My first experience of apartment gardening was back in the 1970’s in a small apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. My husband and I had purchased an apartment in what was then considered a rural community only accessible by boat, train, taxi, or bus. Despite its transient nature, the apartment was steeped in history and had just undergone a massive renovation with most of the original features intact. Despite its seemingly uncluttered, unpretentious nature, we knew that this was going to be a treat for us to work on. The result of our efforts was a small, lush urban garden that still managed to have all of the plant life we craved without crowding the small limited space available.
We chose to create this small haven from the ground up as an apartment garden in order to maximize natural light and to give us a bit more gardening space than what was available to us in our small apartment. We wanted to be able to grow our favorite vegetables such as tomatoes and to have a flower garden that we could care less about. Our initial attempts at apartment planting yielded beautiful but narrow greenhouses with pale green soil patches that lacked even enough sun to support any type of plant growth. This was not what we were looking for when we decided to turn our apartments into greenhouses.
The next thing we did was purchase a variety of large pots and cheap potting soil mixes from the local Home Depot and to spread these throughout the entire apartment. We also bought some colorful bird seed mixes and other assorted dirt and potting soil. It was clear from the very beginning that we were on the right path when it came to planting and we were pleasantly surprised at how well the small apartment turned out.
Soil preparation is key to a successful garden. It starts with a thorough washing with warm soapy water to remove all of the previous soil fertilizer and sand that may have been mixed with the potting mix. Then we let the soil sit until it is rinsed thoroughly. Then we water the plants with an ever so slightly moistened spray mix, just enough to moisten the roots but not to saturate the soil.
We planted a mixture of crabgrass, cacti, flowering shrubs and a variety of herbs including one or two lemon trees. All of these species are known as desert plants. Desert plants need relatively little amounts of sunlight, which is critical to their existence. Because of their lack of sunlight they have to rely on other sources of energy such as the cooling shade of rock walls and rocks. We had planted many small bushes along one side of the building and using the large rectangular stone blocks that were in our main entry hall, we placed them in the large openings that provided ample light and shade for the plants.
After the plants had grown to be too large for our small balcony, we decided to place them in larger containers that provided them with more direct sunlight. With this arrangement we could see that the pots of the shrubs would soon become overcrowded. We moved the pots around every couple of weeks, allowing each plant to receive as much sun as possible. We also watered these plants every couple of days using a watering bottle we brought along.
When I moved out of my apartment and purchased a bigger house, we decided to make our garden bigger to accommodate the new addition. With a larger garden we could include a variety of vegetables like squash, cauliflower, onions, bell peppers, potatoes, etc. We found that we could easily grow plants that other people would not be able to grow because they do not need as much sun. We found that this made the garden very attractive and that we could use less water when we didn’t need to water the plants very often.
A friend asked me if I minded planting trees in my terrace. I told him no, because I really enjoy eating lemon trees. I also grew up eating lemon torte from a fountain on my grandfather’s terrace. I grew up in a home without a garden but I love gardening and planting vegetables. If you would like to get into gardening, my personal opinion is that growing vegetables like potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and lemons are great ideas for your landscape.