Forget the Gym, Start a City Garden

by Amy on June 10, 2016

Our city garden is growing by leaps and bounds. Our house is 4 stories tall on a 17’x80’ piece of ground with townhouses on either side.  We have a busy sidewalk and street out front, and an active alley out back.  So where does our garden grow?

Spring Trees 1Grapes front to back 1SunShaft GardenIn our sidewalk tree box, in a few patches of dirt out back, on walls, along fences, on decks, in planters… From rooftop to parking pad we are surrounded by lush, green living plants that grace us with their presence, clean our air, soften the hard edges of the city, make passersby smile , feed us, make us happy, and neighbors stop to chat.

IMG_7638  Veggies on deck Railing Flowers 2 Railing Flowers 3




No doubt about it, city gardening is challenging.  It takes imagination, grit, determination, planning and muscle – lots and lots of muscle.  After all, that dirt doesn’t get up the stairs by itself.

The folk at City Decks built a wonderful set of decks on our roof that feature a huge planter box.  It didn’t look so big on the drawings but wow it sure looked huge when it was finished.  When I started calculating volume and thought about how much soil that translated to I started wishing for a crane to lift it.  And I started worrying about the weight of the box.

What’s a girl to do? Draw up a garden plan, create a lightweight planting mix recipe, order everything from Amazon, wait for the UPS guy – who may never forgive me for all of the boxes of really bulky and sometimes heavy stuff – (I never have told him that those boxes were filled with dirt, perlite, vermiculite and compost), carry it all up four flights of stairs (including one circular stair), haul up a trash can, measuring cups and a shovel, mix it up on the roof and then fill the planter.Roof Garden Planting PlanSwitches placed inside planter which wwould be under soil level Roof Garden Start of Soil Mix Filling Early AprilSoilMix






Then a nap. Then plants. The result – a beautiful, wind and drought resistant, sun loving mix of herbs, perennials, grasses and annuals that makes us want to be on the roof.

IMG_0911Roof Garden PlantsOur little patch of earth is beginning to fufill its biophilic* potential delighting the eye, feeding stomachs and souls, providing places for birds to roost and feast on seeds, offering respite and dinner locations for pollinators, bringing smiles to passersby, making us happy and getting us in better shape.  Even with all those stairs I guess we can’t really forget the gym but I do think we can forgo the Stairmaster and  spend the time planning the next place to plant….maybe mini planters that cover an entire wall….  Look around at your nooks and crannies – bet you can fit in a garden too.


*Biophilia is the innate attraction humans have for nature.  With connection to nature we are calmer, more focused, happier, sleep better, breathe better…. we are more complete and healthier human beings. Sustainably minded architect’s and designer’s are beginning to incorporate biophilia into the design of buildings. You can bring biophilic design home through your gardens and your indoor plants.  For more on Biophilia and Biophilic Design see: for information about the Biophilic Cities Network, Google BioPhilly, Watch Biophilic Design: The Architecture of Life at, and Read Steven Kellert’s books on the subject including The Biophilia Hypothesis.




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