8 Tips for Urban Gardening | Midwest Living

8 Tips for Urban Gardening

An Iowa couple found a mod downtown home they loved, but its cool rooftop patio lacked life. Enter vertical gardening.

Ellen Lewis and Josh Dreyer’s Des Moines townhome hugs the Raccoon River, putting them close to restaurants, concerts and the farmers market. It’s also a short walk or bike ride on trails to Gray’s Lake Park and Principal Park (home to baseball’s Iowa Cubs).

Though green space is never very far away, the couple wanted some even closer to home—on their patio. The 12×26-foot space off the stairs to the second floor is where Josh and Ellen relax on summer evenings. “Because it’s basically the roof of our attached garage, it’s a good size for entertaining,” Josh says. “We like hosting casual dinners with some good wine and great friends.”

Iowa rooftop patio

Garden designer Scott Johnson greened up the patio with planters that make use of vertical space and suit the modern vibe. He placed containers high, low and in between to create multiple levels of blooms and foliage, choosing plants that thrive in the urban setting’s “canyon lighting”—shade punctuated by a few hours of midday sun.

 “Scott did a great job using creative ways to show off all the greenery,” Josh says. “It really helped soften the industrial look of our space.”

Here's how to get the look: 

1) High-rise elephant’s ears shoot up from a tall ceramic-finish planter, while pink mandevilla blooms in a corner container (seen at back in photo above).

2) Sleek and stackable green plastic stools from Gold Sparrow double as side tables. Turned upside down, they make handy storage bins.

Step-by-step color

3) Wooden ladder planters (with zinc troughs) from A&B Home hold varieties that can handle the patio’s partial shade: pink and white wax begonias, ‘Wasabi’ coleus, Pentas ‘Butterfly Deep Rose’ and ‘Pink Crystals’ ruby grass.

Rooftop patio

4) To avoid damaging the metal walls, garden designer Scott Johnson used planters that lean, stand on their own or hang from the pergola.

5) Statuesque planters flank the wicker sofa with tropical picks ‘Pretoria’ canna, ‘Amazon Sunset’ parrot’s beak, ‘Margarita’ sweet potato vine and ‘Cocktail Gin’ wax begonia.

6) A bowl of low-maintenance, drought-tolerant succulents, including tall-growing Aeonium ‘Schwarzkopf’, tops the coffee table.

Stacked stone

7) A steel-finish gel-fuel tabletop fireplace with polished stones warms the conversation area. Scott set it atop a dark granite tile and a slab of white marble he salvaged from a stone yard.

Foliage fixtures

8) A cross between UFOs and spinning tops, resin hanging baskets from Urbilis hover like a garden chandelier. They’re filled with ‘Inky Fingers’ coleus and ‘Angelina’ sedum.

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