Stoops to Conquer: Urban Gardens for the Lawnless

When I moved to brownstone Brooklyn, I thought I was so lucky. Trees, birds, peace and quiet. I figured I’d earned it after years of ridiculously small apartments in Manhattan, hosting parties where half the guests had to sit on my bed while the other half spilled out into the hallway. I was so happy with my top floor space, and so thrilled not to be sharing an apartment building with 500 other people, that it took a while to realize I was a second-class citizen. On the first warm evening of the season, I looked out my window and saw my downstairs neighbors were firing up their grill in the backyard. I leaned out further and saw that the family next door was also getting their grill ready, as were the people next door, and the people next door to them. The smell of smoky charcoal and sizzling burgers drifted up to me. Everyone up and down the block was out in their backyards, hanging out, cooking, gardening, drinking, laughing. I was nine years old again, stuck upstairs while my parents had parties for grown-ups in the living room.

On that spring evening, I resolved to make my front stoop a hang-out spot to rival the yards that I could see and not enjoy. I started covering the steps with potted flowers. I squeezed them in as close as possible to create a cottage garden look, while leaving room for sitting on the steps. Morning glories twined around the iron banisters leading up the stairs. This is now my favorite place to sit and read, or hang out with a few friends and a few cocktails. City dwellers can be gardeners too, we just need to get creative. Here are some tips for container gardening in limited spaces:

1. Consider your fire escape, windowsill, stoop, or roof as possible locations. Any sunny spot will do. 2. Choose seedlings from your local nursery or farmer’s market and re-pot them in bigger containers. Most plants will grow in proportion to their container size. 3. Select a color scheme of two or three colors and stick to it. 4. Include plants of varying shape, height, and blooming time. 5. Try to pick one or two colors for your containers, but select a variety of container shapes. Don’t overlook offbeat choices like coffee cans, bowls, urns, and wooden boxes. 6. Arrange your containers close together to create a more striking look. 7. Make sure your containers have holes for drainage at the bottom. If they don’t, fill the bottom of the container with gravel, marbles, or pottery shards to provide a place for the extra water to drain. 8. Encourage vines to twine around railings and banisters. Sweet potato vines, morning glories, and ivy work well. 9. Consider growing cherry tomatoes and herbs; they thrive in containers, and are great to have around the house. 10. Spend the extra couple of bucks on quality potting soil, it’s worth it.

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