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Are You Ready for an Urban Garden?”

Creating Gardens in Urban Areas

By

Roof Hopping

Urban gardeners with no ground to garden don't let that stop them.

Photo: © Marie Iannotti

Creating a garden in urban areas is basically the same as starting a garden anywhere else. You still need to consider soil, climate, personal taste, time and budget. However there are some differences. Hopefully you won't have to contend with deer and groundhogs, but you will have traffic, nearby buildings, special permit requirements and other challenges to take into consideration when designing an urban garden space.

Gardening in small spaces, let alone urban areas, is generally overlooked in garden design manuals. Garden design is often presented as a list of principles or rules and illustrated on a grand scale. Most of us do not have acres of land on which to carefully calculate the width versus length of our perennial borders. Many of us don't have the time or the inclination to undertake the maintenance these acres of gardens would need.

Gardening in an urban area has its limits, but it need not be limiting. In a small garden, the gardener can pay attention to detail. You can keep on top of maintenance, while still having time to sit and enjoy your small garden. In fact, many small space gardens are designed around entertaining and sitting areas, rather then the need to nurture plants.

Urban gardens are generally small in size, but there is no reason they cannot be as grand or informal as you like. Virtually any plant or garden style can be worked into a small urban garden space. The principles of good garden design still apply, but you'll need to be aware of a few urban garden challenges.

Site Considerations for Urban Gardens

Urban living presents many challenges that are out of your control. When planning your urban garden, take a look around your site for possible problems and difficulties and plan for work arounds.
  • Permission: Check with your city hall, to see if there are any permits or regulations for putting in a garden. If you are renting, certainly check with your landlord, before you go through the effort of preparing and planting.

  • Access: can you easily get to your gardening site, with all the tools and supplies you'll need?

  • Water: Can you get a hose to your site. Watering cans are heavy, cumbersome and too small to water a whole garden all summer. Consider installing a rain barrel with a spigot. Even better than a hose is drip irrigation.

  • Privacy: ...or lack there of. Do you care if people can see into your garden. You may want to share the view, but not the vegetables. If your garden has easy access from the road, you may want to install some type of fencing.

  • Sun Exposure: are nearby buildings or structures blocking the sun from your garden? If so, focus on shade tolerant plants.

  • Ugly Utility Structures: is there a large air conditioning unit, a garbage dumpster or some other less than attractive feature within site of your garden. You usually can't garden around it, but you may be able to mask it with a large shrub, or a vine covered trellis.

  • Traffic: Nearby traffic can cause pollution and wind that can damage and possibly kill plants. Another problem of nearby roads is snow removal and road salt. You'll need to be very selective when choosing plants, focusing on hardy, drought tolerant plants.

  • Radiant Heat: All that concrete holds heat during the day and reflects it back on anything nearby, including plants. You'll need to provide some shade and irrigation for your plants.


Design Challenges for Urban Gardens

  1. Most urban gardens are small, which means the entire garden can be viewed as a whole. Some small garden spaces will be able to accommodate a hidden turn around a path or even be divided into garden rooms, but for the most part, small gardens can be taken in whole, in one look. This means that, more than ever, your garden will be viewed as a composition.

  2. Limited space means you are going to have to make choices. You won't be able to grow every plant you love. You will need to curb your inclination to buy a plant on impulse and assume you'll find a place for it.

  3. Color should also be limited, to give your small garden cohesion. Less is more. Cooler colors will make the garden appear larger. You can compensate for the limited color palette with a variety of textures. The textural contrast will help blend the plant material and allow the garden to flow.

  4. Every plant or feature will need to serve a purpose. There is no room for wasted space or underperforming plants. Plants should offer at least two seasons of interest.
An urban garden can be a wonderful oasis, a great place to relax and a source of bountiful homegrown produce. Have a peek at this urban garden photo gallery and see how varied urban gardens can be.

More tips for urban gardening.

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