News Treehugger Voices My Tips for a Sustainable City Garden Size doesn't matter when it comes to creating a beautiful, productive space. By Elizabeth Waddington Elizabeth Waddington Facebook LinkedIn Writer, Permaculture Designer, Sustainability Consultant University of St Andrews (MA) Elizabeth has worked since 2010 as a freelance writer and consultant covering gardening, permaculture, and sustainable living. She has also written a number of books and e-books on gardens and gardening. Learn about our editorial process Published March 8, 2022 03:00PM EST Fact checked by Haley Mast Fact checked by Haley Mast LinkedIn Harvard University Extension School Haley Mast is a freelance writer, fact-checker, and small organic farmer in the Columbia River Gorge. She enjoys gardening, reporting on environmental topics, and spending her time outside snowboarding or foraging. Topics of expertise and interest include agriculture, conservation, ecology, and climate science. Learn about our fact checking process AzmanL / Getty Images Share Twitter Pinterest Email News Environment Business & Policy Science Animals Home & Design Current Events Treehugger Voices News Archive In a city garden, there are often things to consider which do not need to be considered with rural properties. And since the number of city-dwellers globally continues to grow, it is vitally important that any outdoor spaces are utilized sustainably and to the fullest. I do not live in a city. In fact, my closest neighbor's home is a few hundred meters away. I am lucky to live surrounded by farmland even though we ourselves don't own a huge area of land. But I have lived in several cities in my life—and now, as a garden designer, I work on urban designs on a regular basis. To help those who want to make the most of their city spaces, I've put together this list of my tips for a sustainable city garden. No Outside Space? You Can Still Get Growing City dwellers don't often have the luxury of their own outside areas. And many believe that this means they cannot grow food, herbs, and flowers their own at home. That's not true! Even those without a garden can still make a start. All you need is a sunny windowsill to get growing. Renting Should Not Be a Barrier Another challenge for many city-dwellers is that they do not own their own properties. But even in a rental property, there are ways to get growing. Small-space container growing solutions are cheap to implement and can be adopted regardless of the situation. Pots can be placed carefully and moved when you move on. Small Spaces Make Great Gardens If you do have an outside space, no matter how small, this is a great advantage in a city. Balconies, roof spaces, courtyards, or small gardens can all be used for food production and to enhance your life in a range of different ways. Greening small spaces can make a big difference to your quality of life, and with innovative vertical gardening and container gardening solutions, yields can be much higher than you might have imagined. Westend61 / Getty Images Well-Designed City Gardens Do a Lot Small spaces can be used for food production and meet a range of other needs, as long as the design is thought out carefully and each element fulfills multiple functions. A productive garden can, of course, be beautiful while serving recreational purposes. By integrating food production with other plantings, well-designed city gardens, even very small ones, can deliver a lot more than many people think. It's Important to Consider Privacy A well-designed outdoor city garden should function like an additional room for your home. Where space is more limited, the ability to actually live in and be connected to your outside space is even more important. To make sure that an outdoor city space is really somewhere that you want to spend your time, privacy is important. Overlooked spaces in more crowded urban areas can feel enclosed and secure with the right design, which blocks sight lines without hiding too much sun. Careful and thoughtful planting in the city garden will turn it into the haven from busy urban life that you crave. City Gardens Help With Pollution and Air Quality In addition to prying eyes, city dwellers can be impacted by other issues, such as air, water, soil, and noise pollution. All good designs for city gardens must think about how these things will affect a space, and how these challenges can be ameliorated through careful planting. The plants you choose can be used for bioremediation—cleaning the soil, water, and air. Placing the right plants in the right places will actually make your garden a healthier space to spend your time. City Gardens Improve More Than Just Your Own Life Your own needs and wishes are important when designing and creating a city garden; however, it is also important to remember that they also enhance your neighborhood and have positive impacts in wider ways. Sustainable, organic city gardens filled with a range of native plants reduce strains on urban resources and improve amenities for residents, both human and nonhuman. Wildlife wins, too, when we create green spaces in cities (think pollinators). And every city garden, no matter how small, can help in the fight against climate change. Kay Fochtmann / EyeEm / Getty Images Sustainable City Gardens Keep Water in Mind When creating a city garden which can truly be sustainable over time, considering water is key. Whether you are growing in the ground, in raised beds, or in containers or vertical gardens, you should think about water from the outset—where it comes from and how it can be conserved. You should always harvest rainwater wherever and whenever possible. Take steps like mulching and low water use irrigation to conserve fresh water as much as you can. Look Around the City for Garden Materials In a city garden, you may not find it as easy to source the natural materials that allow you to make new growing areas in urban areas. Many people may resort to buying plastic bags of composts and other organic materials. There are DIY options, though. City gardeners can still make their own compost at home and source things like compost made from municipal waste, wood chips from arborists, and even manure from pet shops and zoos in the vicinity to get started. You Have More Resources Than You Think Even in a small city garden, where you may need to source materials externally to get started, you can still create a garden that maintainable with onsite materials over time. Planting with long-term fertility in mind will ensure that a city garden offers the things required to keep it growing well. Thinking about generating biomass as well as generating food and other yields helps you ensure that your garden becomes a closed loop system over time.