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How To Garden in the City: Creative Urban Gardening Ideas

Updated on July 26, 2009

Gardening is one of the most popular and beneficial activities in the world. It produces fresh, healthy produce for families and helps reduce food bills in tough economic times. It produces flowers and foliage that provide beauty for human residents and food and shelter for wildlife. It encourages people to get outside for some fresh air and exercise, and harvesting hand grown and tended fruits, vegetables, and flowers provides the deep physical and mental satisfaction of a productive job well done.

Unfortunately, gardening is often much more difficult for city dwellers than residents of rural areas and suburbs. City gardeners may be forced to make do with tiny, often heavily shaded lots, or even mere balconies. The tight spaces force urban gardeners to be more efficient and more creative than other gardeners. Here are some ideas for how to stretch the space available to you for gardening:

  • Balcony gardening. If you have a balcony, one of the most basic and common forms of urban gardening is balcony gardening. Among the popular plants that do well in pots on balconies are strawberries, tomatoes, and many flowers and herbs. Maximize space by mixing large and small pots and incorporating planter boxes and hanging baskets.
  • Grow lights. Although gardeners with more space use them primarily for starting seeds, grow lights are a great way for city gardeners to extend the growing space indoors, even to dark corners of your apartment or home. Hydroponics, an indoor system of gardening that uses mineral nutrient solutions instead of soil, is also especially popular in urban areas, and makes extensive use of grow lights.

Green Roofs and Living Walls

  • Living walls, green walls, and vertical gardens. Living walls can be designed to go either indoors or outdoors. They are similar in appearance to a wall covered with ivy or another climbing vine, but unlike ivy covered walls, in which the plant is anchored in the soil, living walls are made of a network of interlocking planters which allow a much wider variety of plants to be used in them, including both edible and ornamental species. To learn more and see pictures and videos of green walls in action, visit The Basics of Living Walls, Green Walls, and Vertical Gardens.
  • Green roofs. If you can get permission to build one on your roof, green roofs offer significant benefits to energy efficiency and reduction of stormwater runoff from rooftops. They are also a great way to increase growing space in urban environments. When adding a green roof to an existing building, it is important to check for the structural soundness of the roof, due to the added weight green roofs will add. Once built, the green roof can be managed by the landlord or by the residents, either individually or as part of a resident's association or club.

A beautiful urban garden

Photo by shaggyshoo
Photo by shaggyshoo
  • Yardsharing. An increasingly common practice in many urban areas is something known as "yardsharing." Yardsharing arrangements vary widely, but the basic idea is to combine resources to maximize gardening space. For example, two neighbors, both gardeners, might decide to knock down a fence between them and create one large shared garden in the extra space. In another case, one neighbor who loves to garden and another who dislikes it but wants an attractive yard or fresh produce or flowers for the table might exchange gardening space for labor or a share of the vegetables or cut flowers produced by the garden. Yardsharing arrangements do not necessarily have to be between neighbors. A suburban friend might offer an apartment dweller his yard in a yardsharing arrangement if the apartment dweller is willing to commit to the regular commute to use it.
  • Community gardens. Another concept that has exploded in popularity in recent years is the community garden. Community gardens are often planted on unused city lots and governed by community gardening associations, which may divide the garden into plots for each family who commits to growing a garden in the space provided. Others are managed more communally. In addition to allowing city families to enjoy a garden, many community gardens also benefit their local neighborhoods. Many incorporate play areas or flower gardens with walking trails or benches in one area of the garden, in order to provide a place for neighborhood children to experience nature. Others incorporate youth programs from local schools or other organizations to teach city kids how to grow their own food, or donate a portion of the produce to food banks or other organizations helping the hungry.
  • Guerrilla gardening. Another form of gardening gaining popularity in urban areas is "guerrilla gardening." Guerrilla gardeners take over a neglected piece of land, clean it up, and plant flowers, vegetables, or other plants. Because guerrilla gardeners do not own the land they are seeking to improve, some work secretly at night, while others strive harder to engage the local community and work openly to encourage community participation in their project.


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    • paolaenergya profile image

      Paola Bassanese 2 years ago from London

      Well, in 2015 your article is still looking as fresh as in 2009! I have recently joined a local community garden and I can say I haven't felt this happy in a long time! Long live urban/community gardening!

    • megni profile image

      megni 6 years ago

      You've covered the subject well. Thanks. I"m tweeting your advice!

    • profile image

      neckofthewoods12 7 years ago

      awesome! i don't live in the city but it is good to have advice to save even more space!

    • profile image

      Citrus000 8 years ago

      Thank you kindly for the amazing hub. I will be bookmarking this one as you have many helpful links to a variety of other topics I would also enjoy reading and learning about.

    • advisor4qb profile image

      advisor4qb 8 years ago from On New Footing

      Nice hub. People in the city are so out of touch with nature. What a nice way to bring that back!