Vertical gardens are a design solution that turns the constraints of the city environment into food growing opportunities.
They can be made from simple recycled materials, empowering us all to create personal oases of nature and food in what might otherwise be desolate city voids.
Constraints and opportunities in the city environment
Half of the world’s population already lives in cities, and 8 billion people may do so by 2060.
Good design can bring our food and habitat needs together, allowing us to grow food close to home despite the constraints of the city environment.
Key constraints include:
• Lack of horizontal space
• Shading by buildings
• Limited fresh water supplies
• Lack of the microclimates needed by plants
• Limited time for gardening
With good design there are also potential advantages to the city environment:
• Food production and consumption can be brought close together.
• Waste organic matter, nutrients and water can be rapidly and safely recycled.
• We can make efficient use of the limited and intermittent time we have for gardening.
• We can create optimal plant growth habitats.
Cities in fact offer a wealth of spaces in which we can create optimal habitats for plant growth – including sunny walls, courtyards, trellises, solaria, ponds, window boxes, roofs, nature strips, planter boxes and gardens.
Cities also provide abundant valuable resources for urban food production through their abundant supply of organic wastes, effluents, recycled materials, willing workers and keen consumers.
Good design brings these features together and turns many of the city constraints into food-growing opportunities.
Vertical gardens as a design solution
Vertical gardens offer many options to innovatively maximize the 3-dimensional gardening space of cities, rather than just conventional areas on the ground.
Vertical gardens use containerized, more autonomous plant growing systems to make optimal use of the sunlight, spaces, safe waste water, composts, recycled resources and available time of city dwellers for gardening.
This results in micro-habitats that delight people as well as plants. These oases of nature not only nurture plants for food, but also nourish our souls and our creativity and begin the work of reintegrating our health and happiness.
Vertical gardens do this by:
• Reaching to the sky to optimize the sunlight and warmth of vertical walls.
• Using spaces to grow food synergistically, so that the other uses of those spaces (eg recreation) are enhanced rather than crowded out.
• Limiting distance, so that we are in more intimate daily contact with our gardens. This means we experience more of their benefits, and are better able to safely cycle resources to and through them.
• Minimizing the time needed so that even if our interaction with the garden is intermittent, we can enjoy the food and habitat provided.
• Providing buffers between the often harsh concrete environment of the city and our quality of life – particularly as climate extremes intensify.
• Maximizing opportunities for young and old to create personal habitats, and grow along with their urban ‘jungles’.
Vertical gardens can be made of simple recycled materials. Both children and grown-ups can have fun using these materials in innovative ways to create a green micro-habitat at minimal cost.
Containers can be designed to maximize autonomous efficient growth, and to accommodate a huge diversity of plants.
Further information on this topic
Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual, by Bill Mollison (Tagari Publications, 1988).
The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21st Century, by Dickson Despommier (Thomas Dunne Books, 2010).
Sustainable Food, by Michael Mobbs (Choice Books, 2012)