The Urban Garden

Tips For Rethinking Our Small Gardens

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Summer is quickly coming to an end. The lazy days in our gardens are gone, as we slip into our fall school mode. Recently, a well-known DC garden writer and advocate of city gardening and a colleague released their first book on urban gardening. Kathy Jentz, the Washington Garden Magazine founder and editor, and Teri Speight, a native Washingtonian who is on the National Garden Club board, are both strong advocates for local gardening.

Kathy Jentz is founder and editor of the Washington Gardener magazine, and author of the new Urban Garden Book. Photo: Kathy Jentz

The 207-page book is called The Urban Garden: 101 Ways to Grow Food and Beauty in the City. It is full of wonderful photographs and offers multiple scenarios for your small space. For seasoned gardeners and beginners, the authors offer great tips on how to rethink your garden. They reflect Kathy’s long held philosophy of inspiration over perspiration.

Publishers Came Calling
Kathy Jentz is known to many Capitol Hill gardeners. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland Journalism program and a long-time resident of the DC area. Kathy started her magazine, Washington Gardener, in 2005 after deciding that being a communications specialist for DC trade associations really wasn’t her thing.  Kathy often gives presentations at local garden club meetings, hosts workshops, and this summer was the juror of the Lincoln Park urn project. She is associated with many local parks like Brookside Garden in Maryland, and Green Springs Garden in Alexandria, Virginia. Terri is also well established in urban gardening circles, and she and Kathy have long been collaborators in this field.

Kathy says she wasn’t really thinking about writing a book, when a year ago she received a call from Cool Springs Press, part of the Quarto Publishing Group. They wanted to know if she and Terri might be interested in writing an urban garden book.  They were impressed with Kathy’s publishing of the Washington Garden magazine and her social media efforts including a blog and You Tube videos. The publishers were responding to the intense interest in gardening generated by the COVID pandemic, especially gardening in small spaces. The authors were asked to quickly pull the book together in about nine months.  So, they divided the chapters to write, and collaborated on sourcing the photographs.  “I am extremely proud of the introduction of the book because it really is the heart of what I do and I think the short chapters, less than 500 words on each topic, will be easy and inspiring for gardeners to use.”

Creating Your Own Garden
As the book makes clear, small urban gardening is a gift.  Instead of worrying about big choices in fields or big garden plots, city gardeners can “concentrate on creating tiny jewel boxes of perfection.”  There are so many ways to garden in small spaces.  One of the first pieces of advice is one I found reassuring: “All gardeners kill plants.”

Gardening offers a chance to learn new things through trial and error. Failure is part of the process and should not deter you from keeping at it. The book is full of ideas that even seasoned community gardeners will find helpful. For instance, choosing to grow tomatoes in pots rather than in the ground in order to protect them from being eaten by squirrels and other varmints. In my chat with Kathy, she provided insight into the age-old frustration of squirrels taking one bite out of every tomato on your vine, rather than feasting on just a single tomato. “The squirrels are in search of water, and they can suck the liquid in one bite and then it is time to move to the next one.” Kathy says, “They aren’t interested in eating the tomatoes at all.” She has solved this problem by adding a water feature in her community garden plot.

Eleven Chapters of Inspiration
The Urban Garden covers a wide variety of topics each featuring one page of text and a beautiful accompanying photograph. A third of the photographs were taken by Kathy from local gardens, including one on Capitol Hill. It is not necessarily a DIY garden book, but more a book to generate ideas and inspiration for your own garden spaces.

For instance, Chapter 7 is titled Privacy Boosters. In a description that adeptly describes most of our Hill homes, the chapter talks about being surrounded by close-in neighbors and having the desire to find a little privacy and solitude. As Kathy notes “gardens have long provided that place of sanctuary and solitude.”  She advocates for private shade whether it relies on structure for screening or the use of vines and shade trees.

The new garden book, The Urban Garden, is available at local garden gift shops, independent bookstores, and Amazon. Photo: Rindy O’Brien

An example of the latter found throughout Capitol Hill is the use of trumpet vine (campsis radicans) to create privacy for patios, either vining along a fence line, or letting it cover a trellis. The key to this plant is to take adequate care and pruning, otherwise it goes native and is invasive to plants surrounding it. The vine has an added benefit of attracting hummingbirds. The vine’s yellow, orange, or red tubular flowers are stunning, and, for the most part, it is hardy enough to winter over. Wisteria is another great vine that produces lovely purple flowers in spring, and then its leafy greens cover the vines during the summer.

Regarding containers, the authors discuss a range of options including clay pots and window boxes. Chapter 2 of the book has an entire page dedicated to Window Box recipes. Several Capitol Hill homes have added window boxes in the past few years, adding color and curb appeal to the neighborhood. Window boxes allow you to have a plethora of summer flowers even if your home doesn’t provide a lot of space.

Gardening Events
Kathy and Terri will be at two local gardening events this month. On September 17, they will be at Green Springs Park, 4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria, VA from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The Family Fall Festival will feature family activities, vendors, a plant sale, and book signing. Admission is free.

On October 29, the duo will be back at Green Springs Park hosting an urban gardening and design 101 workshop for adults from 9:00 to 12:00 p.m. The $62 workshop is a wonderful chance to learn more from these gardening experts.  For registration or more information about Green Springs events check the website, https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/green-spring.

The book itself retails for about $23.00. It can be purchased from Amazon or Bookshop.org. Many local bookstores also carry the book, as well as public garden gift shops at Brookside, Green Springs, and the US Botanic Garden.

This summer’s season may be ending but, as gardeners well know, we can always plan for and look forward to the next one.

Rindy O’Brien is sold on this book and eager to put its wealth of good ideas to use in her garden. You can contact Rindy at rindyobrien@gmail.com