Beginner's Guide to an Urban Garden


If you're anything like me, you're a city dweller who dreams of luscious garden greens, bright blossoms, and self-grown foods. A few years ago while living in New York City, my thumb decided it was time to turn green, and I was hit with the bug to build and cultivate my own garden. The trouble was, it was stuck smack dab in the middle of a large city. The only flowers nearby where ones arranged in fancy flower shops and the nearest community garden was too far away for a weekly commute.

What's a girl to do? Why, create her own personal urban garden, of course! Now, the sound of tending to your own personal garden in a smaller apartment space, or away from easily accessible garden grounds can seem a bit intimidating. In all actuality, however, getting plants and even foods to thrive in my apartment space was easier than I had anticipated. It was a year of trial and error. With several victories and some clear failures, I feel prepared to help others like myself to start their own urban garden. So, here's my beginner's guide to starting your own urban garden.


EVALUATE YOUR SPACE
I'm going to make the assumption that, because you're ready this, you've already gotten into the idea of gardening in your own home. Without getting too in-depth about supplies, soils, and watering (all of which depend on a multitude of factors), the first question you should be asking yourself is: what are you wanting to grow? Your answer is important, and your apartment, condo, or home will affect that answer. Before you start dreaming up the plants that'll thrive in your space, it's best to know:

  • Which directions are my window oriented?
  • How much natural light does my space get?
  • When direction does the sun enter my space?
  • At what time?
  • For how long?

You might be thinking, isn't that overkill? Well, no. Although it's not necessary to know all of this information right of the bat, knowing how and when sunlight enters your space will greatly affect how happy the plants are in your home. This can affect what you choose to plant, and where you decide to place it. It also helps when you're inspecting the plant instruction labels that come with most ready to pot plants and seed packets.

For example, if your space is shadier throughout the day, growing plants that need six or more hours of direct or indirect sunlight might not be your best bet without some major help from supplemental lighting.

Hint: If you're like me and out of your living space most of the day, set up a small camera, GoPro, laptop, or phone to record your living space for a full day. Go back and look at how the light hits your space. Do this as the seasons change to get a better idea of when to move plants around.


INDOOR OR OUTDOOR?
Ah, the biggest question. Should you create an indoor garden or find an outdoor space. For me, the answer is both. Although I don't get to my community garden often, I do find outdoor gardening a nice change of pace. In fact, there are many studies that show how mentally beneficial it can be to spend time outdoors and amongst nature. It's not only a chance to get out, meet likeminded individuals, and grow a garden in the open air, but it can help to soothe ailments like anxiety and ADHD. I'm all for it, and you should be too if there's a reasonable option.

If you can't find a community garden, I recommend talking to your city about starting one of your own. If that's not in the cards, there's always an opportunity to use your own (or a friend's) terrace, patio, window sill, or rooftop space.

Personally, I get most of my gardening done in my own dwelling. It's convenient for my schedule, and I get to come home to some lovely house plants. As for you, figure out what you want to grow and why. Your answer to the indoor or outdoor question lies somewhere in there.


USE CONTAINERS
Container planting is ridiculously simple, and I always recommend it for those just starting out. Whether your container planting in your home, on your rooftop, or on a patio, containers are easy to move, store, and grow from. For myself, container planting was an excellent way to experiment with growing various flowers (and some smaller fruit bushes) without having to invest in expensive pottery. I simply ran to a hardware store, grabbed a few half-gallon water buckets and:

  • Drilled simple drainage holes (sometimes using a stacking method with the containers, letting water drain from one right into the bottom of another container, like a functional water reserve).
  • Filled them with appropriate potting soil.
  • Planted the seeds or established plants.

It was so inexpensive that I was able to spend a bit more on higher-quality fertilizers for fruit bushes. I even used an extra container to start my own mini compost pile. Yes, a compost pile. It's not for everyone, but I make sure to properly keep my compost pile, so it doesn't attract unwanted attention or pests. My container plants love their well-balanced soils, and I've loved getting to better understand how to keep them happy!


IT'S OK TO FAIL
When I first began experimenting with caring for various plants, I thought everything would go swimmingly. With more than a few house plants down for the count and no fruit on one of my strawberry bushes, I thought maybe my green thumb was actually black. The most important thing is to not give up if gardening is a new hobby or passion. It takes time to become intuitive to a plant's needs. It's a game of trial and error when you're first planting inside your home. Keep at it, and soon you'll have your own little urban jungle or garden.