New York might be the ultimate concrete jungle, but it's still a place where greenery thrives. Carmen DeVito and Alice Krief of landscape
architecture firm Groundworks
are two ladies whose passion for plants defies the nickname. Come spring and summer, these two are busy with designing and planting some of the most beautiful gardens in the city, both large and small. DeVito, a self-described "horthead" took a few minutes to talk urban gardening with us.Less is more.
"When you have a small space -- it sounds obvious -- but less is more," says DeVito. "One of the mistakes that people make and that I encounter is that they buy lots of little pots that require lots of maintenance and watering." Instead of just buying what looks good, DeVito recommends devising a plan. "Even if you don’t know how to draw, do a tiny sketch of how you want it to look like."Imagine your garden as an outdoor room.
"Coming from a gardener
, it sounds counter-intuitive, but you should first think of where you're going to place your furniture and how you'll use it,” says DeVito, who advises getting a sense of the furniture that you want first, and then working the space around it. "Most people want to soften the urban environment. You wouldn't put the artwork up before buying the furniture and the rugs."Multi-tasking is essential.
Furniture is essential to outdoor space, but many urban gardeners are working with limited space. "Think about multi-functional pieces -- a table that folds, a bench that has storage," she says. "Even if it's just you and your roommate, or you and your spouse, you should think about what to do when have a few guests over. Think flexible -- smaller more modular pieces rather than plush, bigger things."Think outside the “season.”
"New York has had such a long winter, so try to choose plants that have more than one season of interest. Choose a tree that has an interesting fall color, or an evergreen that looks great all year round." Some of DeVito's favorites are grasses that thrive from July to September. "Even in winter, they look interesting with snow on them, and look great in pots," she says. "Plus, they're super forgiving in terms of watering."DeVito also tends towards tropicals.
"They're beefier, and they pay the rent in a more interesting and lush way," she says. "Elephant ear and passion vine are two great examples that create a sensuous, lush mood without spending a lot of money." Tropicals tend to peak from October to December, just when some other annuals start to peter out. She's also a fan of mini water gardens that are easy to grow, and just need a waterproof container. "One of my favorites is papyrus. Every time people come to my house, they admire it and are like, 'What is that?'"When in doubt, hit the herbs.
For those of us working with just a minimal outdoor space, or even just a tiny window ledge, DeVito likes herb gardens. "They're practical, they never get out of control, and most important thing is that the need a lot of light." DeVito likes grouping drier herbs together like rosemary, thyme, and oregano, or wetter herbs like basil, parsley, and tarragon that like to be wetter in one pot.Inside/outside.
Even in the Northeast, you can extend plant life by bringing them inside once the weather cools. Tropicals are a good example, DeVito likes to bring those in if you have a sunny apartment, as well as cacti, succulents, begonias, and beefsteak plants that do well in the shade. "If you want to get super funky, take a staghead fern and bring it in to your shower during the winter," she says. "The humidity of the shower is great for it." Another, more advanced plant, is a citrus tree that can come in and out and look beautiful in pots, like lemon, or kumquat trees.Bring it in.
Even if there's absolutely no outdoor space, you can still take advantage of sunny areas within your apartment. "First thing to do and most importantly is consider how much light you really have," says DeVito. "Analyze what direction your window is facing and that will tell you what kind of plant you should get." North-facing gets the least light, South-facing gets the most, and East or West get the balance.Start small.
“Don't invest in the $200 house plant until you understand the conditions. Start off with a succulent which is very low-maintenance, and then work your way up," says DeVito. "Even try a terrarium which is really simple, and self-contained. They’re wonderful, small jewel gardens and you can even bring it out for a dinner party as a centerpiece."For more of DeVito and Krief’s garden wisdom, tune into to their gardening podcast, We Dig Plants at Heritage Radio Network
Pictured: Carmen DeVito and Alice Krief