As outside space becomes increasingly scarce, city dwellers worldwide are growing more resourceful. They are transforming any scrap of soil, concrete, wall or rooftop into their own little Eden.
Last year, London writer Lucy Scott, with photographer Jon Cardwell, scoured six cities — London, Berlin, Tokyo, San Francisco, New York and LA — for the most ingenious of these planted pockets for their book, My Tiny Garden. The results show beyond doubt that when space is in short supply, the ideas start to flow.
Nine of the best: hot pots and lightweight garden planters
Nine of the best: hot pots and lightweight garden planters
1/9 Herb Hex Pot
Create an instant herb garden with a series of hexagonal planters that will also slot neatly into an awkward corner. Each Herb Hex Pot, in Med-style faded terracotta, is 25cm diameter and 21cm high, and costs £6.99 from homebase.co.uk
2/9 Deep zinc troughs
Deep zinc troughs have practical side handles and an aged appearance that improves over time. Set of two, with one 59.5cm long, 27cm wide and 19cm deep, the other 49cm long, 20cm wide and 14cm deep, £44.95 from sarahraven.com
3/9 Glazed terracotta pots
National Trust range of glazed terracotta pots in charcoal, navy, chalk white and sage are decorated with the NT's signature oak leaf and inscribed with the words Beauty, Inspire, Nourish and Grow. The frostproof pots are available in four sizes from £5.99 (for size 20cm high and 21 cm diameter) from Woodlodge.co.uk and West Six Garden Centre
4/9 Fibreglass window box
A window box takes on rustic French charm with the look of beaten copper, but is made of more practical fibreglass. This Provençal planter measures W100cm x D27cm x H27cm — drainage holes drilled on request.
5/9 The Ivy Pot
Florentine terracotta pots are garden classics, but are expensive and heavy, so lightweight fibreglass makes a welcome substitute. Part of a wide range from Capital Garden Products, the Ivy pot comes in four sizes, from W36cm x H29cm.
6/9 Colourful steel planters
Powder-coated steel planters from Fermob are portable and have built-in stands, adding height as well as making them rock-steady. In a wide colour range including aubergine, the basket planters come in two sizes —W70cm x D34cm x H84cm; W119cm x D25cm x H54cm. Visit www.barbed.co.uk or call 020 8878 1994.
7/9 Cube planters
Plain cube planters are simple, classic and show off architectural plants a treat. Iota’s Flagstone Cube planters resemble weathered stone and Fresco planters emulate polished plaster, but are made of resin, so they are easier to lift and less expensive.
8/9 Resin pots
Weatherproof resin pots slot on to railings to give your balcony the flowery edge. Each round pot has a locking bar beneath so it sits tightly without any danger of slipping. The pot fits rails up to a width of 6cm, and is available in forest green, lime, anthracite and white.
9/9 Glazed clay pots
Celadon blue is the shade that suits every summer flower. Find it at Homebase in a glazed clay pot with dimensions of W25cm x H28cm. The Dynasty Pot is also available in lime, cherry and cream.
“Most of these gardeners aren’t designers,” says Scott. “They’re just giving it a go. People think that because you live in the city and have little space, you should go for a couple of pots and a clean, minimal look, but these tiny gardens, overflowing with plants, tell a very different story.”
Case in point is the narrow Tokyo terrace of Jared Braiterman and Shu Kuge, where morning glory creates an azure curtain over wire-framed window boxes as well as camellia, olive and fig trees. “We’re not into that minimalist aesthetic,” says Kuge. “A garden has more impact when it’s packed full. It has more stories to tell.”
Filled with greenery, urban plots become part of a wider story, too. Elisa Baier, founder of San Francisco outdoor design firm Small Spot Gardens, aims to make backyards as environmentally useful as they are decorative. She says: “An urban garden is part of a fascinating metropolitan ecosystem. By working with natural processes, your garden can clean air, filter polluted run-off and help wildlife.”
London firefighter Simon Jakeman, increasingly called out on shouts related to climate change such as flooding, decided to do his bit by planting a lush garden on the roof at Surbiton Fire station. With upturned helmets as hanging baskets, fire buckets of pollen-rich bedding, raised beds and bird boxes, it is a welcome pitstop for wildlife and now features in the London Fire Brigade’s sustainability plan.
Scott was struck, she says, by the generosity of spirit displayed by the gardeners. Kimberly Conley and Deep Jawa created a parklet — a small park in pavement space — at the front of their Victorian house in San Francisco’s Mission District for passers-by, as well as themselves. “I hated the space,” says Jawa, referring to the concrete slab the couple have since covered with deep planters of yuccas and drought plants, as well as a bench to encourage folk to linger. “Part of the idea of parklets is to highlight the spaces our society unthinkingly reserves for cars.”
Inventive urban gardeners don’t dwell on what they don’t have, but use what they do have. On her Brooklyn balcony, stylist Lara Backmender’s dining table is a slab of weather-beaten wood from Coney Island, while sailing rope around her ceramic planters, fixed with duct tape, prevents them cracking through harsh New York winters. Why use standard-issue trellis on a rooftop terrace when you can make a square privacy screen from cut birch trunks, as Harlem-based Marie Viljoen has done? Birds settle on the poles, the snow-white bark brightens dark days and, as Viljoen says: “Vertical plants are crucial in a small area.”
What is clear is that greenery gives cold, urban buildings soul. Just ask Londoner William Howard, whose flowery Hanging Gardens of Barbican, several floors high, cascade over his balcony, concealing the unforgiving concrete façade. Or enterprising Deborah Burch and Faith Blakeney, who, within their industrial workspace in LA, have created a fabulous leafy hanging garden from 100 modular planters, in three rows at ceiling height. As all intrepid urban gardeners know, when there’s no available ground space, the only way is up.
My Tiny Garden (Pavillion) by Lucy Anna Scott with Lucy Conochie costs £14.99, but Homes & Property readers can buy it for £12 including p&p by calling 0141 306 3296 and quoting ref CH1960