Urban Gardening: A Comprehensive Guide

An in-depth guide to urban gardening

Made in collaboration with the team at Premier Polytunnels

Have you always wanted to try your hand at gardening? If you live in a city or other urban space, it can mean that you have to get creative about your approach to getting green fingered.

Even when living in big cities spending time in the company of plants is not completely impossible. Whether you’re setting aside your tiny balcony, or you are applying for a spot in the nearest allotment, it’s possible to pick up the urban gardening bug.

Here’s a look at why you might want to run with your passion and take on gardening as your next hobby.

What is Urban Gardening?

Urban gardening is simply the process of growing plants in an urban area. People who live in big cities often have less space in which to focus on gardening. Therefore, urban gardening has become an option that allows growers and gardeners to think creatively about how they make the most out of the space they do have.

It is a great way to take advantage of what outdoor space is available. Gardeners must think carefully about how and where they sow seeds and plant their saplings. This means that anything from rooftops and abandoned plots to repurposed bathtubs placed in the yard are prime real estate.

Urban Gardening: Salad lettuce cultivation at the Growing Communities' urban plot, in Springfield Park, Clapton, North London
Salad lettuce cultivation at the Growing Communities‘ urban plot, in Springfield Park, Clapton, North London. This illustrates The Tracing Paper‘s post, London, Feed Yourself!
Credit: Nick Saltmarsh from London, UK – Urban growing

The Popularity of Urban Gardening

This type of gardening has long been a favourite among city dwellers. It opens up the door to creating green spaces in the most unlikely places.

But in recent years, urban gardening has soared to the top of the trend lists among growers and gardeners alike. The Garden Trends Index 2023 organised the trending topics according to Google searches for garden trends over the last two years, as well as Instagram posts and TikTok views.

This year, urban gardening has moved up from last year’s second place, topping the index for 2023. There were 2.12 million urban gardening Instagram posts and a further 52.8 million views on TikTok, more than double its total in 2022.

So, if you live in a city and you’ve been bitten by the gardening bug, you’re not alone. It seems many people are considering ways to reimagine the space they do have access to, even in the busiest cities in the country.

What are the Benefits of Urban Gardening?

But what makes this type of gardening so beneficial?

Deborah Wood, from Premier Polytunnels, specialists in polytunnels and accessories including fruit cages and cloches, said: “An urban garden brings many benefits, particularly the opportunity to grow healthy delicious food all year round for you and your family. It can also build new relationships with other people in the community who can benefit from the surplus produce often grown by keen urban gardeners.”

Here’s an overview of the pros of urban gardening:

The type of plants that urban gardeners decide to grow is totally up to them. However, if you’re picking up the crop-growing bug in your town or city, you might want to opt for simple food crops such as vegetables and fruits.

As well as being rewarding when you get to tuck into the produce that you’ve produced, you’re reducing the need for vegetables and fruit from farms or from being imported from other countries. While food security is a wide-ranging issue, even by starting small with your own urban gardening project, you’re helping to boost the availability of food elsewhere.

  • Sustainability

Like other types of gardening, this type of gardening promotes living off the land you have. This means adopting sustainable practices, such as composting, organic farming and water conservation.

Additionally, by growing your own close to your home, you’re reducing the need to go to the shops and supermarket for your fruit, veg and herbs. This means you’re cutting down not only on your shopping list but also on car journeys.

  • Community building

You don’t have to be a solo grower. There are community initiatives in place that embrace urban gardening. These are great for getting growing tips and sharing ideas with likeminded gardeners. It’s also perfect for bringing together people from different walks of life and creating the opportunity to socialise with others.

There are plenty of schemes accessible across the UK. There’s Leeds Urban Harvest, which promotes using excess produce. Meanwhile, in London last year, there was the Urban Harvest event, which was organised by Capital Growth. Although there’s not been an announcement for a similar event in 2023 in the capital, it’s clear that there’s an appetite for celebrating the hard work of urban gardeners across the map.

  • Improved health

If you’re putting the time and effort into tending to your own crops, you’re more likely to want to enjoy the fruits of your labour. This means you might be inclined to eat more greens than before, for example.

Gardening, however, doesn’t only benefit the health of the gardener. Your produce will be beneficial for the health of your loved ones, who will get to enjoy the fruit and veg you’ve grown.

  • Educational opportunities

Urban gardening is a great way for schoolchildren to put the information they’ve learned into practice. Whether they’re expanding on an idea from biology or working on a geography project, this is a brilliant, hands-on way for them to learn.

Tomato plants in July.
Tomato plants in July. One way to grow tomato plants, when space is limited, is to fill empty garbage cans with topsoil, with holes in the bottoms for drainage. A drip hose brings water. Metal supports with concentric circles help tomato plants grow upright. One benefit of the cans is that it is harder for creatures such as squirrels and chipmunks to eat the fruit since it is up off of the ground.
Credit: Tomwsulcer – Own work

How to Grow an Urban Garden

Are you feeling inspired to try your hand at urban gardening? It can be possible to grow some very special produce – even if you only have old work boots placed on the doorstep to begin with.

To help you get started, here are some top tips:

  • Why?

Before you begin your urban gardening adventure, it’s worth considering why you want to do this. This can help you work out the goals you have in mind.

For instance, perhaps your yard is overlooked, and you want to grow climbers or plant small trees to add a level of privacy. Or maybe you’ve always wanted to grow your own fruit and veg, but space limitations have put you off. It could simply be that city life is busy and you want to find a way to meet likeminded people in-between work and the school run.

Once you know why you’re taking up this type of gardening, you can look at the logistics.

  • Location

Where you choose to set up your urban garden can dictate everything from the types of plants you opt for to the type of soil you need. You’ll need to consider the space you have for your garden, and you’ll have to think carefully about what you use to plant in. You might, for instance, need to invest in a small planter or it could be that you can repurpose something like an old sink.

Look into the types of plants you can grow at this stage in the process. This will help you to know the best conditions for the fruit, veg and any other plants you have in mind. Plus, by researching what you can grow in the location you’re basing your urban garden in, you can decide what could be a successful attempt and come up with a growing schedule.

  • Shade lovers and the question of soil

Shade is a factor when choosing the location of your garden. It’s likely that you’re growing in a garden that will be surrounded by buildings and walls. While this can rule out some plants, there are climbers and plants that like the shade that could be perfect for your urban gardening project.

Soil is another major consideration. If you do have access to outdoor space, it’s likely that you don’t have the soil there to plant in. Therefore, it’s worth looking at containers and investing in planters. There are also certain plants that don’t need much soil, too, such as celery, lettuce and herbs.

  • Make connections

Look into any local urban gardening groups in your area. By finding a community of fellow city gardeners, you’re more likely to be able to ask questions and get growing tips. Plus, you could make friends, making your project even more fun.

Plants that Suit Urban Gardens

If you’re searching for plants that work well in urban gardens, here are some of the go-to options for many seasoned city gardeners:

  • Bamboo

Bamboo can grow nice and tall, making it the perfect screen for gardeners seeking to enhance privacy levels in their outdoor space. They can become unruly, so make sure you keep bamboo in robust containers and tend to this plant so that it doesn’t overrun.

  • Star jasmine

Trachelospermum jasminoides, or star jasmine, is a popular climber that can be grown in a pot or the ground. It may need some support as it grows, but it’s worth putting int the time to care for this plant as it has lush green foliage all year round and then in the summer it forms beautifully scented flowers.

  • Vegetables: a selection

If you’re set on growing your own for your salads, lettuce, cherry tomatoes, and peppers are all popular types of fruit and veg that you can grow in containers in your urban garden. You might also want to try growing a hearty summer squash or beans.