When it comes to activities that promote all-around wellness, there’s nothing quite like gardening.
Besides providing a regular opportunity for low-impact exercise in the form of gentle stretches and squats, gardening is also a highly effective stress-buster that’s eternally good for the soul.
“Gardening is a peaceful and soothing pursuit for anybody,” says Mariana Greene, a (now retired) long-time garden editor for the Dallas Morning News. “You’re outdoors, you’re getting sunshine, you’re re-connecting to the basic pleasure of getting your hands in the dirt.”
Plus, there’s the satisfaction that comes from tending to your plants as they mature and flourish. “It’s so rewarding to figure out how to care for a plant and then watch it grow into something of value, whether it’s flowers or something you can eat,” says Greene.
If you’re a city dweller living in an apartment, condo or duplex, you may believe yourself to be forever excluded from the delights of gardening. But the fact is that anyone who can lay claim to even a small patch of sun can start and maintain a successful garden, even if you’ve only got a balcony, back porch, or sun deck to work with.
One of the most important secrets of urban garden success, say Greene and other gardening experts, lies in your selection of garden containers.
Balcony and back porch gardeners may be tempted to buy smaller containers, in an attempt to accommodate the limited space they have to work with. But even if your urban garden area is tiny, it’s best to go big when choosing containers.
“Summers are so hard on plants in North Texas, so balcony gardeners need to select containers that will hold plenty of soil and water,” explains Greene. “I don’t recommend looking at anything less than 15 inches in diameter. Otherwise, you’ll have to water several times a day just to give the plant a fighting chance to put down roots and survive.”
In addition to size, it’s also important to choose containers that boast durability.
“Not all containers are created equal,” Greene says. “You’ll want to select double-walled containers with good insulation from heat or freezing temperatures. Also, look for containers that have ‘wells’, or spaces that store water the roots can soak up from the bottom of the pot.”
To safeguard your urban garden against extreme temperatures, Greene recommends mulching, and lots of it. “Use finely shredded cedar or cypress mulch about three inches deep around the plant, in sort of a ‘doughnut’, but don’t touch the crown of the plant,”she says. “That will protect the roots in winter and summer.”
Tips for Balcony Gardeners
If you’re a beginner, start small. You can invest in additional plant and equipment purchases after you’ve learned how to tend to a few plants through at least one season.
Ask for help. The staff at your neighborhood garden store or members of your local community garden are excellent resources for free, expert advice.
If you’ve got enough sun, grow some food. A delicious salad or savory stew made from ingredients found on your own balcony—why not? Start off by planting a few simple baby greens or year-round herbs like parsley, rosemary, oregano, and sage. Once you gain confidence, you can move on to potatoes, citrus fruit, blueberries, and dozens of other foods that grow well in container gardens.
Be mindful of your setting. Urban gardeners should stick with plants intended to grow outside. Also, consider the amount of sunlight your space gets (and if that changes during the day) and purchase and plan accordingly.
Create a color scheme. For maximum garden attractiveness, select three to five favorite colors and stay with them as you expand.
Use top dressings. Pebbles, slate pieces, and bark chips, besides providing a unifying visual theme, will help prevent the water in your plants’ soil from evaporating too quickly.
Begin with a base of evergreens. That way you’ll be sure of a flourishing garden in all seasons.
Get creative with furniture. All-weather-friendly benches, chairs, pillows, and stools make it easier for you to sit outside and enjoy your urban garden. Incorporate some architectural elements (bricks, columns, tiles and such) for added visual appeal.
No balcony? No problem. Your neighborhood garden store, Pinterest, and the website apartmenttherapy.com are all excellent sources of inspiration for window box, ledge, and pothole gardening.