Like many urban gardeners with limited space, I want as much as I can get out of my plants. It’s not enough for my pots to be pretty, they need to do something too. As a result, you’re more likely to find herbs than hydrangeas on my windowsill.
But beyond supermarket-bought basil and a couple of chillies, I’ve been stumped for how to grow edible plants in the pots and boxes I can fit in my flat and tiny garden. Most growing guides are for people with allotments and vegetable patches.
So I was thrilled at the release of The Urban Kitchen Gardener, a new book by urban agriculture advocate Tom Moggach.
Moggach previously founded City Leaf, an organisation that helps schools, councils and other groups to set up urban food-growing schemes. “Food and cooking came first for me,” Moggach told the Metro. “My gardening started with my passion for eating.” Sounds like my kind of gardener.
His expertise is now available in the form of The Urban Kitchen Gardener, a lusciously illustrated book which combines tips for growing different herbs, fruits and vegetables in small city spaces with recipes for eating your produce. There are also practical tips to help rookie gardeners with harvesting, taking cuttings, saving seeds and – to my fascination – composting on a miniature scale.
The book is perfectly pitched at people like me: young renters with limited space and time who need basic instructions for growing food they actually want to eat. Moggach understands, for example, that many of us are limited to planting in pots, and he gives the precise depth, in centimetres, of compost needed to grow each plant.
Summing up the East End Gardener philosophy, Moggach writes: “Urban growers rely on ingenuity and creativity to grow plants wherever we can.” His ideas are simple but innovative, such as stroking indoor plants to toughen them up in the absence of wind. And instead of growing space-hogging cucumbers, why not try mouse melons, a tiny, crunchy climber from Mexico. I’d plant them for the name alone.
Most importantly, Moggach makes you feel that urban gardening is the best kind of gardening, not a poor substitute for an extensive plot. He rightly points out, for example, that the city creates microclimates unknown in the countryside. These microclimates allow urban gardeners to grow more exotic plants and to extend the growing seasons.
Moggach deals mostly in salads and flavourings – plenty of unusual herbs for adding taste to dishes both savoury and sweet. He’s not telling you how to grow staples here – but then again, that would be daunting for those of us with just a concrete balcony in Dalston.
I’d recommend this book to budding urban gardeners excited about growing their own food as well as seasoned planters looking to shake up their home-grown flavours. As Moggach’s introduction concludes: “Just one pot on the windowsill will make you feel better. It’s a simple, uncomplicated relationship, unlike all others. So get growing.”
The Urban Kitchen Gardener by Tom Moggach is available for £11.04 on Amazon
By Hannah Bass. Photo by fissionchips under a CC licence.