Growing a Family of Big City Gardeners


Big City Gardening{via}

I grew up in a very urban area of Philadelphia and didn’t know anyone who grew their own food. In fact, most people I knew didn’t have yards, just front stoops and back alleys. It wasn’t until my gardening internship in my mid-twenties that I realized I had never thought about how vegetables actually grew.

What the heck did a pepper plant look like? Shockingly, the thought had never crossed my mind.

I recently went back for a visit to the east coast, where my siblings and parents still live very urban lives. Life has changed in the big city, and vegetable gardens are replacing tiny scraps of lawn. I spent some time with my brother in his small Washington, DC backyard, helping him figure out where to put two new garden beds.

My mom and sister live ten blocks from one another in downtown Philadelphia, and don’t have a speck of soil between their properties. My mom has a backyard patio where she sets up her “garden” each year with potted plants and flowers, garden art and a bubbling fountain.

woman in garden under trellis

In my side yard vegetable garden.

My sister has experimented with growing food up on her second story black tar roof. This required climbing out a second floor office window and scaling a ladder up to water the 5 gallon buckets holding her vegetables.

Needless to say, after a season of that craziness I brought my solar pathfinder to her house so we could figure out if she had enough sun on her patio. Since then she has built raised planters to lift her herbs and vegetables a little bit higher to catch the sun peeking over the row houses that surround her.

I assure my sister that gardening will feel so easy when she gets her own backyard some day!

This year, my sister and mom have signed up for a community garden plot together. It’s fascinating to sit and listen to them figure out what to plant and how to start their garden.

I love it when my family calls to ask me questions about their gardens. Each time we talk they give me the gift of insight into the beginning gardener’s brain. The way they ask questions and the problems they’re struggling with helps me figure out how I can better serve and educate my clients. Many of whom are learning to garden for the first time.

In the eyes of my urban-dwelling family, I think I’ve become a bit of a country mouse living here in Madison for the past 13 years. But I secretly smile to myself knowing that, whether they admit it or not, my family is developing a little bit of Wisconsin in them, too.

You can watch my 10 minute TED-like talk about how I became a gardener here. (It’s quick and funny!)



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