Gardening books will tell you all sorts of things, that actually, you can ignore, or work around with a bit of cunning. For a start, they will tell you not to plant under trees. Well, that makes sense because the tree roots will rob plants of moisture and nutrients. I plant out in pots under the trees so that no precious garden bed space is wasted. Yesterday I topped up these pots with new compost and yummy plant food (that is my positive spin for the children, so that when they smell the unmistakable aroma of chicken poop and blood and bone in the garden, they won't complain, they will say, 'Mmm, plant food...' That is my plan, anyway), and soon I will plant them out with spinach and garlic and lettuce.
However, if you look closely, you will see that there are still plants growing under the apricot tree - parsley, which admittedly isn't thriving as much as other parsley in the garden, but is still growing, and still useful, and wild rocket and calendula, which are so tough they will grow up between paving stones, so shouldn't find competition with a tree root very hard going. Bear in mind though, that this tree is growing in what is essentially a garden bed, which I cover with compost and manure and pea straw every year, and water regularly. I wouldn't rush out and plant under a fifty year old pine tree in the backyard. That really would be pushing gardening boundaries. I also wouldn't plant under a citrus tree, because they have really shallow roots that don't like to be disturbed. There should be nothing growing under a citrus tree, not even grass, and it should be mulched and fed well, because it is needy. If you want lemons you must treat the tree like a botanical princess..
Just up from the pots under the apricot tree is another gardening no-no. Tomatoes growing in near full shade.
Again, the books will tell you that you need six to eight hours of full sun to grow vegetables. Well, commercial growers do, because they need maximum yields from their crops. But if you are a backyard gardener you will inevitably be struggling with the space factor, and sometimes the only space available is in the shade. These tomatoes get two hours' sun at the most per day. They aren't the biggest or most prolific tomato plants I have ever grown, but they have been steadily producing tomatoes since early February (I took this photo after I'd picked the day's tomatoes, of course!). And I have a lot more tomatoes than if I had not planted them at all, due to not having perfect conditions for them.
Here are some more vegies growing in the shade. I call this The Mini-Farm. Five pots outside the shed. Last winter they grew red chard, lettuce and snowpeas. This summer, beans on (wonky) bamboo tripods, and tomatoes.
These guys only get afternoon sun, maybe three or four hours. The tomatoes have ripened much later than the ones in the front yard in full sun, but again, staggered harvests are quite useful for the home gardener. The beans have been bearing prolifically for two months now. This one on the end is trying to move in with the neighbours.
Plants in pots are so wonderfully generous. Give them a square foot of soil, and some water, and a little sunshine, and they will just keep on giving until their roots have taken up every inch of pot, then they'll give some more.
Mind you, I try to be very kind to them. I have found that a mixture of potting mix, compost, some water retentive product like coir, dynamic lifter (chicken poop), blood and bone, and dolomite lime is a good growing medium. I also add at least ten percent garden soil to the mix, because it just feels right to be adding whatever it is from the soil that makes it alive and kicking, and so full of microbes and other good things. I water every day, and try to remember to water with a seaweed solution and fish emulsion every fortnight.
So even if you can't provide any space other than in the shade, under a tree, you can still grow vegetables, and here is a marvellous thing, if you garden in pots in the courtyard on the paving, you can do the gardening in your slippers.