Whether you’ve decided to become an urban homesteader or would simply like to incorporate a bit more greenery into your home, urban gardening can work for you. There’s not only one type of urban garden, after all. You could have anything from a small Japanese garden in your background, a vegetable plot in a community garden, or an indoor garden in your condo. Nevertheless, there are three key principles to keep in mind as you plan your urban garden.
Space includes macro factors such as temperature and soil type, as well as micro factors such as planter types and the direction of your windows. Micro factors can be especially relevant for urban gardening, since you’re working with more precision.
If you’re looking for a new home in a city but don’t want to give up gardening, consider finding a place with a yard. Large or small, it doesn’t matter. Any yard has potential. Having ground space is important because it gives you more flexibility when you’re choosing crops to plant. Crops like asparagus, corn, berry bushes and other long-lived varieties need several years to take root in the ground before they produce a consistent harvest. If you love these vegetables and berries, you’ll want to find a yard to grow them.
However, if you only have a small indoor space or a balcony, you can still grow an urban garden using containers. In fact, even if you have a yard, you may choose to cultivate part of your garden in containers. For example, if you want to grow frost-intolerant plants like citrus or tropical flowers, you’ll need to use containers. Likewise, plants like mint and Siberian aster are better grown in containers, since they tend to take over the entire garden.
Before buying a stack of containers, though, you first need to consider the needs of the plants you’ve chosen. Herbs are typically the best choice for containers, since they thrive when cultivated in pots. Herb varieties such as sage and rosemary tend to do better in deeper pots, though you may have luck with shallow containers, too. Chives, thyme, parsley, and cilantro are a few varieties which thrive in just a few inches of soil.
Keeping planters, pots, and varying containers of herbs on a patio is a charming option, but these same herbs can also thrive on a windowsill or balcony. You could also hang the containers vertically, a great option for airy lofts.
Many plants prefer full light, meaning about six hours a day of ‘direct’ or unshaded light. If this is problematic—for instance, if you’re cultivating indoor plants with mainly northern-facing exposure—you could supplement your natural light with a grow light or two.
Naturally, plants will receive the most intense exposure when they’re nearest a window, but not all plants need full southern sun. Many leafy greens should have less sun, as some will burn with too much direct light. Each plant variety is different. That’s why you should consider the light levels your space has to offer before choosing your plants.
Following the principles of space and light is probably the most pleasant question: What do you really want, anyway? Your own interests are an obvious key to what you will be cultivating.
Once your yard or balcony is ready, you should make a gardening plan. Think about your interests. What kind of garden do you really want?
Gardening sometimes conjures up the image of a straw hat and a bushel of tomatoes, but for every stereotype, there are also novel possibilities. Don’t be afraid to break outside the mold and try new things. Just remember to choose varieties that grow well together to form a strong ecosystem in your space. For example, flowers (edible or not) draw pollinators, which will benefit your vegetable crops.
One of the most satisfying aspects of urban gardening is the joy of cultivating something personal. Consider what you would like, keeping the space and light in mind, and go for it.
Portland, Oregon is a great city to find a place to grow your garden in. You’ll find living spaces with fantastic yards and open area, condos with lots of light and space, and plenty of urban gardening potential in every single neighborhood. Here are a few examples from some of our listings. Find more great homes on our Portland community page.