A Plant Grows in Brooklyn
Professional planter Amy Pennington on how to master the art of urban gardening.
As a Seattle-based food writer and personal urban farmer, Amy Pennington is hired by clients to tend their edible gardens — no matter how limited the plot of earth (or concrete, as the case may be). In fact, the Apartment Gardening author grows herbs, lettuces and veggies in pots on the deck of her own one-bedroom apartment — and swears that the rest of us urbanites can do the same. "There's no such thing as a brown thumb," she says, "It just doesn't exist. Plants are pre-dispositioned to want to live, so you're already winning because you have something that's working with you." From between beds of lettuce, Pennington shared her motto on why there's still time to garden this summer ("it's never too late to plant," she assures us), her belief that cucumbers are having a moment, and offered tips to help our city gardens thrive:
"Lettuces and herbs are gateways to the garden. Lettuce is quickly growing, so you put them in the ground or in a pot with seeds, and in six weeks you can have a whole head of lettuce. They also germinate quickly. I'm in this bed right now, and I planted these lettuces 10 days ago, and every single row is up and germinating. Herbs can go in little pots, big pots or garden beds, and they don't need a lot of sun. I suggest growing herbs that you use occasionally, but not a lot of, so you don't wipe them out in one dinner."
Maximize your Space
"The easiest way to maximize space is to have an upright, vertical garden. There are a bunch of plants — vining plants like cucumbers and sweet peas — that are adapted to vertical gardening. They grow up and out of the bed, thereby creating space. It's nice to not be stepping over 85 million pots, and it's also kind of clever because it acts as a privacy shield from your neighbors."
"Because pots are small and you're naturally inhibiting the plants' growth, knowing what to choose is really imperative. Zucchini is a really nice, productive summer plant. Strawberries are kind of fun. They're perennial, so they always come back year after year. And cucumbers are great for apartment gardeners because they're very shallow-rooted. I don't know why, but this year I'm kind of into cucumbers."
Reap when Ready
"Here's the big visual indicator: You should harvest plants when they look like what you buy at the store. A lot of my clients are like, 'Well, I didn't know when to harvest mine!' People get freaked out and don't give themselves enough credit, and here's the answer: You know when it's ready. And if you don't know, just taste it."
Keep them Fresh
"Just like flowers, plants last a little longer if you put them in water. Wrap just-damp herbs or lettuce leaves in single layers in a paper towel, and they'll last for seven or eight days. If you're using fresh cut herbs, you can put them in a very shallow glass of water on your kitchen counter and they will hold. Just keep trimming the stems and refreshing the water."