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Tips for an urban garden: plants that thrive in the big city

By Sophia Wood-Burgess

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In the spring season, there is a ton of movement in the property market, so we are helping Londoners spring into action at Foxtons to buy, rent, sell and let out property fast. It’s really put us in the springtime mood, so we've also been swapping tips and tricks for creating gorgeous gardens that thrive in London.
Here are some of our top recommendations for gardening in the Big Smoke:

Strawberries in hanging baskets

Celebrate your garden space

Here’s the thing about life in London – when the first ray of sunshine that breaks through the moody greys, we all march straight out to the gardens, commons and riverside pubs to soak it in. So why not plant something to greet you when you get there, and start the celebration?

Strawberry hanging baskets make a beautiful accent, with pretty little ruby fruits hanging over the side, in easy reach to pluck and garnish your Pimms. Another benefit to hanging baskets is that raising your strawberries up off the ground protects from hungry slugs.

Growing bearded iris in clay

For the London clay

An issue you’ll get with soil that doesn’t come out of a bag from your local garden centre is that London has heavy, clay soil. It doesn’t aerate well and holds water in, subjecting your plant roots to cold, wet winters. It can be a nutrient rich-soil, but it’s tricky to grow in and typically needs amending to improve drainage.

Bearded Iris hold up well in clay soil, and are surprisingly easy to grow for how delicate they look. The foliage brings spiky graceful lines to the garden for interest before and after the blooms, and there are many, many varieties to choose from.

fuchsia flowers

For the slug menace

Slugs and snails, who love the drizzly London weather, thrive in this city. If you’re tired of them munching through your hostas, try planting something they’re less interested in. Fuchsias make lovely border, potted and hanging plants with colourful dangling flowers. They’re so easy to grow, you can propagate easily and many gardeners find that slugs and snails aren’t keen.

Japanese maple in containers

For small spaces

Your first thought for small spaces might be little and low-growing plants to make the space look bigger, but you might get a better effect from something that draws the eye up and celebrates the vertical space you’ve got.

Acers – yes, we’re recommending a tree! Acers are great for adding structure, height and colour, you can shape them to suit your space, they’re perfectly happy in a pot and they love the dappled sunlight of a small courtyard garden. Find that perfect spot where they catch the golden afternoon sun and watch them glow.

For quiet amid the bustle

Your home garden is your sanctuary, make it a true escape from the city with some strategically placed insulating plants. We recommend bay trees in the city their easy maintenance in the ground and containers and ease of pruning to the most useful shape – these are often used as topiary. Bay trees make a good privacy screen especially because their dense, bushy habit is evergreen.

hedges for pollution resistance

Photo: Cotoneaster Franchetii by Père Igor | CC BY-SA 3.0 | Wikimedia Commons

For pollution defence

Live by a busy road? Consider cotoneaster.

A study by the Royal Horticultural Society found that the rough, hairy leaves and dense canopy of Franchet’s cotoneaster proved particularly effective in combatting air pollution.

Franchet’s cotoneaster is attractive, both as a neat formal hedge and as something slightly bushier. It provides privacy, a windbreak, as well as combatting the air and noise pollution of a nearby busy road. It’s evergreen with pretty winter berries that support overwintering birds. This is a larger plant for hedging, but even a compact hedging shrub can help.

Overwintering dahlias in London

For the benefits of city living

We’ve spent a while talking about the challenges, so we’ve got to look quickly at the benefits of city gardening – for some gardeners a big benefit is not having to lift your dahlias in the autumn. In the especially soggy weather we’ve been getting the last few years, it can be hard to overwinter dahlias even if you do lift them.

However, if grown in a sheltered spot, the insulating effect of the big city can sometimes be enough to protect your tender tubers, so you can chop them down and tuck them in with fresh compost or organic mulch. Heavy clay soil that doesn’t drain well can get colder, wetter and more difficult on tubers, so you’ll need well drained soil.

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