Gardening Where You Think You Can’t -The True Urban Gardener

Baltimore Remington Neighborhood Garden

A Garden in the Remington Neighborhood of Baltimore

For the past 20+ years gardening has been an integral part of my life.  15 of those I have lived in Baltimore, Maryland and it was only in 2007 that I acquired my first yard.  So, how did I do it before then?  -Well, any way that I could.  This post is an explanation of my beginnings as an urban gardener and a tribute to those who, against all odds, battle the concrete jungle to create a patch of green.

Jack In The Pulpit From My First Baltimore Urban Garden

Jack In The Pulpit From My First Baltimore Urban Garden

My first urban garden started atop the roof of a building on Antique Row in downtown Baltimore.  I rented a (top) third floor apartment, which was shorter in depth than the two stories below, allowing me to step out of my bathroom window onto the second floor.  I was in graduate school at the time and, to support myself, I worked at Garland’s Garden Center in Catonsville, just west of Baltimore.  My first plant was a Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’.  It was a perfect specimen and I just had to have it (I know- such a common plant-  I was young).  The Sedum was soon followed by a small holly and a pine and so the roof garden began.

As more plants accumulated, I built wooden containers from discarded pallets found at the garden center.  What amassed wasn’t so much of a garden, but rather than an assemblage of plants that I really liked.  There wasn’t a design to my garden, but I do admit to moving plants around from time to time into different arrangements that I deemed suitable.  I even managed to create a watering “system” where I suspended a hose from the kitchen sink and out a window that sat caddy corner to my collection of plants.  The major disadvantage of my roof garden was the roof itself.  It was black tar and on really hot days it would get so warm that the containers would sink into the surface and leave cookie-cutter like impressions.


Years later I moved to a place with a yard, but unfortunately the landlords objected to my manipulating any portion of their lawn.  At this point I had completed my studies and had become Nursery Manager at the garden center.  A colleague and friend of mine at the store understood my predicament and, also wanting a garden of her own, convinced me to apply with her for a community garden plot in Baltimore city.  The waiting list was daunting, but with some good fortune things opened up more quickly than we had expected and shortly had our own green spaces.  We had to pay a yearly fee to “rent” the land, but it was nothing compared to what we got in return.

The Beginnings Of My Community Plot in Baltimore's Patterson Park

The Beginnings Of My Community Plot in Baltimore's Patterson Park

I inherited grapes and asparagus from a previous tenant and, in turn, I added ornamental and edible plants along with some wooden columns from my parent’s recently sold farm in Pennsylvania.  Jane (my coworker) and I took our gardens very seriously and in future years we were each given Awards of Aesthetic Appeal by Judges in the Master Gardeners Program for Baltimore City Gardens.

If you are interested in joining a Baltimore community garden, CLICK HERE for more information from the Community Greening Resource Network presented by Baltimore Parks and People Foundation.

Below are some images from around Baltimore City where  other urban gardeners have come up with creative ways to incorporate an oasis in an otherwise inhospitable place.

Creative Container Use At Baltimore's 24hr Paper Moon Diner

Creative Container Use At Baltimore's 24hr Paper Moon Diner

More Inovative Containers In A Remington Vegetable Garden

More Innovative Containers At A Remington Vegetable Garden

Federal Hill Rowhome

Federal Hill Rowhome

Creative Container Placement On A SkyWalk At The Inner Harbor

Inventive Container Placement On A Skywalk At The Inner Harbor

Creative Watering System In Hampden

Clever Watering System In Hampden

For those who own a home that is surrounded by concrete, I encourage them to chop it up.  I mean, make sure it is legal of course, but by removing some concrete and installing a garden, you will not only make a more lively environment next to your home, but you will help save our local waterways.  An area with a watertight surface, like concrete, prevents rainwater from naturally soaking into the ground.  Rainwater collects debris, chemicals and pollutants and carries them straight to the bay if unfiltered.  When I finally purchased a home, I did not have nearly as much green space as I do now.  In addition to a concrete pad in the back, the entire side of my house was concrete.  I dug up the concrete path which revealed an older brick walkway underneath. I used the surprise bricks in my new design.  Look below for a before and after shot of my sidewalk.  Happy gardening.



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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Nice job on your sidewalk. Proof that something can always be done 🙂

  2. I love the sign with the bath tub planter. I took the old claw foot tub that was behind our barn and brought it back in the house to use. It would have been much easier to leave it outside and use it as a planter. Nice idea.

  3. Wow. I love these pictures. I have not seen this side of Baltimore. (I’m a montgomery county snob). I have also never seen a more beautiful community plot! The ones I’ve seen are sort of half planted, then forgotten. You DO take you gardens seriously! The side yard is very pretty. I like your design. It looks like there are some concrete pavers, or whatever.. What are they made of? Are they concrete poured directly into a mold in the dirt? I’ve thought of trying this – whatever it is, it’s lovely.

  4. The walkway is made of the found brick, local slate and “Belgian blocks”. What appears to be concrete is the slate. I ordered a pallet of it and have used it in pathways around the house. It sits atop crushed rock and is filled in with sand. It is very sturdy, but also allows water to pass through.

  5. That’s really cool! I am currently a grad student in a small apartment and I’ve just started gathering plants for my home. Right now I’m just collecting plants that I like – so there’s no rhyme or reason to my collection other than pure preference.

    I’m so excited to see the progress in your gardening. It shows me the possibilities in my gardening future one day. Thanks for the post!

  6. My wife and I have started a garden in our back yard. I truly believe this is something every citizen in Baltimore city and across the nation needs to do. I am in the process of starting my own non-profit organization on food security,hunger,obesity, and urban farming in our city. We are trying to get more people involved in the movement.

  7. My partner loves the look of the front of your property I am thinking about growing ivy up the fomt of our house but I have heard that you can ahve creepy crawley problems I am sure that this could be the case with any foliage growing up the front of the house. It’s nice to see the green colors in the urban street. We came from the country and miss it very much.

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