5 Steps To Create Your Own Urban Garden

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By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi

There’s so little green in cities these days. The urban garden is becoming rarer and rarer. Consequently, finally, citizens are taking matters into their own hands. Guerilla Gardening is now a growing a thing – figuratively and literally. In case you’re not familiar, that’s when people just sneak out in the middle of the night and plant beautiful greenery all around the city. Why in the middle of the night, you may ask? Well, because doing so is actually considered vandalism – yes, seriously – of public property!

But for the more timid of us who want to be surrounded by greenery but don’t have a garden or any ideas for a small garden design beyond the odd window box here and there, there are other solutions. Sure, window boxes are a great way to get started – but you can also grow your ‘garden’ indoors, too (like these). It’s actually way easier than you think, and there are loads of reasons to create your own urban garden! For example:

*You’ll get a great sense of achievement watching your plant babies grow.

*It’s a better way to use of your free time than, say, being stuck in front of a laptop or smartphone all day.

*Depending on what you plant, you’ll reap the rewards in the form of fresher air around your home, beautiful flowers to display or maybe even some organic veggies for dinner!

1. Get The Stuff You’ll Need

You really don’t need all that much. Basically, a planter of some kind – be it a pottery or wood container – some soil, and depending on what you want to plant, some seedlings, plants or seeds and possibly some fertiliser. Talk to your local plant nursery specialist and tell them your goals – they’ll help you select what you need – or check useful sites like this for extra tips.

Create Your Own Urban Garden

2. Learn Basic Gardening Terms

First, you need to know a wee bit about different kinds of plants to buy. These terms are the most basic ones to familiarise yourself with:

These plants complete their lifespan in a single season, then may need to be replanted. A “Hardy Annual” is set outdoors in spring, for example, and may lie dormant during winter, then revive in the springtime.

These plants thrive over two seasons. If outside, they’re planted in summer and will produce stems and leaves in season one before flowering the following season.

These are plants like ivy or roses that can attach to an upright structure, such as a trellis, wall, or fence. These are great for balconies.

A hardy plant is one which is not affected by frosts or cold weather.

A perennial is a non-wood plant  that flowers every year, retreating over winter and re-growing the following spring. Geraniums are a good example. These will live for years in a garden or window box.

3. Select What To Plant

Where you’re planting will determine what you can plant.

For example, these plants can grow with little light, in cool areas:

snapdragons * daisies * parsley * lemon balm * hosta * impatiens * wax begonia

Whereas these plants do well in warm, sunny areas:

marigolds * lavender * peppers * rosemary * thyme * jasmine * honeysuckle * tomatoes

Not all plants are the same size, so they won’t all be planted at the same depth. General rule? Plant a bulb or seedling three times as deep as its height – but note that this guideline will vary depending on your soil type and the plant in question. It’s always a good idea to check the guidelines on the plant packaging (if there is any).

4. Make The Window Box of Your Dreams

You can follow these tips for an outdoor garden of any kind – even the teeniest ‘garden’, the window box! To make a gorgeous box, first ensure it’s safely fastened to something, or is on a ledge that it definitely won’t fall off – it could literally kill someone below it! Also be sure to buy a window box with holes drilled at the bottom for drainage. Determine whether your window is shady or sunny, then:

  • Add enough compost and good potting soil around the plants so they sit  firmly.
  • Pack in the plant seedlings that are appropriate for the light you have – don’t be afraid to pack them in! More plants look lusher and prettier than a bunch of stragglers, and you can always pull a few out if they get too crowded and replant them elsewhere.
  • Some great choices that can bloom for ages are geraniums, lavender, mini cedar trees and  ivy.
  • For herbs, try growing sage, chives, thyme, and mint – these are quite hardy. Cilantro, parsley and basil can be more delicate and prone to pests.
  • Make sure to water and fertilize  often – but never, ever overwater! Plants can be saved from under watering, but once they’re over watered, roots rot and the plant dies, even if there are drainage holes.
  • Just check the soil every other day or so – if you stick your finger in 1 knuckle and it’s dry, it’s time to add a bit of water.
  • Don’t be afraid to replace plants that have finished blooming with  others.
  • If you leave the box out in winter, fill it with evergreens, flowering cabbage, pansies or violas.

5. If You Love It, Expand It

If you live in an apartment or condo and just started cultivating plants in a window box or balcony garden, great! But if you really enjoyed it and have common gardens or roof space, why not check around with management and see if there’s any chance of getting a communal garden going?

It’s easier than you think – even residents of that most urban of territories, New York City, have been successful in  cultivating shared metropolitan gardens. These three examples are great inspiration to show you just what is possible!

550  Vanderbilt

This newly opened  luxury condominium designed by COOKFOX forms part of fourteen residential buildings which will comprise Brooklyn mega project Pacific Park, developed by Greenland Forest City Partners. One of the building’s most sensational amenities is its 3,500-square-foot landscaped roof deck, with six custom designed metal planters totaling 1,600-square-feet. These large planters are divided into  individual  garden  plots for residents to cultivate their own herbs, vegetables and fruits.

In addition to that, a new restaurant called Olmsted will be cultivating a second  garden  for the building’s restaurant on the 8th floor terrace, allowing residents to be tutored with private gardening sessions on how to grow the perfect greens, including a special type of hot pepper used to make Olmsted’s popular aji dulce sauce  which is served with oysters.

Rendering Credit (terrace images): VUW Studio  Photo Credit (building exteriors): Max Twohey

Staten Island Urby  

Located on the North Shore waterfront, this dwelling encourages neighbours to collaborate in a city farm, under the supervision of farmer-in-residence Zaro Bates and her business partner Asher Landes, who also oversees the apiary. This 5,000-square-foot area of green is the first commercial farm to be incorporated into an urban residential development and grows over 50 varieties of greens, vegetables, flowers, herbs, roots as well as encompassing 20 beehives  that produce honey.

Staten Island  Urby epitomises an innovative business model evoking the subsistence economy: Zaro and Asher then sell produce from the farm and apiary at a weekly farmer’s market to residents at Urby.

Photo Credit: Ewout Huibers

Waterline  Square

Designed by Rafael Viñoly Architects, Richard Meier & Partners Architects, and Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, these luxurious residential buildings on one of the last remaining waterfront development sites on the Upper West Side of Manhattan encompasses nearly five acres and boasts a park designed by Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects at the heart of the development. There’s also more than 100,000 square feet of lifestyle amenities including an indoor gardening studio with individual tower gardens for residents to cultivate. This will allow people living in the building to seriously get in touch with the natural world by cultivating flowers and seasonal vegetables all year round.

Photo Credit: Noe & Associates with The Boundary

Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi
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