If you live in the city, you know that sometimes finding a connection to nature can be a little difficult. Huge skyscrapers and looming architecture can cause us to drift away from the Earth and the Divine without even noticing. A great way to stay connected with nature is to simply bring it back! Urban gardens are a great and sustainable way to bring earth awareness back to the city, and can be done almost anywhere. Create an oasis in the concrete jungle, to share, or to keep secret. Whatever you choose to do, you are bridging the gap between nature and human, something sorely needed in the city.
Preparing an Urban Garden
Urban gardens can be anywhere you can access, really. Have an extra foot on your balcony? Put some carrots on it. Have a wide windowsill? Perfect for a beautiful herb patch. An entire rooftop? Go crazy. Here are some tips for preparing and planning your garden:
• Scour your space. Do you have a rooftop, a fire escape, a yard, or a window? Any space that gets sun and can be easily accessed can be used to cultivate a garden.
• Ask permission. If it's a shared space such as a rooftop or yard, or an emergency space such as a fire escape, it is always a good idea to ask your landlord before making any changes to the property. While you might think your sprawling Tiny Tims add to the property value, your landlord might take issue with it. Check your local zoning laws or municipal codes to see if your space allows for gardens. If not, you can always have a little garden indoors by a window. It is very important to make sure your space is going to be physically able to support a garden. This is especially important for rooftop gardens - it might be a good idea to hire an architect/contractor or speak to your landlord/property manager about what can or can't be supported. The last thing you need is a caved-in roof.
• Decide what kind of garden you want. Is it an herb garden, a vegetable patch, a flower bed, or a mix of them all? These are all fine, as long as you get good sun (facing south is usually the best) and your plants all get along well. If you don't have good sun, do some research to learn what can grow without lots of sunshine.
• What will you grow your plants in? Many plants do well in pots, like leafy greens and flowers, while some need space and support, such as vine plants like beans. Research your plants and find out which conditions your plants need to survive. Every seed packet should have planting guides on the back to help you out.
Best Plants for Urban Gardening
The best plants you need are ones that will thrive without a lot of maintenance and can be moved around if need be.
• Legumes: Beans, peas, and other hardy legumes are great options. They tend to be climbers and need a bigger space or pot, but are very resistant to the elements. They are also a great source of plant-based protein. Peas and beans can be eaten fresh, or frozen/canned for later.
• Tomatoes: These healthy fruits come in lots of different shapes and sizes with cute names like Tiny Tim, Big Boy, and Boxcar Willie. Easy to grow and hardy, these climbers can be harvest multiple times and are great fresh, frozen, or canned.
• Mint: Versatile, aromatherapeutic, and just plain pretty, mint comes in various strains like strawberry mint, chocolate mint, spearmint, and peppermint. Mint is hardy, but be careful to segregate it into its own space, because they spread very easily and take over gardens. Use for balms, teas, headaches, sauces, and of course, mojitos.
• Leafy Greens: Leafy plants like salad greens, spinach, and arugula are all great for urban gardens. They come in many varieties and regenerate regularly, so you can have a rooftop salad whenever you please.
Where to Get Seeds and Plants
• Kensington Market: Many of the fruit markets also sell potted plants and seedlings during the warmer months. Take a walk around and see what you can find (and don’t forget to visit us on the other side of Spadina).
• Seed Libraries: This new phenomenon is sweeping the urban garden scene. There are currently 21 active seed libraries in Toronto, where you can borrow and exchange seed packets for free! Check out the locations here.
• Greenhouses and Farmers Markets: Urban Harvest in Parkdale is a great choice for GMO-Free, organic, locally grown and sustainable gardening products. There are also a few farmers markets that will have seeds and seedlings, among other things.