With more and more people, and less space every day, it can be difficult to build a space to nurture your passion for urban gardening. However, if you are restricted in terms of space, there are a few ways to make the most of what you have!
Garden writer (and urban gardener) Alice Whitehead is based in the East Midlands and freelances in writing and editing. A self-confessed ‘eco-warrior in training’, Alice has developed her love of gardening through two urban allotment plots and an award-winning school garden club.
Here, Alice shares handy urban gardening tips on creating sustenance among the skyscrapers.
1. Grow vertical
Finding your inner-gardener in the inner city can be a challenge if all you have is a windowsill. But even walls, roofs, balcony railings and, yes, sills can offer horti opportunities.
Set a trellis against the railings, an outside wall, or even fixed as temporary shutters over the windows and grow climbing beans. A bright red curtain of ‘Scarlet Emperor’ or salmon pink ‘Celebration’ will be pretty as a picture, and create privacy. If shade is a problem, use mirrors to reflect the light.
Pallets make fabulous living walls if you staple-gun landscaping membrane to the back. Back-fill the gaps with potting compost. Great crops for vertical gardens are herbs, salads and wild strawberries such as ‘Baron von Solemacher’.
2. Grow up
Create growing space from thin air, using hanging baskets and high-rise containers such as half drainpipes. Or screw plant pockets to walls and fences.
Many vegetables will tolerate aerial life and the added benefit is they tend to be more difficult for slugs and snails to attack. Try tumbling cherry tomatoes such as ‘Cherry Cascade’, curly-leafed parsley, basil, chive, marigolds and strawberries. It’s even possible to grow dwarf French beans in large baskets.
Even a flat-roofed outbuilding can become high-flying horticultural haven. Use timber to create a raised bed, with membrane and pond liner at the base, and fill with a mix of soil and grit. Plant small herbs or even peppers and cherry tomatoes. City streets tend to be warmer, so you can experiment with more exotic crops. Just be careful how much weight you put on the structure, and consider how much wet soil might weigh, shoring it up from underneath if necessary.
3. Grow harder
When space is at a premium you want your urban veg garden to work harder for you, so go for plants that are pretty and practical.
Consider adding edible flowers to your containers such as violas, bellis daises, tagetes, roses, daylilies, borage and chrysanthemum. All have edible petals and some anti-inflammatory properties believed to help reduce the risk of certain cancers and heart disease. Sprinkle on to salads, stuff with soft cheese or fold into bread dough and cake mixtures.
4. Grow for flavour
Small spaces can pack as much of a punch in the flavour department as an allotment.
Sage, thyme and rosemary for example (excellent for soups and stocks) are happy in the well-drained soil of pots in full sun. Parsley, coriander and chives (great for salads and stir fries) will be happy on a north-facing sill.
Pungent basil, baby kale leaves and spicy rocket and nasturtium (which can be harvested for leaves, flowers and seed heads) can be blitzed for homegrown pesto. Use eight parts greenery, one-part nuts, two parts olive oil, two parts cheese and plenty of lemon, garlic and seasoning.
5. Grow outside the box
One of the good things about living in the urban environment is easy access to potential planting materials.
Anything and everything can be customised for grow your own purposes. Think welly boots, tin cans, old tyres, dustbins (punch holes in the side to make strawberry or tumbling tomato containers), sturdy shopping bags (great for potatoes) and all manner of food containers.
Go seek out your nearest skip!
6. Grow small
And if your outdoor space is no bigger than a postage stamp? There’s still hope! Grow a mini garden indoors on a bright windowsill using micro veg. This is young veg that’s harvested at baby leaf stage and can be grown in a container no bigger than a fruit punnet.
One of the easiest micro veg is peas (and, yes, they do taste just like peas). Grab a bag of dried marrowfat peas in the supermarket and scatter evenly over the surface of moist compost. Cover with a pea’s depth of compost and place in a bright spot on the windowsill. In two-to-three weeks they should be ready to eat. Snip off below the lowest leaves and you’ll get a second flush for your next meal.
Kale and broccoli can be grown as cut-and-come again salads. You won’t get the full flower head but the leaves and stems will be nutritious and tasty.
Fancy a bit of urban gardening? Follow these handy tips and you’ll be there in no time! Tag Mr Plant Geek and guest blogger Alice on social media and show us your progress with the hashtag #MyUrbanGarden. Find Alice on Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram @allotmentalice or visit her website at wonderlandfreelance.co.uk
All image courtesy of @allotmentalice