Growing Places

There is a huge range of growing methods that suit a city environment. Your urban home can be very productive even with limited space and sunlight. You just need to be selective with the plants and growing methods you use, as Paul explains:

Courtyard allotmentsCould your school or business benefit from a courtyard allotment?

A lot of Londoners have a quite-dark courtyard. Is it impossible to grow here? No.

It's always good to have light but I've grown a lot in places with a good 'sky eye'. In other words there's a lot of sky above for plants to 'see'; plants have two systems of photosynthesis they do like direct sunlight but they can cope with secondary light.

Soft fruit such as currants, gooseberries and raspberries can grow in quite a lot of shade and I've also had good results with rhubarb. Of the herbs that we use for home cooking, only mint does well in semi-shade though I've also had some success with sage. Other herbs like basil and thyme need much more heat and light.

Window boxes Need advice on installing and maintaining your window boxes?

Even with just a window box you can still grow choice produce if you grow organically. It's best to place your window box in south-facing window for lots of light and a prime-growing site.

For window boxes, herbs are your best bet followed by bush tomatoes, peppers, and chillis - small plants that give you a big return and are not one-offs. Think about how much light your plants are getting and don't kill them with love (!), keep water and food to a minimum.


A lot of London soil is polluted so most of us are forced into growing in planters and giving it much more care than if you had an allotment. Don't forget that drainage is vital. Always make sure water can run away safely, then you can add the best unpolluted soil (not from the local roughland).

Buy some decent loam, which is inorganic mineral soil eroded from mountains. It provides essential trace elements such as magnesium, boron and manganese which are very good for us. For example boron promotes the body's absorption of calcium. And loam is a one-off gift that will last for the life of your growing space.

Combine your loam with organic compost or manure either bought from a garden centre or produced in your home composter or wormery (link to What We Do) to keep your soil refreshed every year.

With all planters the bigger they are, the better. More volume means it's less likely to dry out and the less temperature variation, so use a good mulch on top. You can use anything from half whisky barrels to plastic. Remember, if you use metal planters always add good quality insulation, as they will heat up in the summer or get very cold in the winter.

Rooftop gardenWant a rooftop garden for your home or business? Please get in touch.

Rooftop gardens are bliss for London gardeners! Most London gardens are in shade or part shade, but with rooftop gardens you come out of the shadow and into the light.

Of all the gardens I've ever had the roof gardens have produced my best crops especially these huge cabbages (grown on Wolff Olins' rooftop garden in Kings Cross),

I have now built four rooftop gardens and am in the process of building my fifth. A lot of people use rooftops for rubble or seed greening, whereas I'm creating productive roofs for growing fruit and vegetables on. It's an extremely good growing place, but it is an aggressive environment that I'm constantly learning how to tame and improve on yields.

Skips Do you have a semi-permanent site you would like transformed into a unique growing space? Let us know.

The design brief from Global Generation was that the developer in Kings Cross wanted a temporary garden that could be moved when they needed to build on the site.

So I designed a garden using six rubbish skips and this enabled me to separate out the functions. Three were used for growing crops so I could demonstrate crop rotation, one for semi-permanent planting which is used as an orchard, one as a polytunnel which extends the growing season, and one I called the Green Engine with three wormeries and a rainwater harvesting system which 'drives' the whole garden to grow in the other five skips.

Before building starts on the site the skip garden currently inhabits, a lorry will pick up all the skips and move them to another temporary site in Kings Cross. The skips only contain one ton of soil so you can move your garden without loss and without disrupting the growing season.

There are other bonuses with skip gardens such as they're good fun, kids like them and they are unique throughout the world. The closest I've seen is photos of skips in San Francisco completely filled with soil for growing trees, but they would not be portable, unlike the ones I've devised.