So you want to start a garden, but you live in a concrete city
Tuesday, July 14, 2009 - 14:33
Gardening has not always been something I've had a passion for, or even found all that interesting. Recently, however, the idea of having my own garden is suddenly exciting and offers a feeling of productivity, independence and connection to the earth and the evolution of food. I love the idea of walking into my backyard to grab ingredients for dinner: carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, corn, squash, zucchini, herbs and spices...the list goes on. There's something romantic about the idea of strolling through your own produce to pick the fruits of your labor for your gastric enjoyment.
Although this thought of connecting myself with the earth and growing my own food exhilarated me, there were a few reasons that kept holding me back. For starters, I live in the middle of Washington, D.C. in a row house. Anyone who has ever visited a row house in D.C. knows that there is no such thing as a backyard, and rarely is there even a patch of grass. So where was I going to put any sort of plant that needed to root itself in the ground in order to grow?
I was also a bit overwhelmed at the thought of having to actually grow and take care of something. Like I said, I've never been particularly interested in growing anything, and I have little experience taking care of anything with roots. I didn't know the first thing about planting or cultivating. I was worried that if I did try to grow plants, I would fail. And I don't particularly enjoy failing. It's easier just not to start something than to try and fail, right?
Another barrier between me and my garden was the idea that if I was going to have a garden at all, I wanted to go all out or not have anything at all. I wanted to be able to grow plants in soil, and to grow a lot of them. I wanted to have a compost pile and rows of produce. My cousin lives in Georgia where she and her husband have a wonderful backyard perfectly conducive to hosting a garden. I have yet to see their final garden product, but it sounds amazing. I thought I would be too disappointed in my feeble garden attempt since I couldn't spread it out across a yard and have more of a "traditional" garden.
A few weeks ago, I decided to just quit finding reasons not to try out a small garden, and I bit the bullet. That's right -- I decided to go ahead and try out my green(ish) thumb; I now have one tomato plant (that is quickly growing and producing lots of cherry tomatoes), one rosemary plant (which is very easy to take care of), and two basil plants (they are currently dried up from lack of attention, but I'm confident they will bounce back to their green bushy selves soon enough). I am trying to grow cucumbers and lettuce from seedlings, but so far my efforts have been futile. Hopefully that will eventually change! We have a back deck in my house that has places to set pots, and two very small beds that could potentially be used for planting. Currently that is where my plants reside, and seem to be quite happy about it. My garden might be small, but it's all about taking baby steps, and learning to cope with the city space you have. I'm thinking of adding a compost pile and maybe a few more tomato plants, depending on how things go.
Various books are available to help you through your first urban garden, check out amazon.com for some ideas. If you really have no space, and don't have the time/interest/money to spend on creating a rooftop or raised garden bed, check out your local community garden (Google is good for that). D.C. Urban Gardeners is a good place to start. Go for that green! Good luck!
Photos: Molly Canfield