Photo by Colleen McMahon via Flickr

Designing an urban garden presents unique challenges. Small spaces mean that every plant has to really count.

Yards surrounded by tall buildings and trees are often shadier than their suburban counterparts. Rooftops and decks can be windy and dry.

There’s precious little advice out there specifically geared to garden design for an urban space, so we asked four of our Brooklyn garden experts for their best tips for urban gardeners.


      Photo by Shelby Bell via Flickr

      So you’ve decided to turn that unfinished backyard into an urban oasis come spring. But how do you know which plants will thrive in our climate and put on a big show in a small city space?

      Brownstoner asked three local garden professionals — James Stephenson of Artist Garden, Katherine Aul of Staghorn, and Jacob Hawvermale of Urban Roots — which plants are best for Brooklyn gardens.

      Here are the top nine shrubs, trees and perennials these pros prefer. They will add color, texture and interest all year long.


          Photo via 462 Halsey Street Community Garden on Facebook

          The mayor recently announced that 34 temporary greenspaces would become official permanent gardens, while nine lesser-used sites would be built up for affordable housing. The news sparked mostly delight in local gardeners and advocates who once feared that hundreds of garden sites might be developed.

          One 30-year garden veteran, self-described as being “on the front lines of garden preservation,” emailed Brownstoner to express his joy regarding the announcement, calling it an “amazing way for the city to say ‘Happy New Year’ to us gardeners!”

          Here, he explains the multi-decade history of NYC’s evolving efforts to preserve community gardens:


          Brooklyn gardens are in their final flowering. How is your garden looking?

          As the air gets crisper but before the leaves start falling in earnest, we’d love to share your scenes of autumnal Brooklyn plantings. Send us your garden photos while you have the chance and we will publish them.

          Email photos to laura [at] along with your neighborhood info and any details of interest to Brooklyn gardeners. Or simply tag @Brownstoner in a twitter or Instagram post and we’ll embed your picture.


          For more than two decades, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden has annually bestowed the title of Greenest Block in Brooklyn on the borough’s most verdant streets. Just yesterday, they announced the latest winner — a lush stretch of Bainbridge Street between Malcolm X Boulevard and Stuyvesant Avenue in Bed Stuy.

          Browstoner thought it was peak season to take a look back at the Greenest Blocks of years past. Flatbush is the most-awarded neighborhood — two of its blocks have won six of the 21 titles — followed by Bed Stuy, which has won four.


          Bainbridge Street between Malcolm X Boulevard and Stuyvesant Avenue is the winner of this year’s Greenest Block in Brooklyn contest. For 21 years now, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden has been hosting the contest — a face-off of window boxes and planters — in an attempt to make Brooklyn cleaner, greener, and bring communities together.

          Residents spoke of a massive hose over half the length of the block that everyone shared to help water the plants. “We get out early in the morning with that hose. We have a wagon for it, and a reel,” said block resident Sid Paris.

          Block members went on to speak of the sense of identity and place created by the shared goal of winning the competition. “It’s a real tight block association,” former resident Anna Baker told Brownstoner. “Everyone participates, even the children.”


          As Brownstoner readers know, Brooklyn’s days as an agricultural hotspot didn’t come to an end 300 years ago. The borough is home to the world’s largest rooftop farm: Brooklyn Grange’s 65,000-square-foot spread at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

          Installed in 2012 at the top of the Navy Yard’s Building 3, the farm turns out tens of thousands of pounds of produce every year, in addition to producing eggs and honey — and you can see the operation on a pair of tours offered every Wednesday morning.

          Visitors see up close how the farm works and learn about the methods and environmental benefits involved with rooftop farming, and urban agriculture more generally. After the 30-minute tour guests stop at the farm stand for honey, hot sauce and vegetables.