Urban Gardening Design Ideas

Learn simple ways to transform gritty urban spaces into green garden escapes.

Dan Faires Urban Outdoor Room

Outdoor Living

Dan and Dasha's vibrant patio is a great escape from the city and has enough space to entertain friends and family.

Stage your own urban renewal by transforming cityscape into a garden escape. Urban gardens soften metropolitan surroundings with greenery, flowers, and the same accoutrements of gardens sprawled in more traditional settings. The trick with urban gardening is that space is at a premium, so every inch must work hard. Discover some urban gardening ideas you can put to work—no matter where you live.

In city environments, where concrete and macadam rule, green spaces provide more than a visual feast. They’re literal oases in the midst of the urban jungle. For many city dwellers, having garden space is a luxury that’s tough to come by. Alleys, rooftops, abandoned parking lots, sidewalk strips—non-traditional spaces couple with odd configurations to inspire creative garden techniques.

Most urban gardens are short on real estate, so many objects in the garden often serve double duty. An ottoman must offer handy storage, a fire pit bowl should segue easily to an ice bucket, and a potting bench must stash soil out of sight so it can serve as a buffet for family gatherings. Choose furnishings and accessories for your urban garden with dual purpose in mind, and think outside traditional uses.

Include mirrors and exterior lighting in urban garden spaces to brighten dark corners. Many metropolitan green spaces wedge between buildings that block out light. Give a walled-in garden a feeling of spaciousness with strategically placed mirrors that bounce sunlight onto plantings and also produce the illusion of space. For rooftop urban gardens, using exterior lighting such as light strings and lanterns fosters an intimate setting, drawing the eye from neighboring buildings to the garden area.

A water feature is a must in an urban garden. Choose one with a fountain, spray, or trickling sound to help mask city sounds. Other sound-softening techniques include creating living screens—vine-draped trellises and walls that absorb and reduce noise. Achieve the same effect by planting small trees or upright shrubs in containers and positioning them to form a sound-barrier hedge.

Container gardens play a vital role in urban gardening, providing friendly footing for plants in places where open ground is tough to come by. Invest in containers that suit your space and serve your needs. For rooftop gardens, look for self-watering containers that feature lightweight materials. Courtyard or alleyway spaces demand narrow containers that don’t occupy a large footprint. Consider custom-made containers if you can’t find what you need.

In all cases, stock your urban garden with small trees or shrubs in containers. Natural landscapes boast plants from tree height to ground level. You’ll create the most natural feeling environment when you mimic that pattern. This means you’ll need containers large enough to support trees. Work with a garden designer or landscaper who specializes in urban gardens to understand what this means. In general, a container that’s large enough to host a tree without frequent root pruning will be so big that you think it’s too big. That’s a clue a tree will feel at home in it.

You should also stock your urban garden with smaller containers for hosting perennials or annuals. These could be anywhere from six to 16 inches wide. Just remember that smaller pots need watered more frequently, so if watering your urban garden is a challenge, opt for slightly larger containers to limit that chore. Growing edibles in an urban garden is an art unto itself. Edible crops need ample water, so make provision for irrigation first as you conceive the garden design.

Don’t forget to dress up vertical spaces with vines or trellises. In narrow urban spaces, using vertical space can increase your garden’s square footage and give it a cozier ambience. Install shelves to give potted plants and tools a home. Add window boxes to walls where you can, and research vertical gardening to see if you can apply any of the techniques to your space.

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