Just about three years ago, I moved to an apartment in Gowanus/Park Slope/South Slope that makes up for its small size and lack of closet space with a small but serviceable private deck and garden. It is by no means a sprawling pastoral landscape, but it is a patch of green–complete with a real grass and lilac tree–and it’s all mine.
The natural next step was for me to casually “pick up” gardening, and every spring since I’ve spent countless hours and dollars trying to reinvent myself as some kind of urban farm-to-table virtuoso. The past two seasons have been a lesson in managing expectations– my total yield has been an overzealous patch of mint (mojitos, anyone?) and a lone, anemic strawberry–but I can tell already that things will be different this year. Even if they aren’t and my black thumb strikes again, I hope that I can at least save other would-be gardeners some time and heartache by sharing what I have learned.
I may not be an expert on soil pH, but if there’s one thing I know, it’s how to drop coin at gardening supply stores in Brooklyn. There are a lot, and I tried to plot most of them out on the map here. What follows is a short breakdown to help you plan your own method of attack.
Many of the newer garden shops in Brooklyn are small, expensive boutiques selling air plants, non-GMO heritage seeds, and pricey design-forward planters. GRDN Bklyn, Sprout Home, and Rose Red & Lavender all fall into this category. They are likely too precious and overpriced to be the main stop on your garden shopping trip, but they are lovely places to browse through and they are likely to carry things that you won’t find at the bigger, more old-school stores. Last year, I was looking for a few specialty items: a bat house, which I was seeking as a last resort to combat a positively Biblical mosquito problem, and organic lacinato kale seeds (yes, I kind of hate myself for writing that too, but lacinato > the curly kind, so back off!). Where the traditional big ol’ stores let me down in this regard, these smaller shops came through (although I ultimately declined to pay $75 for a bat house and resigned myself to basically marinating in OFF! all summer).
When it really comes down to it though, I want to help you avoid schlepping all over creation to buy all the things you need to get started. If it is just plants you are looking for, check out your local farmer’s market or find the store closest to where you live on the map. Assuming you are starting from scratch though, and in need of things like giant leaden bags of potting soil, pots, and shovels, I suggest you get your hands on a car and kick things off at David Shannon’s in Windsor Terrace, Home Depot in Gowanus, Crest in Williamsburg, or Brooklyn Plantology by Lapide in Canarsie. These are one-stop locations where you will get a lot of bang for your buck and can pick up all the basics in the space of an hour, leaving you lots of time to figure out which part of your outdoor space gets the most direct sunlight.