City gardens can be challenging: they are generally small, often on public display, with less than ideal soil and difficult watering. But as anyone who has toured some of the wonderful urban gardens in Minneapolis or St. Paul knows, these gardens can be tiny jewels. In The Urban Garden: 101 Ways to Grow Food and Beauty in the City, veteran city gardeners Kathy Jentz and Teresa Speight offer creative ideas and practical advice for gardening in small spaces.
The authors both live in the Washington, D.C., area, which is much warmer than Minnesota, but this book is about ideas and approaches rather than zone-specific plants. And, it is packed with ideas. The authors cover a variety of gardening styles and techniques, from using containers to recycling and repurposing materials to growing vertically for food and privacy.
Here are just three of my favorite suggestions from the book:
Build deep window boxes. I love the look of a window box, but most of them are small, which means constant watering and fertilizing. Building a box that is a minimum of 8 inches deep will give plant roots more room to thrive. Of course, to do that you need a sturdy support (brackets should go past the edge of the box) and lightweight material. Jentz and Speight recommend composites rather than wood, which can get very heavy when wet.
Add mirrors to make spaces feel bigger. People do this indoors, so why not try it on your patio! Adding a mirror to a wall or fence enhances the sense of space in an area and reflects light. It also gives you a chance to add a great piece of art (the mirror) to your garden.
Using water features to disguise sound. If you live near a busy road (I do!), you get used to the noise, but it’s not something you enjoy. A water feature that makes a gentle sound can distract from the hum of traffic and add a peaceful note to your garden.
Those are just three of the 101 tips, and many of the others cover practical considerations, such as where to store tools, how to disguise compost bins, trash cans and other necessities, adding lighting and choosing colors in small spaces. The Urban Garden would be a great choice for a gardener who loves a project. None of the ideas are extremely difficult, so beginners would find this book useful and encouraging, too.
For more on The Urban Garden, you can listen to my interview with author Teresa Speight from earlier this year.
—Mary Lahr Schier
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