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How to master urban gardening like a total boss

2024-04-11

How to master urban gardening like a total boss


“Gardening” can be a misleading word. For a start, it implies that it’s something that has to be done in a garden, which is a bit off-putting to the millions of us who live in apartments, city housing or suburban terraces.

And secondly, it triggers negative feelings in many people who see it as a boring, pointless and expensive pastime that’s for other people. We’re here to put a few of those beliefs to bed, by showing you how gardening can help transform where you live, and how you think.

What is urban gardening?

It would be too simple to describe urban gardening as growing things in a city home. There are plenty of homes in cities with gardens, and quite a few rural and suburban homes that don’t. It’s more a state of mind – a way of making a space work for you.

It’s often about using things that you have lying around to transform a space into something green. And it doesn’t even have to be outdoors. Urban gardening can happen on window ledges, porches and hallways – anywhere with natural light. The main thing is that you’re growing things away from the traditional garden setting.

Learning how to grow

One thing that can nip a life of gardening in the bud is having a bad experience at the start. Growing things isn’t difficult (nature has been doing it for millions of years), but making them grow how, when and where you want takes practice.

It’s discouraging to watch your shoots wither away after a few weeks, but learning to manage your expectations while you pick up techniques really helps. Planting more than you need helps, too!

One of the beauties of growing plants is how quickly you learn from experience. We’ve teamed up with urban gardening guru Alfie Nickerson to get people gardening, and you can follow his thoughts and the videos he makes with us for the Timberland Collective for inspiration.

Get inspired – it doesn’t have to cost the earth

One of the most rewarding aspects of urban gardening is the way it can transform a bland, uninspiring space into something beautiful and vibrant that you’ll be proud to call your own work. And best of all, it can cost practically nothing.

By upcycling old things, you can get an eco-conscious urban garden that will be putting something back into the environment. From plastic bottles and yogurt pots to old boots and crates, pretty much anything that once contained something (including your feet) can be used to plant in. Your only expense will be soil, but you can pick up a big bag for a few pounds from a supermarket or garden centre. Then you’re well on your way to zero waste.

Vertical gardening is a brilliant way to use minimal space – it’s basically growing on shelves or stacked containers, usually up against a south-facing wall. Each layer still gets its sunlight and water, but the footprint is tiny. It’s particularly great for strawberries, as they naturally fill their space, and it makes it that little bit harder for slugs and snails to reach them.

If you’ve got an old bookcase or stepladder, you’ve got a vertical garden. You can of course really let your imagination run wild, too – it’s your wall, after all.

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Loving this! Cucumbers and tomatoes are great to grow vertically against a warm wall in summer, especially if you don’t have a greenhouse. I love growing them this way and so easy to pick too! On that delicious note, have a fab Sunday everyone and hope the sun is also shining where you are! \ud83e\udd17\ud83c\udf45\ud83e\udd52The cucumber variety I grow is Marketmore - it is reliable, productive and so tasty. I use it for salads, pickling and yoghurt dips like raita, yum! \ud83d\ude0b\ud83d\ude4c\ud83c\udffc\ud83e\udd52

A post shared by Hema \ud83c\udf31 (@growwithhema) on Sep 20, 2020 at 12:41am PDT

Seeds can be surprisingly pricey, especially if you want a wide variety. But don’t forget that you probably throw away thousands of seeds every year. Apples, melons, peppers, tomatoes and berries are all really easy to get going, and because you get quite a lot of pips in each fruit, you increase your chances of some of them taking. You might never get fruit off them, but they always look wonderful.

Even seemingly tough seeds like date stones and olive pits will shoot if you plant them in moist soil. Again, the more the merrier – most probably won’t shoot and root, but those that do can be cultivated and live for decades.

Little and often

We said earlier that growing is easy because it happens naturally, and while that’s obviously a good thing, the same also applies to the gardener’s nemesis: weeds. If you leave a pot of soil anywhere (but especially outside), spores, seeds and kernels will magically find their way into it, and weeds will inevitably grow. Not only do weeds look unsightly; they also suck up nutrients and even light that should be reaching your plants. But don’t worry – and don’t resort to weed killers.

A key phrase you need to remember when you’re urban gardening is “little and often”. When it comes to weeds, you should get into the habit of checking all your growing containers daily, and pulling up anything growing there that you didn’t plant. Some days there will be none – others you’ll get a handful. But every time you do it, you’re helping your plants thrive.

A new you

There’s no doubt that growing plants is excellent for your mental health. People have come back from very dark places thanks to the calming sensation of gardening. Here’s why:

  • You enter a zen-like state when you’re weeding, pruning, perfecting and shaping your plants. It requires complete concentration and you’re fully absorbed in the zone.

  • Nurturing anything is a great way to improve self-esteem, and because plants really want to grow, they’ll do their bit to help. Having that visible sign of your efforts at the end is incredibly rewarding, but knowing there’s always improvement and work to do keeps your sense of achievement rolling on, season after season.

  • Finally, if you can get outside more often, it’s going to be beneficial. As well as all that vitamin D, you’ll be exposing yourself to pure daylight, which can help reduce seasonal affective disorder. Just being out with the soft breezes, birdsong and buzz of insects can help keep you calm. And if you have no outside space, you can get most of the benefits simply by being at the window while you nurture your plants.

Urban gardening can be public too

Not everyone has the time or the room to get growing. But there are usually urban farms and other green spaces where the community has set aside some land for planting flowers, fruit and vegetables. It could be to help get fresh food to underprivileged locals, or it could be there to keep young minds active, but whatever inspired it, you can always ask how you can get involved – you’ll feel really invested in it, but you don’t have to commit to it quite as much.

Staying warm and dry outdoors

Gardening means heading outside in all weathers, whether you’re tending to your crop or repairing wind-damaged equipment. You might have a favourite piece of knitwear that’s just right for stepping outside every now and again, but in spring and autumn (and of course British summer) you probably need something waterproof.

Starting from the ground, a pair of waterproof boots will keep your feet warm and dry when you’re trudging through puddles and mud. The classic Timberland Earthkeepers 6 inch boot will do the trick, and give you years of service. The ones linked are Earthkeepers, made with repurposed rubber and 50% recycled plastics for a much smaller environmental impact.

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The Ecoriginal EK+ Boots are a staple of our Earthkeepers® Edition, a selection of products that represent our highest level of eco-innovation. Think Responsible Natural Rubber, featured in the outsoles: a material sourced responsibly, in a way that does not contribute to rainforest deforestation. Head to the highlights to learn more. #Timberland #NatureNeedsHeroes

A post shared by Timberland Europe (@timberland_eu) on Sep 17, 2020 at 8:35am PDT

For your waterproof jacket, have a look at our women’s and men’s collections – they change with the seasons, so you can always be stylish as well as dry.

Be creative and let nature do its thing

That’s all there is to becoming an urban gardener: no rules, only results. Gardening is something you get better at with each passing year. Every failed crop is a new experience, and a bit of research will always reveal the root cause. But creating that urban space where you and nature can work together for self-expression is intensely rewarding, and great for the soul.