06/23/2010 03:53 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Small Space Gardening 101: Fire Escapes Included

Growing up in New York City, having a garden just wasn't a part of my life. But with a mother who grew up in Ireland and a father from the South of France, my parents knew a lot about gardening and spent a lot of time in the country as children.

For me, not so much. I was a city kid. The closest thing I had to a garden was hanging out at Wave Hill in Riverdale or The Meadow in Central Park, mostly on the days when we were cutting out in high school. Planting tulips was not at the top of the list, shall we say.

But, living almost half my life in South Florida gave me a whole new appreciation of the outdoors and my career brought me closer to the art of landscaping and outdoor design. That said, I am now pretty interested in it. Admittedly, still rather clueless but interested nonetheless. I now live in a home with a coveted acre and a half in the suburbs of New York and gardening is really in my face, so to speak. The neighbors all have perfectly manicured lawns, neatly arranged flowerbeds and the requisite tomato garden in the backyard. It's all so very romantic and pretty. But, I'm a busy working mom and it is unreasonable to think I could possibly have the time to tend to such a large garden. Also, there are thousands of people I speak to that don't have an acre and a half of land to garden with. Either way, I think the best way to get started in gardening is to start small. That said, whether you live in apartment in the city or next door to something that resembles The New York Botanical Gardens, you can do this. It won't cost much and I read you can burn about 250 calories an hour working in the garden. Just an added bonus!

One way to get started on a small level is to check your local listings for community gardens. There is a surge of them all over the country and the people involved are usually really helpful and knowledgeable. My friend Michelle was bitten by the gardening bug this way and is now a gardening rock star! She was there in The Meadow those days, too!

The truth is as long as there is sunlight, we're in business! Before getting started, I recommend you go to your local gardening center or someplace like Lowe's, where they can assist you in finding the right plants and telling you when and where to plant them. This is really important, according to everyone I spoke to. Another thing to consider is are you planting in the ground or in pots. You'll need to make sure you give your plants ample room to grow. Next, get top quality soil. If you plan on growing veggies, it's probably best to go organic. And it'll be a lot friendlier on the wallet than a trip to Whole Foods. Pesticides can be harmful to children and pets, so make sure to inquire about safe alternatives. I never understand people who fill their cupboards with expensive organic foods and then spray their lawns where their children play with chemicals.

According to my mother-in-law who grew up on a farm, any garden can thrive as long as you nurture it, no matter how large or small. They require care and attention. If you're not committed, it's probably not for you. You need to aerate the soil once in a while, be on top of the weeds and water as directed. Gardens simply cannot thrive without the proper care and attention. The smaller the garden, the easier it is to manage. This is true especially for beginners. You're less likely to get overwhelmed and discouraged.

If you're going to have a small garden, particularly if it's in an urban setting make it pretty. I cannot tell you how many times I've been walking around Manhattan and I look up and see a beautiful little garden on a fire escape or small balcony. It looks really pretty. Planters and pots don't have to be expensive, there are so many options nowadays. Pots and planters are something you can always find at garage sales and flea markets really cheap. Furthermore, you don't have to invest in expensive plants for it to look good. Last month, we did an awesome outdoor deck makeover for "Open House NYC" on LXTV in Brooklyn for a couple who was craving some outdoor space. I brought in some beautiful white planters I picked up at Lowe's that instantly gave the space a clean, crisp look. Then, my friends from Starbright Floral in Manhattan added wheatgrass to them. Easy to take care of, chic, elegant and inexpensive. You could do something much more wild and organic, it's really all up to you. The idea is that we can all enjoy the pleasure a garden gives, no matter where you live or how much space you have to work with. It's relaxing, gratifying and for some people like my friend Michelle, a game changer. She took a hobby, made it a passion and now a whole new world. For the couple in Brooklyn, they got a backyard oasis in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Pretty soon, you'll be complaining about how short the summer was and all the things you didn't get to. This could be something you'll enjoy, remember and look forward to doing next year.
You'll never know unless you try.

Here's the Open House NYC outdoor deck makeover with some easy tips from me and my buddy, Stephen Faitos at Starbright Floral!


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