#DIY Urban Gardening in Philly


When beginning a project of any kind, you must have the wherewithal to see it through to the end. Even if completion is much further than you had originally anticipated...

I don't know about you, but I generally start something with much gusto, then half way through, I think, what have I gotten myself into?

So, much like many of my 'projects', this garden started as an innocent weekend hobby that quickly turned in to me, way in over my head. 


I had the fortune of finding an apartment with a backyard and a relatively massive amount of space in south Philadelphia.  And boy did it need some work... Morning glory vines had just about strangled every tomato plant that existed back there, and the tomatoes were an undertaking themselves. 

To give you an idea for the space, it is about the width of a 70's row home and about 30 feet in length. I dreamed up this wild fantasy of laying a stone patio, having large, decorative grasses, and at the front, beautiful, raised Cedar beds to plant fruits and veggies that I would harvest in the late summer. 

I got to work on getting the supplies I needed. I would later find out that I never had everything I needed and had I counted my trips to the nearby garden store, well, let's just say they knew me by name toward the end of this. 

First, I bought the Cedar planks for the raised beds. Choosing wood for the beds is ultimately a very important decision because if you plan to grow produce, you must avoid treated wood of any kind!!  Treated wood will kill your plants, or worse, contaminate the food you grow and serve to your family.   Untreated Cedar wood is known to stand up to the elements outside and have some longevity if being kept outdoors. I built two 3'x5' boxes and one 2'x2' box all with open bottoms, then headed on to the dreaded task of clearing the land. 

Taking away all of the old tomato plants, brush and weeds that had accumulated over the years was no easy task in itself, but with the help of a couple good friends and six contractor bags later, there lay a giant area of gorgeous dirt! 

Beginning in March, I felt as though I had a leg up on the season ahead. The boxes were placed and filled with top soil leftover from leveling the area. Still too cold to plant veggies on the east coast, I decided to skip to the next phase of the project... the patio. 

Let me first say, I have ZERO experience in laying a patio and knew that I was somewhat limited in terms of resources, meaning, it wasn't going to be something out of a magazine. I had to improvise. The first thing I did was lay an organic weed barrier, which is best described as black fabric that can be 'stapled' into the ground. I laid bricks in a line on either end as a barrier to contain the stone. Then began the arduous task of bringing in the stones.     Twenty-two bags of 40lb. stones later, I was able to fill the 7'x12' area I had designated for a table and chairs. 

The following weekend I laid another set bricks to section off the area for my ornamental grasses, weed protected the area, and planted my the spikes. I obviously needed some kind of ground cover to hide this black fabric and began to set into panic about how many more bags of stones I would need to fill the area. Well, my intuition was right, 30 bags of decorative pebble and many dirty shirts later, I had nearly completed my vision. It was beginning to look like I had planned at this point and I  knew that the final step was just a few weekends away. 

Then the fun part came of going plant shopping, deciding what to grow!  I chose 5 different varieties of tomatoes including some heirloom varieties and yellow plums, two types of peppers for the smaller box, along with cucumbers, radishes and arugula for the final larger box. My garden is essentially one giant salad!! 

The final step was choosing a table and chairs to put the finishing touches on the patio. I found a beautiful teak dining table with two leaves, a bench and a couple of chairs. 

While there are a few other details I will add over the summer, like those cute little outdoor bulb lights, this 'little' garden became a lesson in patience and perseverance for me.

Every time I completed a step, I thought I couldn't handle any more. And each weekend I was free, I dedicated several hours to getting the job done right. I now get to enjoy all of my hard work with friends and family in the garden this summer and I can truly say the dirty hands and muscle aches were all worth it.