How To: Grow a Garden in the City

Filed under Life and News


Thank you to the genius of Daniel H. Burnham, creator of the famous Chicago Plan of 1900, Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, Ludwig Mies von der Rohe, Helmut Jahn and several others, Chicago is a living museum of architecture. But the city that gave the world its first skyscraper didn’t leave much room for a garden.

One of the greatest things about spring and summer is the return of green plants. Just because you live in a yard-less box hardly means you should have to give up the joys of gardening though. So here are some ideas for your own Chicago garden.

1. Choose where your garden will be. If you are one of the lucky cats who has even a tiny plot to farm on, start there. The elements can give you a hand caring for your garden, especially if you want to exert minimal effort on your part. If you have not land around you, look into community gardens. The Chicago Park District website offers an extensive list of over 40 community gardens in the city. Community Gardeners “take initiative and responsibility for the community garden and in effect, the park as a whole,” according to the website. Lastly, you can always go the container route, and use window boxes or clay planters. These can be placed IN or OUT. Extra green bonus: use ‘found’ containers for your indoor garden, such as coffee cans, glass jars, or ceramic serving dishes. Container gardening websites can help with supplies and other tips.

2. Pick your plants. Herbs, flowers and vegetables can all thrive in a city setting. Herb gardens can be bought ready to plant in many different kits that are pre-packaged and come with simple directions and containers. A quick google search brought up kits of grow your own salsa mix and or indoor medicinal herbs. Planting annual flowers can be done with seeds or started plants from most garden shops. Best choices for the city: Zinnias (the more you cut–the more they grow), Snapdragons (tolerate neglect well and like both sun and shade), and Sunflowers because they can be grow small in a container or large outside. If you want veggies, try a hanging tomato planter. These can also pull double duty and grow eggplant, peppers, and more.

3. Take care. Check out how much light and water your new garden needs. Each plant or seed packet should come with instructions–follow them. A garden of brown rotting plants isn’t going to spread any cheer. Also check for pests on certain plants and read up on prevention and care. I really like the book “Urban Eden: Grow Delicious Fruit, Vegetables and Herbs in a Really Small Space” because it’s full of pictures that can help give you lots of ideas.

Get out there, green thumbs.

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