Urban gardening is exploding in popularity as more and more people enjoy city living and don’t want to give up their container gardens.
Container plantings solve all sorts of problems, says horticultural expert Ellen Barredo.
I recently sat down with her at Bowood Farms, a successful urban nursery set in St. Louis’ chic Central West End, a trendy urban center likened to Soho in New York city.
We talked a long time about the challenges of small space gardening–whether it’s patio gardening, or having to deal with only a window box, small balcony, or terrace.
Barredo feels container gardening can be the perfect remedy to the issues urban gardeners face.
“The first thing,” said Barredo, as we began our conversation, “is the soil.”
City soil is terrible.”
Rocks, asphalt, glass, cement, ceramic pieces are constantly moving to the surface in our planting soil.
“And a lot of times, you don’t know the history of the site. Who knows what’s in the soil.”
She also notes that the soil itself can be really poor.
Too, urban communities often have people moving in from other parts of the country, or other parts of the world.
“Very often, people moving here don’t have any idea what grows well.” And people coming from other countries don’t want to leave their culture behind.
“They’re used to having the flowers, herbs, and vegetables they grew and ate back home. We have a great call for figs and lime trees here at Bowood, for instance, because many people move here from southern Europe.”
India is another region of the world Barredo finds the nursery serves. “It’s understandable they come in asking for jasmine and holy basil. They’re an important part of their diet, culture, and life. They want to grow and eat what they’re used to.”
And, of course, some urban gardeners don’t have the choice to use beds. Many urbanites rent, live in a high-rise or condo, or a house where there isn’t a yard at all.
“Container gardening solves problems,” Barredo notes.
For instance, her son lives in a high-rise and couples a love of gardening with a major green thumb. He grew trellised cucumbers on his terrace, thinking they’d climb the frame, produce, and that would be that.
“They went wild,” says Barredo with a smile, “and grew down, as well, hanging along the ceiling of his downstair’s neighbor’s terrace. She ate them, too!”
“Could be a great way to make friends,” quips Barredo.
It seems we’ve also imported ideas from Europe where they’ve been solving small space gardening issues for centuries. Called “vertical gardening,” Barredo mentions there are now walls you can plant, usually made of frames with mesh you literally plant through.
“Some are on rollers, so you can reposition them as you like,” she notes. “They’re great for urban gardening, both for vegetables and ornamentals.”
These vertical walls are the perfect solution for patio, balcony, roof, and deck gardening because changing your look just means moving the wall.
Container Gardening Exploding in Popularity
Urban gardening in containers has gotten so popular, there are now container watering systems made especially for balconies and terraces where weight is an issue.
“That’s how evolved it is,” Barredo says.
As for why container garden design is in such a high-demand, Barredo cites it’s softening effect.
“You take a sterile, hard, cold façade and add colors—even from foliage alone—and the space is instantly softened, calming and inviting.”
She mentions the trend in Bowood’s environs toward topiaries and sculpted boxwood forms.
“The homeowners in our area have taken a space of hardness and created peace. I go out of my way to drive to work by one of them everyday,” she says.
It’s not just the homeowner who gets the benefit in many urban gardening situations, but the passersby, as well.
Barredo and I then got down to brass tacks. She tackled the main problems in urban gardening, and suggests loads of very specific solutions.
Her in-depth discussion includes which fertilizer is best, including little-known tips on organic fertilizers (who knew about micro-organisms, for instance?), plus you can find out about winter gardening.