Green Thumbs and City Dwellers

The limitations of a city garden shouldn’t stop you from cultivating greener pastures

By: Caleb Cook

The staples of city living: condos, duplexes, high-rise apartments, and townhomes. They don’t allow for much green space. Many of these structures do not include the sprawling lawns that some families have, especially outside of the city. Sandra Spudic, a long time Toronto resident and Head Gardener of Black Creek Pioneer Village, offers some tips for growing plants, starting a garden from scratch, and improving on neglected space.

 Photo by valkyrieh116

City dwellers who are low on space can make do with just about any herbaceous plant (a plant that dies back to soil level at the end of the season) provided they give them some TLC during the initial planting. According to Spudic, if an urban gardener is looking more for display quality in planting, “ornamental grasses are your best bet.” Spudic recommends Switch grass (Panicum cv.), Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium spp.) or Wavy-hair grass (Deschampsia spp.). “For some colour, pair any of these grasses with the self-seeding annuals Verbena bonarienses and Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp.).” On a small scale, ornamental grasses are low maintenance and do well with little water and care. Depending on which plants you choose to pair with the grasses, there is potential for an almost carefree display garden.

It’s easy to let a garden get out of hand. If you are living in a rental property, it is likely that the previous tenants didn’t garden, or that your home was empty until you moved in. But having your own garden is possible, even if you’re working in less than ideal conditions. To begin, you will have to start from the ground up—literally—and give your plants some better soil conditions. For Spudic, it’s a simple enough job:,

“The cardinal rule for improving soil quality is to add organic matter. This includes well-rotted compost or manure; leaf mould and spent mushroom compost. The addition of organic matter provides nutrients to plants, improves soil moisture retention and increases the amount of micro and macro organisms in your soil.”

In any setting, good soil is a must for growing. However, be warned—when growing in pots, good soil is not sufficient on its own. Mix in vermiculite or perlite to the soil to provide the plants with enough air and adequate soil structure.

Gardening does have some cost, but plants are wonders of reproduction and longevity, meaning an initial investment can bring a harvest beyond the first season. For cost effective plants and resources, Spudic seeks out her friends as they’ll almost always have some extra plant material. If you’re the only green thumb in your circle of friends, farmer’s markets are a good place to start hunting for plant material. City horticultural societies will also have plant shares to swap seeds and perennials and many are listed in local listings and online forums. The options for gardening in the city aren’t limitless, but there are different options to maximize the potential of what may seem like a fruitless space. The issues of minimal space, poor soil quality, and low budgets shouldn’t deter you from making your space green—the possibilities of growth are endless.

Helpful Tips:

Plants have two main identifiers. First, the Latin name, which is very specific, universally understood, and written in brackets or italics. Second, plants are referred to by their common name, which typically vary culture to culture and are not recognized worldwide.

Visit Bills Garden and Design (903 Pape Ave.) for all your gardening needs


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