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Summer is a beautiful, colourful time, but if you live in the city, the closest you come to a flower may be the bouquets at the grocery store and your favourite floral dress. Between the acidity in urban soil, the struggle of balcony gardening and those damn pests, it seems impossible to have any real plants of your own. Well, with a little help from By Nature‘s Sam Normandeau, we’ve put together some tips for partaking in the natural part of summer right in your own urban backyard.

What to plant

Shade-loving flowers

Cities aren’t exactly known for their great sun exposure. Sure, it seems sunlight’s always reflecting off some window or polished surface, but with all the tall buildings (and if your garden is on a balcony), your plants are likely stuck in the shade for a good portion of the day. So save yourself the hassel of trying to figure out how to get your plants more light and just invest in some plants that don’t need very much of it in the first place. Flowers like begonias, hydrangeas, geraniums and hostas all do well in a shady environment.

red begonia
PublicDomainPictures

Vertical Veggies

There are few things better than tasting the produce you grow yourself. You don’t need to sacrifice that luxury just because you don’t have enough room to grow rows of tomato vines. Try planting one of each plant you like rather than multiples — you usually end up giving away half the haul anyway. You can also plant vegetables like beans and peas that grow vertically or smaller root vegetables like kinko carrots or beets that grow close to the soil’s surface.

Hearty Herbs

Herbs with delicate leaves like basil or mint need a good amount of sunlight and protection to flourish. Don’t let that stop you from having fresh seasonings in your garden though. Try growing more hearty and resilient herbs like thyme and rosemary.

Thyme
Getty Images

When all else fails, cacti

Cacti literally live in the desert. They are almost impossible to kill. Just try.

Where to plant

The soil in the city is usually highly acidic, which is bad for your plants’ growth. You can try to replace all the area around your plants with new topsoil, but that can get expensive. Another solution is to plant in pots or other things. That’s right, there are a number of cute ways to plant a garden without planting anything in the ground.

Microgardens are all the rage

Microgardens are a quirky, cute way to spice up your garden, recycle things you might otherwise throw out and condense garden space. Rainboots, watering cans, fish bowls, water bottles. Basically, if it can hold dirt, it can hold your plant. Get creative!

Microgarden
Getty Images

Vertical gardens

If your plants are confined to a balcony or tiny backyard, your best option may be to go vertical. You can grow a number of vines on fences and walls or set up a little arrangement like this one. These really help you make the most of your space. Plus, is this adorable or what?

Vertical garden
Instructables

What? Upside down gardens?

Who would have thought? These sky planters can hang from pretty much anywhere and will make a cute and quirky addition to your deck, patio or balcony. Just be careful when walking under them. Get them here.

Sky Planter
Made in Design

Troubleshooting your urban garden

Yuck! Rodents

Your first line of defence is always a neat and clean garden. Don’t have anything that appeals to them lying around in your garden (that means compost) and eliminate areas where water might pool for them to drink. You can also set up fencing around your yard or lay plastic mesh in the garden to deter them. Another method is to bury hot peppers in the soil. The peppers won’t harm the plants, but they are quite unpleasant on little rodents’ feet.

Pesky pigeons

While you could buy a super expensive ultrasonic pigeon repeller, it feels a little unnecessary when there are other effective ways to keep pigeons out of your garden. Pigeons are afraid of owls. So purchasing one of those scare owls can keep them away (plus, you gain a friend). It also helps to minimize places where they can sit and perch, because that seems to be their favourite pastime.

Bleh! Acidic soil

With how bad pollution in a city can be, your soil is likely more acidic than your plants can handle and contains other toxins that will kill them. The easiest solution is just to plant in containers and skip using the soil in your backyard all together. If you’re dead set on planting in the ground, you’re going to need to make sure your plants are only in healthy topsoil by replacing a significant amount of the stuff in your garden. Test your soil regularly and replace the soil as needed. Alternatively, you could try using a self-feeding planter if you haven’t been blessed with a green thumb.

Adeyemi Adegbesan at the Strongbow #NatureRemix event
Adeyemi Adegbesan at the Strongbow #NatureRemix event

So don’t be afraid of your urban garden. There are definitely ways for you to and your plants to live in the city. Let this be the summer of living colour!