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Urban Greening - Mind the Gap

Updated on November 21, 2016

A Garden at your Window

I live in a small town, whose greatest era is over but those who still live here find ways to make their world bloom. Taking a walk around town just shows how proud my neighbours are, of their history and their homes. Flower boxes blossom from every balcony, pot plants and rose gardens are lovingly tended. Every year, vegetable gardens are replanted and worked daily in the age old way of the ancestors.I am still trying to keep up. I follow the weeds, creeping out of concrete. I grow herbs and flowers but love to watch the other plants who chose to move in between. I even plant dandelions for salad greens. We only call them weeds if they are not where we want them to be!

City dwellers too practice the art of urban greening. Tall buildings are like cliff-faces and rock-ledges where niche-creation abounds. Nature loves niches, and we can help in simple ways to encourage the creation of green niches in our every day lives. In between the flowers, edible pot plant clusters can be planted. These aromatic and generous co-residents of the rock-face domain provide more than vitality they answer LIFE's invitation to make its niche magic, even behind closed doors.

Cultivating herbs, like rosemary, thyme and parsley, sprouts and micro-greens on the kitchen worktop, opens a window into the landscape and light of herbs' original homes. Places, like my Mediterranean village, where mountains sink into the sea. Light streams motionless through sky, washing away the dust. These leafy "arrivees" have bags packed with sunshine. They may be only "cousins" of the lucky-ones-at-home but the roots run thick, the light deep.

Big on nutrition and flavor, microgreens can easily be grown at home, in a tiny space and with simple supplies. If you have a sunny windowsill, a shallow container, some potting mix and suitable seeds, you've got all the essentials for growing your own microgreens. This is a great crop for urban gardeners who are limited to a windowsill or balcony.

From kitchen, to bathroom to balcony and even right up to the roof, plants seem to be the first choice of many to remind them of greener pastures. There's nothing like a bath with a fern dangling near one's head to help one relax, or the smell of fresh herbs to lift the spirits (and even improve one's health!) as one enjoys an afternoon nap on the balcony. Desert dwellers seek the oasis. The ritual of watering a plant can become part of a personal care routine; fitting into the space one occupies, not just the time.

Stepping out into the city canyons, the light evokes the "up" direction, at least a ledge or two. Trees and creepers are the natural co-residents to attract, to establish the "up" niche. The most sunkissed rocks would be where to train young fruit trees. To get them to move in permanently is to make sure they can really wiggle their toes. Then fruit can ripen on the vine.

Large leafed trees are a natural filter for the city lungs, as well as providing shade; calm in the hustle; nest sites, beauty and fresh materials for rock-face nesting (and remedies to boot).

In watering and nurturing that which nourishes us, one includes more in one's sense of self. The gaps get overlapped: the sense of self finds a larger niche. We are no longer just the inhabitants of four walls, we are nature's helpers, cultivators of our own food, and much needed makers of a greener, more ecological world.


A City Herbal

Maida Silverman describes the wild plants of the city as "potent herbal medicines and nutritious wild edibles, as well as sources of comfort, fiber, and dyes."

"I never could have imagined the herbal abundance that grows between the cracks of the city sidewalks and in vacant lots!"

Benefits of Urban Greening

Street trees and sidewalk gardens beautify our urban environment and provide so many other benefits that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regard them as part of a city’s “green infrastructure.”

  • As a product of photosynthesis, trees release oxygen. Two medium-sized, healthy trees can supply the oxygen required for a single person for a year.
  • Trees clean the air by absorbing greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming; they store carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas, in their stems and leaves.
  • Trees capture airborne particles such as dirt, dust and soot; a mature tree can absorb 120-240 lbs of particulate pollution each year,
  • A 2008 study by researchers at Columbia University found that more trees in urban neighborhoods correlate with a lower incidence of asthma.
  • Bird species diversity is increased with an increase in trees.
  • Woody plant and bird species diversity is important for urban green infrastructure.
  • Reclaiming landfills for recreation use can revitalize communities by providing much needed green space.

According to the Center for Urban Horticulture, "City-wide, plants, if strategically placed and cared for, can become a 'living technology,' a key part of the urban infrastructure that contributes to more liveable urban places. A 25 foot tree reduces annual heating and cooling costs of a typical residence by 8 to 12 percent. A mature tree canopy reduces air temperatures by about 5 to 10° F, influencing the internal temperatures of nearby buildings."

Nature has the common sense attitude we seem to have forgotten in the urban hustle. But my green-fingered neighbours continue to inspire me to keep greening my world. When I go to the city, I celebrate the weeds, the terrace gardens, the wide-armed city trees. And I know I'm not alone.



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