The Urban Garden Authors Prove ‘Gardening Is Something Anyone Can Do’

Whether you rent in the big city or live on a tiny lot in town, growing food and flowers is still within reach with guidance from The Urban Garden.

by Susan Brackney
PHOTO: Susan Brackney/Cool Springs Press

Authors Kathy Jentz and Teri Speight see gardening opportunities absolutely everywhere. “Both of us have traveled gardens near and far,” Speight notes.

While writing The Urban Garden: 101 Ways to Grow Food and Beauty in the City, both Speight and Jentz drew upon memories of others’ gardens they’d visited as well as their own extensive gardening experience. (Jentz edits Washington Gardener magazine and is a columnist for the Mid-Atlantic Grower newspaper. For her part, Speight is the former Head Gardener for the City of Fredericksburg, Virginia.)

As a result, The Urban Garden offers inspiration and real-world advice for would-be gardeners no matter where they may live. Recently released by Cool Springs Press, The Urban Garden includes practical landscaping solutions and gardening techniques for myriad challenges.

For example, there are tips for making small garden spaces look and feel larger. Readers will also learn how to use plantings to boost privacy and reduce noise. There’s advice on creating pet- and pollinator-friendly yards, composting in the city, growing a table full of salad greens and more.

“Gardening should not be prohibitive to anyone,” Speight says. “You know, gardening is something that anyone can do, everyone should try and all of us should enjoy.”

Read more: Growing in the city is more than possible—it’s beautiful and sustaining.

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Take Stock of Your Space

Still, getting started can feel overwhelming. “You have to imagine or re-imagine the possibilities,” Speight suggests. “When you look at your space, compartmentalize it.”

To begin, the authors recommend taking stock of the outdoor spaces around you. Do you have a small balcony, patio, rooftop access or even a shared alley? Also, take note of your growing conditions.

Is an area sunny or shady? If you have any soil to work with, is it heavy, well-draining, fertile or less-than-ideal? Is your potential mini-garden very noisy or exposed to passers-by?

All of these factors—along with your own personal preferences—will help to guide your next steps. “Maybe you don’t have a massive space, but you want to conceal that air conditioning unit,” Speight suggests. “Choose the appropriate plant material to present and install a screen that’s appealing from your side and not in the way of the repairman.”

“Basically, it’s reimagining the possibilities and finding the positives in whatever space you have,” she adds.

In the case of a super-shady spot, for instance, consider transforming it into a calming, Zen hideaway. “Usually when you’re in the midst of tall buildings, it creates a bubble,” Speight says.

“You don’t really hear a lot once you step beyond those buildings. So, you have like this little private cove. Make the best of that. Make it someplace where you can go and meditate. [Include] something that’s a focal point that just brings you calm.

“Consider it a hideaway if you want, but make the best of all situations.”

Read more: Urban chickens bring some cluck to the city.

Practical, Multi-Stage Plans

In addition to being open to new possibilities for small spaces, The Urban Garden authors also urge patience and planning. “With all of the new gardeners that are out there now, you know, some people [say], ‘I just tore up my whole yard!’” Speight says. “And we’re like, ‘Ooh. Maybe you should have done a big planter first.’”

“Take it in small nuggets and savor each nugget that you break apart from that big picture,” she continues. “What can you do with that small area first? And then next year, try a different area.”

Considering where your water will come from and what you can do to be water-wise is especially important for urban gardens. “You can always find that cute, small pot,” Speight says. “But that cute, small pot is no longer cute when you realize you have to water it every other day. If you start with a larger planter and diversify that space—add different things with different heights, colors, and textures. Make it absolutely abundant with beauty.

“Then you’re going to have more fun with that planter than with that cute, little pot.”

Larger containers will also hold a lot more water than their cuter, smaller counterparts. “We have to be real when we’re thinking about the garden,” Speight notes.

The authors get real about citified composting, water storage options and screening unsightly areas from view, among many other practical topics. With photos and descriptions of countless mini-landscapes—along with tips and tricks to try yourself—The Urban Garden inspires and energizes, too.

“Think before you plant and think as you plan,” Speight concludes. “That way, you’re pretty much guaranteed a successful outcome.”

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