apartment-Balcony Box Bed

Here’s how to approach a small-scale garden with a modest amount of space.

Gardening - Garden Fever! (Allison Barr)

You might not have an outdoor space to plant anything, but that doesn’t mean you can’t garden. Whether it’s the balcony off your bedroom, the corner of the duplex porch, or your kitchen windowsill, there is a space to line with a few plants, even if it’s just a little basil to freshen your summer dishes. We’ve rounded up a few of our favorite spots to kick off your small-scale gardening adventure. We’re calling this the box bed, but depending on the size of this spot and the amount of time you’re sticking around your place, consider keeping everything in pots. (They’re easier to lift and move.) Also, hot tip: hop on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace to find old pots or beds people might be chucking. One gardener’s trash is another’s composted treasure. ROBIN BACIOR.

Garden Fever!

3433 NE 24th Ave., 503-287-3200, 9 am–5 pm daily.

Walk into Garden Fever! from the Fremont Street-facing parking-lot entrance and you’ll find a secret garden-esque patio erupting in bushy plants with no fewer than a hundred heirloom tomato starters, a powerful robust selection of peppers, squash, beans and herbs, and a prismatic labyrinth of outdoor perennials. Walk into the shop from the 24th Avenue entrance and be greeted by a contemporary gardening boutique featuring not only all manner of gardening tools but also a curated display of local objects d’arte both decorative and botanically functional.

For gardeners looking to fill their box beds with something kitchen-worthy (or table-scape-worthy if floral aesthetics are the gardening goal), this shop is suited to both novice gardeners and know-it-all green thumbs alike. “We have at least two or three people on the nursery floor to help at all times,” says Garden Fever! cashier Veronica Messinger, “so whether you’re putting together flower or vegetable beds, we can help you with your shopping list.” Indeed, strolling through the verdant nursery, I witnessed no fewer than four employees either assisting garden shoppers or simply making themselves available for Q&A. The location is nestled along a particularly residential stretch of Fremont, and the retail offering reflects that energy: in both the boutique and the nursery, the vibes are homey, unpretentious and thoroughly suited to the backyard gardener. Note: Raised beds are not available but potting options are abundant. BRIANNA WHEELER.


4933 NE 23rd Ave., 503-961-0562, 11 am–5 pm Thursday–Sunday, by appointment Monday–Wednesday.

Block out a good amount of time before stepping onto the gravel pathways at Thicket, a nursery tucked away on Northeast 23rd Avenue near Alberta Street. Even if your intention is to grab a couple of cacti from Thicket’s diverse array of succulents, the space is so inviting and peaceful that you may find yourself lingering awhile, either perusing its impressive stock of plants or getting drowsy as you sway on the swinging bench in the middle of the space.

While Thicket doesn’t have this particular focus, the nursery is actually perfect for folks who dwell in condos or apartment complexes (or have small businesses) and want to add some greenery to their lives. There’s the shed filled with the aforementioned cacti and, nearby, a greenhouse of nothing but houseplants of all sizes. “It’s good to know your environment, like how much sunlight you get and, if you’re in an apartment surrounded by other apartments, if you get a lot of heat,” says Chloe Merrifield, one of Thicket’s super-friendly employees. Her recommendations: hardy plants like echinacea, herbs or native flax to get your windowsill or balcony garden started. ROBERT HAM.

Cornell Farm

8212 SW Barnes Road, 503-292-9895, 9 am–6 pm daily.

Cornell Farm is a five-acre campus in the West Hills that grows 800 varieties of annuals and perennials on-site, but the nursery is probably best known as being “the one with the café.” That café is housed in the property’s original 1926 farmhouse, and people flock to its brunch (8 am3 pm daily).

It’s not the cheapest nursery in town, but Cornell Farm is well-stocked with healthy plants and a knowledgeable staff (plus workshops such as the “Plant and Sip” series and free quarterly houseplant swaps).

Newbies, take heart. “Our plant-geek staff loves to inspire beauty and conscientious gardening,” says farm president Deby Barnhart. Staff will happily lead customers through everything they might need for an apartment-balcony box bed: containers, plants or seeds, dirt and fertilizer.

The kitchen garden would satisfy any gourmand, with the enormous range of starts available—yes, lettuce and raspberries and parsley, but also horseradish, quince, pomegranate, kiwi and an impressive citrus tree section that includes varieties such as Persian and Australian limes and Genoa and Meyer lemons.

Kiddos getting restless while the parents browse? Distract them with a stop at the chicken coop where, last weekend, the flock enjoyed some fresh kale. RACHEL SASLOW.

See more of Willamette Week’s 2024 Garden Guide here!

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