Eat Fresh, Urban Dwellers!

Grow Herbs and Veggies Regardless of Your Outdoor Space (or Lack Thereof)

By Valerie Beerbower

Want to start gardening but think you lack space? Even apartment-dwellers can use a few easy tricks to maximize space and grow their own flowers, herbs or vegetables. Five Rivers MetroParks horticulture experts lend a few tips to making the most of your potential growing space.

“The most important feature for a garden of any size is sun. Few veggies and herbs do well in total shade,” says MetroParks Education Supervisor Betty Hoevel, who hosted the annual Miami Valley Gardening Conference in March and also leads gardening programs throughout the year. “Container gardening is the way to go if you’re short on space. Be sure all containers, including window boxes, have drainage! Roots will rot and may kill your plant if they don’t have drainage.”

Tips for:

Window Box: If you have a sunny window box, you could grow lettuce, spinach, radishes, parsley and other shorter herbs, such as rosemary, sage, thyme or cilantro. Cherry tomato vines also make great salad additions to your window box. “Mix with marigolds for insect repellent properties,” Hoevel says.

Porch/Balcony Containers: If you have a porch or balcony, you can advance to larger containers. Try cultivating taller plants with stakes, such as tomatoes, peppers and beans. You can also try your luck with small varieties of squash and cucumbers, whether spreading or vining. Using basil in your container garden is a hit for adding fresh-tasting flavor to almost any dish, and it doubles as mosquito repellent!

Side Yard: If you have access to a little green space in your urban environment, you can grow even more vegetables. A three-foot plot can contain a tomato, cucumber or squash grown vertically (use cages or stakes to give the plants something to climb up on). You can also try peppers, lettuces, radishes, herbs and a marigold or two. Even though it’s a small space, you’ll still need to watch out for weeds!

If you don’t have so much as a window box, or if you’d like to be more self-sufficient and healthy through incorporating more fruits and vegetables into your diet, consider renting a plot from your local community garden. Community gardens are managed, maintained and owned by neighborhood residents and organizations. Community gardeners cultivate vegetable gardens, care for community-managed parks and beautify their neighborhoods with flowers and trees. Five Rivers MetroParks Grow With Your Neighbors (GWYN) program offers resources and support for local residents who have little or no space of their own, and the opportunity to live a more sustainable life. Visit to find a map of locations, resources for the growing season and links to get involved. You can also contact GWYN Program Manager Luci Beachdell at (937) 277-6545.

If you’re ready to get growing and you need plants, be sure to check out two fundraisers that benefit MetroPark-specific foundations. The Wildflower and Native Plant Sale takes place from 10a.m. to 2p.m. Saturday, April 28, at Cox Arboretum MetroPark. This annual fundraiser sells wildflowers and native plants. Native plants make great landscaping and attract local wildlife because they provide the perfect food and shelter. Head to Wegerzyn Gardens MetroPark on May 5-6 for the annual Mayfair plant sale. Here you’ll find vegetables for your burgeoning garden.

Need some starter plants that can handle the potential abuse from someone with less-than-green thumbs? Hovel has a few suggestions: “If you select one vegetable to grow, choose tomatoes,” she says. “You can drop-kick one off a building and it will do fine! They aren’t too picky about how deeply you plant them, so they’re pretty goof-proof that way, too. Give them plenty of water and remove any weeds and tomato plants will produce a bounty of fresh, tasty fruit for you all summer long!” Hoevel also recommends bush beans, which take quickly to most soil types and generate lots of beans, as well as eggplant. “They can be a tiny plant and still produce full-size eggplants, which means you can grow them from pretty much any size yard or container,” says Hoevel. “Add compost to any size garden and watch how quickly your well-nourished plants grow.”

Finally, another go-to garden container or window box staple — herbs! Choose from parsley, basil, cilantro, rosemary, thyme or sage for herbs that offer the most diverse applications. Add some to your salads or top just about any dish for a fresh-tasting flavor boost. Bonus — many herbs, like the humble flat-leaf parsley, contain nutritious vitamins, so you’re growing more than just a garnish!

To learn more about gardening, or if you’re ready to take your skills to the next level (or even just a level), visit to find resources and upcoming gardening programs.

Reach DCP freelance writer Valerie Beerbower at

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