A ‘no yard’ way to garden in the city
With a changing housing market, and the push for people to live in smaller spaces, or more condensed cities, the ability to grow for ourselves is also changing. This guide to urban gardening will walk you through some alternative gardening space options.
“Not in my backyard” (NIMBY) is a term we often hear when people don’t want something near them (like a sewage treatment plant next to your local playground).
NIMBY gardening is quite literally about not in my backyard (because I don’t have one) kind of gardening.
Even without having a yard to garden in for the last decade, I’ve still managed to keep active with gardening in various different ways. Here are some of my favourite ways to keep growing, with limited space.
Community gardens are my favourite way to grow vegetables, and connect with neighbours. If you are able to join a community garden, they can provide a great social network in addition to a place to garden. Connecting with others who share an interest can be a great way to make friends. Sharing a gardening space also allows us to learn and share from others in the garden, providing tips and tricks based on past experiences.
Community gardens can come with some politics, like any social setting, but the benefits that they offer tend to far outweigh any drawbacks from personal conflicts. They’re also a great space to network, and socialize.
I personally really like community gardens as an option. I have learnt so much from other people just by gardening along side them. Also, because these spaces tend to be intergenerational, it’s a great opportunity to connect with people who can share some really valuable life lessons. Its also a great space for families, and kids. The imagination kids bring to the garden can be a wonderful experience for everyone. Even those of us without kids.
Some cities/municipalities have garden plots in selected areas where people can sign up, or get on a waiting list to have their own individual plot of land that they rent. These plots are often in a larger area with a lot of plots sitting next to each other.
I grew up using garden plots, and while we were able to grow a lot of produce, it can be tricky gardening next to other plots that don’t share your gardening techniques. Being able to establish some guidelines on how people will share the space can often help with this though. Often cities offering the plots will already have some written rules on how to use the space to keep things relaxed.
A huge plus for garden plots is that they are a larger piece of land that you are free to garden however you choose. Some long time garden plot users have even set up small decks or chairs in their gardens because they spend so much time hanging out there.
Most lots have a community feel of their own, which may or may not be your style. If its an option where you live, its worth looking into though, as it can be a really great, and fun way to garden.
The major draw back to garden plots in larger cities is that they are near impossible to get, as the waiting lists are often long, and difficult to get onto.
Yard sharing is another popular option that is starting to take off in larger city centres. These yard or garden shares are usually organized through a local community group. They typically involve a homeowner who has a front or backyard, but little to no desire to garden, but wants a garden to occupy their space.
As an alternative to hiring a gardener, some people are partnering up with folks in their neighbourhoods who are looking to grow food or vegetables, and maybe some flowers. It is common to split some of the produce with the homeowner as a thank you for using the space. This will look different for every homeowner and person gardening, but something like donating 10-20% of what you grow to the homeowner, or maybe a food bank/charity of their choice if that is their preference.
Being able to find and grow in any space is key when you don’t have a yard available to you. I have seen some really beautiful gardens on boulevards, and city owned streetscape areas.
Boulevard gardening may require the cooperation of your municipality, depending on the area where you would like to grow. Other options are finding boulevards in your neighbourhood, and gathering a few neighbours together to design a garden.
My concern with growing vegetables on boulevards is the pollution from car exhaust, and other street vehicles. However, if you live in a pretty quiet area, or have a larger boulevard that could potentially host some containers, or garden boxes, you may be able to create a community garden space between the lanes of traffic.
Municipalities are usually open to beautification projects, especially when they are low cost to them. If a community is willing to garden a space, and put in that labour, they are sometimes willing to provide resources, and materials, such as boxes and soil.
If boulevards line your streets, this might be a really viable option for growing in your community.
I have seen some really cool laneway gardens. This is becoming an increasingly popular way to garden. Similar to boulevard gardening, it will depend on where or not you have a laneway available to you. A lot of apartment buildings, or older row houses back onto laneways or alleyways.
Often in more concrete based cities, you could be a homeowner without a yard, but a laneway out back.
Finding strips of soil, or space to build containers, or garden boxes will be helpful in growing along these narrow strips of nature.
Some neighbourhoods who share laneways have devised community gardens out of their shared space. Each homeowner responsible for caring for their section, or gathering together at set times to share in the work. All this community building can sometimes lead to fun results. There are many laneway neighbourhoods that have laneway parties every year to celebrate their accomplishments, and have some fun.
Laneway gardens are a really creative way of carving out space where space is limited.
If your only outdoor space is a balcony, container gardening is going to be your friend here. If you live in a high rise, or even a lower rise, but your only outdoor space is a balcony it can be tough to decide how to use this space.
Function is key to making small urban gardening spaces work. This might require a bit of creativity. If you are in a condo or apartment building start by checking the balcony rules. Often these exist for safety reasons (and sometimes its just aesthetic). If you can mount something to a wall, or divider fence, having a vertical garden will make optimal use of this space. Something like a trellis, or wall box might work well here.
Some key factors to consider when balcony gardening, is How high up are you? How much sunlight do you get? What do you want to grow?
If you are up very high, it’s worth doing a bit of research into how plants and vegetables grow at that height above sea level. Consideration should also be given to how much wind your balcony faces, and whether or not you may have to plant hardy plants, or shield them from the wind.
Most patio gardens will involve container gardening. Some patios might have space for built in boxes, or larger growing space, but on the whole, it will likely still be some form of container gardening. This can still be a really great way to grow a plethora of produce.
Deep containers will be great for root based vegetables, or larger plants. One of my favourite things about container gardening is the planning and design work that can go into making a beautiful display that is also edible.
An example of this is growing sweet potatoes, and beets together with other flowers. This creates a colourful and flowing arrangement that can later be pulled up, and eaten.
Patio container gardening can present some space challenges, but ultimately can still be very productive, functional, and creative.
If your apartment building rooftop allows for people to walk out and enjoy the breeze, rooftop gardening may be an option. Much of this style of gardening will rely heavily on container gardening.
Like balcony gardening, something to consider is how high up you will be gardening. Plants can grow differently at different elevations, and depending on how high up you are, you may have to adjust the growing zone you are in to adjust for the climate differences on the rooftop.
If you do not have a rooftop where you can actively walk out and enjoy the surroundings, you may be looking more toward a grass or succulent based roof.
Planting a grass or succulent based roof can add a vibrant dynamic to your building or house. In addition to helping with insulation, and adding green space to the neighbourhood, green living roofs are a really creative way to expand the growing space in your life. The type and style of green roof you choose will depend on your climate, building type, function, and cost.
Indoor gardening has recently become very popular, especially with the ever-expanding world of succulent gardening. There are so many great ways to grow plants indoors its a fantastic option for urban gardening without a yard.
Technological advances in both lighting, and irrigation have really helped along indoor gardening techniques. However, you don’t have to put in a huge investment to start indoor gardening. Starting out with one or two plants on a windowsill or a side table is a really easy way to get started.
Succulents are a really popular choice for indoor gardening because they don’t require a huge amount of care, and are pretty easy-going.
If you have outgrown your windowsill space like I have, you could consider adding shelves across the upper parts of your windows to increase the growing zone in front of your windows. Alternatively though, you could get some grow lights to help your plants along. Grow lights are especially helpful for continued growth throughout the winter months when sunlight hours are shorter.
Indoor gardening can offer a whole range of options that until recently haven’t really been viable options. There are wall mountable containers that can be used to grow indoor lettuce, and herbs, irrigation systems, and more.
Not in my backyard doesn’t have to mean not in anyone’s yard. Gone are the days of needing a yard, or property to be part of the urban gardening community. Gardening, and experimenting with growing should be accessible to everyone.
If you are looking for some options for raised garden beds, check out this other post about growing above ground.
I hope you are able to put some of these no yard gardening spaces to use. If you already do, or are going to try some out, I’d love to hear about it. Send me an email or leave a comment below.