When you think of a city like London, Tokyo or New York, you probably think of glimmering skyscrapers and lots of concrete. But look closer and you’ll see that modern cities are actually teeming with greenery!
Let’s take New York as an example. What’s green about New York? On the surface, it might seem like Central Park is the only source of plant life in the city, but in fact it’s only 840 of the 29,000 acres under the jurisdiction of the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation – New York is actually one of the greenest cities in the world, over 57% green, in fact!
How? There are so many initiatives that have taken place over the last few decades, and are still taking place today, to make New York a greener city. 2007’s Million Trees Program saw the mass planting of street trees across the city, while abandoned industrial areas are being turned into urban green spaces, such as the 2,200 acre former landfill on Staten Island.
But it’s also important to individual New Yorkers to have their own private green spaces, with backyards, balconies and roof gardens counting towards this 57%. Though New York may not seem like the perfect place for a garden to thrive, there’s no reason why plants can’t flourish in urban areas!
How plants thrive in urban areas
It’s easy to assume that urban environments have a negative impact on plants. Pollution, human interference and lack of soil moisture might seem like obvious stressors in a city, but according to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, it’s likely that these actually help plants grow faster.
In the study, researchers analysed land cover in 32 major cities, and found that urbanisation increased plant performance in 85% of the study area. This could be due to higher temperatures and warmer soil compared to rural environments, more staff and volunteers available to care for urban greenery, and – paradoxically – pollution, which scatters light and therefore allows more leaves to photosynthesise, not just the top section of the plants. Isn’t that interesting?!
Create a thriving balcony or small-space garden
Whether you live in a city, town or the suburbs, a little patch of private green space can provide benefits for mental and physical health, help you improve the aesthetic of your home, and even provide food for your dinner table.
Creating a space like this isn’t difficult, but it does require a little bit of planning. If your balcony or garden is small in size, you’ll have to think in terms of planting upwards rather than outwards. Here are a few ideas on how you can make the most of your valuable vertical space:
Tower pots allow you to take up a small amount of floor space – in most cases less than a square foot – but provide a frame to get lots of vertical interest out of your plant. They also come with a built in saucer for easy watering.
This kind of pot is great for climbers, like the Thunbergia Sunny Susy (or Black Eyed Susan), which traditional produces colourful flowers with ‘black eyes’ in their centres. The half-hardy annuals are well suited to any kind of garden, flowering from June to October and bringing lots of late summer joy to your green area.
Without a frame, the Black Eyed Susan would train up to 150cm, but with the frame, it stuns as a unique vertical flowering plant.
Hanging baskets are no longer those kitsch fixtures outside your grandma’s front door – they’re much more contemporary, with fun, unique and never-seen-before designs. They’re also very easy to make the most of vertical space in a small garden. Position them up high with a trailing plant that cascades over the edges of the basket, or plant several plants in one basket for a colourful variety! Plant around the sides for a head start on that trail!
If you’ve got a balcony, or a mid-height fence in your garden, you can hang railing planters from these to get the most out of this otherwise unused space! You can find small round pots for herbs or cacti, larger balcony boxes for multiple plantings, or even pots which provide planting space either side of the railing/fence.
Ladder plant shelves
Not just for inside the home, these easy-peasy shelving systems make the perfect solution for displaying multiple plants while reducing the need for lots of floor or table space.
Position your plants at different heights, and maybe even intersperse them with garden ornaments if your ladder is positioned in a sheltered location.
Plants for your skyscraper-style garden
This Trachelospermum, also known as Star Jasmine, is an evergreen, twining climber with glossy dark, oval shaped foliage that takes on an attractive bronze colour in winter and produces clusters of very fragrant white, star shaped flowers in summer. Add impact and beautiful fragrance to your outside space with this attractive climber. Quick growing once it’s established.
Tree Lily Pretty Woman
These Tree Lilies have a soft, sweet fragrance and feature hues of pure white, but the real wow factor is their 6 foot stature! No matter where you place them, their fragrant perfume will fill your garden through summer, and can be used for hedging or screening. Grow up instead of outwards!
Fuchsia Climbing Skyrocket
Fuchsia ‘Skyrocket’ boasts long streaming stems that can be tied to a support or frame to create a sensational focal point. They also work well in the Tower Pot.
This free-flowering variety produces bicolour red and white blooms, which open from dangling pink buds. Flowers are borne along the length of the stem, and not just at the stem tips, ensuring a long lasting display on this quite different Fuchsia!
Climbing Petunia ‘Purple Tower’
Long stems and astonishing vigour make this the fastest climbing Petunia available from seed – easily scaling a 120cm (4ft) climbing frame by the end of the summer. The perfect focal point for your garden this season, and with sugary fragranced blooms!
Sambucus ‘Black Tower’
If you love dark foliage, but have limited space then look no further than Sambucus ‘Black Tower’. This striking Elder is dense and compact, with an upright habit that’s ideal for smaller borders or as a stand-alone specimen. Nifty huh?
Buddleja ‘Butterfly Towers’
This unique, upright Buddleja has a tall, columnar habit, which forms a majestic tower of mauve-purple flowers. Each large, upward-pointing flower provides a valuable source of nectar that will attract bees and butterflies all summer long. A very new shape for a very well-known shrub.
Sweet Pea ‘Heirloom Mixed’
A cheery mixture of smaller flowered heirloom (Grandiflora) types in a wide range of colours. Sweet Pea ‘Heirloom Mixed’ has a wonderful fragrance that is characteristic of these old fashioned varieties. Perfect for adding colour and fragrance to garden arches, trellises, obelisks, in particular the Tower Pot.
Upright vegetables to grow in your skyscraper garden
Tomatoes are great for sunny spots on balconies where they’ll receive at least six hours of sunlight per day. Plant them in well-draining, stable pots with fertile soil for favourable growth!
Growing runner beans on a balcony is not difficult at all, in fact, they make excellent container produce. Again, grow them in a sunny position, and support them with a tall support to climb up.
Geranium Tall Dark & Handsome
The Geranium Tall Dark & Handsome is available now! Its narrow, upright habit, dark and glossy foliage, and large, colourful flowers will make a dishy addition to your balcony. Plus, it’s named after me, so it can’t be bad! 😉
Do you have a small space or balcony garden? And if so, how do you style it? Let me know in the comments below!
Michael has been involved with gardening and plants since he was just five years old. He is a self-professed Plant Geek, and was listed in the Sunday Times top 20 most influential people in the gardening world, thanks to his plant hunter role at Thompson & Morgan.
Michael was responsible for new plant introductions such as the Egg and Chips plant and the FuchsiaBerry and keeps busy travelling the world in search of new plants as well as lecturing worldwide, including stints in Japan. He is very active on social media – so why not give him a follow at @mr_plantgeek or Facebook. You can also listen to The Plant Based Podcast with Michael and co-host Ellen-Mary on iTunes, Spotify and Google.
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