Urban green thumbs

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May 10, 2010 // UPDATED 8:13 am - May 10, 2010
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie
So you live in a concrete box and want to add some green to your life. Just because you don’t have a spacious yard, doesn’t mean you can’t find a way to dabble in gardening. Besides investigating community gardens in your neighborhood, there are options to consider at your condo. Here are highlights of a recent interview with Sharon Toll, owner of the Urban Garden in the North Loop.  



DTJ: How did you get into urban gardening?

Toll: I started as a suburban gardener. When I moved into a town home I was reluctant to give it up so I began concentrating on containers.

From a business standpoint, I worked seasonally at a few different garden centers over the years and enjoyed the work immensely. When my day job showed signs of going away, I began to consider how I could make gardening my day job. With support from Women Venture I developed the concept of Urban Garden and with lots of help from family in myriad ways I made it a reality.



What gardening options do condo dwellers have?

Basically, you need to be aware of how much sun you get and what grows best with what you have. Condo dwellers can grow a wide variety of flowers and vegetables using containers of all sizes and shapes. A popular option for flowers and herbs are rail boxes, which allow you to keep balcony floors clear of pots. But if you have floor space for a pot, I think you could plant most anything in it.

Hanging baskets can hold flowers, tomatoes, cucumbers, even strawberries. Just make sure the wind won’t launch your basket onto your neighbor’s balcony.

If you don’t have outdoor space, some herbs and many plants grow indoors with bright light.



Are you noticing any interesting gardening trends among condo dwellers?

I’m impressed by the number of people growing vegetables on their balconies. Veggies are a little more of a commitment with their watering needs and the windy conditions. Late last fall — October I think — I noticed a tomato plant still growing in a pot up on a fourth-floor balcony. The bright orange tomatoes clinging to the stems even after many plants were done for the season was quite a sight to see.

 

What kind of veggies work well for urban gardeners?

Many veggies work well in containers for urban gardeners. Tomatoes are great in a pot if you have room, either on the floor or in a hanging basket. Peppers, peas, beans, carrots, radishes, really most things work well in containers. For root crops you need to make sure you have a deep pot — 12 inches or so. For viney things (peas, beans), a trellis will keep them up off the ground.



Any good resources for urban gardeners to check out?

Container gardening is really taking off; there are many websites that cover the topic. I don’t have a favorite one, but constantly scan different sites for ideas. I carry a number of books on the subject as well, from basic how-to books to creative container ideas.



What works well in containers?

It turns out that most anything works well in containers. In any case, with the right size container, trellising if needed, and some TLC, most things thrive in containers. Herbs are a very popular item too, and many can be brought inside at the end of the season.

The challenge with containers is watering, especially with vegetables.



What are a couple of popular items to plant this time of year?

Cool weather veggies and herbs — lettuce, peas, cilantro, radishes. For flowers, pansies, snapdragons, diascia all provide cool-weather color. As you move into mid-May, anything goes.



What are the benefits of urban gardening, in your opinion?

For veggies, cost and freshness are huge benefits of urban gardening. Planting flowers enhances your surroundings; it softens the edges of and adds color to urban design. For some, tending to plants reduces stress and offers a creative outlet.