Urban horticulture

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Horticulture is the science and art of growing fruits and vegetables and also flowers or ornamental plants. [1]


Urban horticulture specifically is the study of the relationship between plants and the urban environment. It focuses on the functional use of horticulture so as to maintain and improve the surrounding urban area. [2] With the expansion of cities and rapid urbanization, this field of study is large and complex and its study has only recently gained momentum. It has an undeniable relationship to production horticulture in that fruits, vegetables and other plants are grown for harvest, aesthetic, architectural, recreational and psychological purposes, but it extends far beyond these benefits. The value of plants in the urban environment has yet to be thoroughly researched or quantified.

Salad lettuce cultivation at the Growing Communities' urban plot, in Springfield Park, Clapton, North London. Urban salad growing-London.jpg
Salad lettuce cultivation at the Growing Communities' urban plot, in Springfield Park, Clapton, North London.
Small radish grown on a balcony in Barcelona city Ravenets 14 gener11.JPG
Small radish grown on a balcony in Barcelona city
A variety of flowers and vegetables grown under metal halide lamps Indoor garden.jpg
A variety of flowers and vegetables grown under metal halide lamps


Horticulture and the integration of nature into our civilization has been a major part in the establishment of our cities. When nomadic civilizations began settling down, their major trading centers were the market gardens and farms. Urban horticulture rapidly progressed with the birth of cities and the increase in experimentation and exchange of ideas. These insights led to the field being dispersed to farmers in the hinterlands. [3] For centuries, the built environment such as homes, public buildings, etc. were integrated with cultivation in the form of gardens, farms, and grazing lands, Kitchen gardens, farms, common grazing land, etc. Therefore, horticulture was a regular part of everyday life in the city. [4] With the Industrial Revolution and the related increasing populations rapidly changed the landscape and replaced green spaces with brick and asphalt. After the nineteenth century, Horticulture was then selectively restored in some urban spaces as a response to the unhealthy conditions of factory neighborhoods and cities began seeing the development of parks. [4]

Post World War II trends

Early urban horticulture movements majorly served the purposes of short term welfare during recession periods, philanthropic charity to uplift "the masses" or patriotic relief. [5] The tradition of urban horticulture mostly declined after World War II as suburbs became the focus of residential and commercial growth. Most of the economically stable population moved out of the cities into the suburbs, leaving only slums and ghettos at the city centers. However, there were a few exceptions of garden projects initiated by public housing authorities in the 1950s and 1960s for the purpose of beautification and tenant pride. [4] But for the most part as businesses also left the metropolitan areas, it generated wastelands and areas of segregated poverty.

Inevitably the disinvestment of major city centers, specifically in America resulted in the drastic increase of vacant lots. Existing buildings became uninhabitable, houses were abandoned and even productive industrial land became vacant. [4] Modern community gardening, urban agriculture, and food security movements were a form of response to battle the above problems at a local level. In fact other movements at that time such as the peace, environmental, women's, civil rights, and "back-to-the-city" movements of the 1960s and 1970s and the environmental justice movement of the 1980s and 1990s saw opportunity in these vacant lands as a way of reviving communities through school and community gardens, farmers' markets, and urban agriculture. [4]

Modern community garden movement

Things have taken a turn in the twenty-first century as people are recognizing the need for local community gardens and green spaces. It is not the concept but the purposes that are new. The main goals of this movement include cleaning up neighborhoods, pushing out drug dealing that occurs at empty lots, growing and preserving food for consumption, restoring nature to industrial areas, and bringing the farming traditions to urban cities. [6] Essentially community gardening is seen as way of creating a relationship between people and a place through social and physical engagement. Most urban gardens are created on vacant land that vary in size and are generally gardened as individual plots by community members. Such areas can support social, cultural, and artistic events and contribute to the rebuilding of local community spirit. The modern community garden movement is initiated by neighborhoods along with the support of the governments and non-profit organizations. Some gardens are linked to public housing projects, schools through garden-based learning programs, churches and social agencies and some even employ those who are incarcerated. Community gardens which are now a large part of the urban horticulture movement are different from the earlier periods of grand park development in that the latter only served to free the people from the industrialism. In addition a community garden is more beneficial and engaging than a mere lawn or park and serves as a valuable access to nature where wilderness is unavailable. This movement helped create and sustain relationships between city dwellers and the soil and contributed to a different kind of urban environmentalism that did not have any characteristics of reform charity. [4]

Despite that it has been 30 years since the first community gardens in the US, there is no concrete analysis of current urban gardens and their organizations. The American Community Gardening Association (ACGA) has estimations that show that municipal governments and non-profit organizations operate gardening programs in about 250 cities and towns, although the staff of this organization admits that this number could in reality be twice as large. In 1994 survey, the National Gardening Association found that 6.7 million households, that weren't involved in gardening would be interested in doing so if there was a plot nearby. [7] A more recent survey showed that more gardens are being created in cities as opposed to being lost to economic development.

Today urban horticulture has several components that include more than just community gardens, such as market gardens, small farms and farmers' markets and is an important aspect of community development. Another result of urban horticulture is the food security movement where locally grown food is given precedence through several projects and programs, thus providing low-cost and nutritious food. Urban community gardens and the food security movement was a response to the problems of industrial agriculture and to solve its related problems of price inflation, lack of supermarkets, food scarcity, etc.


Horticulture by itself is a practical and applied science, which means it can have a significance in our everyday lives. As community gardens cannot actually compete with market-based land uses, it is essential to find other ways to understand their various benefits such as their contribution to social, human, and financial well-being. Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of New York City's Central Park observed that the trees, meadows, ponds and wildlife tranquilize the stresses of city life. [4] According to various studies over the years, nature has a very positive impact over human health and even more so in an emotional and psychological sense. Trees, grass, and flower gardens, due to their presence as well as visibility, increase people's life satisfaction by reducing fatigue and irritation and restoring a sense of calm. [8] In fact Honeyman tested the restorative value of nature scenes in urban settings and discovered that vegetation in an urban setting produced more mental restoration as opposed to areas without vegetation. In addition, areas with only nature did not have as much of a positive psychological impact as did the combination of urban areas and nature. [9]

One of the obvious health benefits of gardening is the increased intake of fruits and vegetables. But the act of gardening itself, is also a major health benefit. Gardening is a low-impact exercise, which when added into daily activities, can help reduce weight, lower stress, and improve overall health. A recent study showed a reduced body mass index and lower weight in community gardeners compared with their non-gardening counterparts [10] The study showed men who gardened had a body mass index 2.36 lower and were 62% less likely to be overweight than their neighbors, while women were 46% less likely to be overweight with a body mass index 1.88 lower than their neighbors. [10] Access to urban gardens can improve health through nutritious, edible plantings, as well by getting people outside and promoting more activity in their environments.

Gardening programs in inner-city schools have become increasingly popular as a way to teach children not only about healthy eating habits, but also to encourage students to become active learners. [11] Besides getting students outside and moving, and encouraging an active lifestyle, children also learn leadership, teamwork, communication and collaboration skills, in addition to critical and creative thinking skills. [11] Gardening in schools will enable children to share with their families the health and nutrition benefits of eating fresh fruits and vegetables. Because weather and soil conditions are in a state of constant change, students learn to adapt their thinking and creatively problem solve, depending on the situations that arise. [11] Students also learn to interact and communicate with a diverse population of people, from other students to adult volunteers. These programs benefit students' health and enable them to be active contributors in the world around them.

Gardens and other green spaces also increase social activity and help in creating a sense of place, apart from their various other purposes such as enhancing the community by mediating environmental factors. There is also a huge disparity in the availability of sources that provide nutritious and affordable foods especially around urban centers which have problems of poverty, lack of public transport and abandonment by supermarkets. Therefore, inner city community gardens can be a valuable source of nutrition at an affordable cost in the most easily accessible way.

In order to understand and thereby maximize the benefits of urban horticulture, it is essential to document the effects of horticulture activities and quantify the benefits so that governments and private industries can make the appropriate changes. Horticulturists have always been involved in the botanical and physical aspects of horticulture but an involvement in its social and emotional factors would be highly beneficial to communities, cities and to the field of horticulture and its profession. Based on this, in the 1970s, the International Society for Horticultural Science recognized this need for research on the functional use of plants in an urban setting along with the need of improved communication between scientists in this field of research and people who utilize plants. The Commission for Urban Horticulture was established in 1982 which deals with plants grown in urban areas, management techniques, the functional use of these plants as well the shortcomings of the current lack of knowledge regarding this field. The establishment of such a commission is an important indicator that this topic has reached a level of international recognition. [12]

Economic benefits

There are many different economic benefits from gardening from saving money purchasing food and even on the utility bills. Developing countries can spend up to 60–80 percent of income on buying food alone. In Barbara Lake, Milfront Taciano and Gavin Michaels Journal of Psychology title "The Relative Influence of Psycho-Social Factors on Urban Gardening", they say that while people are saving money on buying food, having roof top gardens are also becoming popular. Having green roofs can reduce the cost of heating in the winter and help stay cool in the summer. Green roofs also can lower the cost of roof replacement. While green roofs are an addition to urban horticulture people are eating healthy while also improving the value of their property. Other benefits include increased employment from non-commercial jobs where producers include reductions on the cost of food (Lake, Taciano, and Michael). [13]

Production practices

Tomato plants growing in a pot farming alongside a small house in New Jersey in fifteen garbage cans filled with soil, grew over 700 tomatoes during the summer of 2013. Tomato plants growing July 2013 in garbage cans.JPG
Tomato plants growing in a pot farming alongside a small house in New Jersey in fifteen garbage cans filled with soil, grew over 700 tomatoes during the summer of 2013.

Crops are grown in flowerpots, [14] growbags, small gardens or larger fields, using traditional or high-tech and innovative practices. Some new techniques that have been adapted to the urban situation and tackle the main city restrictions are also documented. These include horticultural production on built-up land using various types of substrates (e.g. roof top, organic production and hydroponic/aeroponic production). Because of this, it is also known as roof-top vegetable gardening/horticulture and container vegetable gardening/horticulture.

Urban and peri-urban horticulture in Africa

A report of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Growing greener cities in Africa, [15] states that market gardening – i.e. irrigated, commercial production of fruit and vegetables in areas designated for the purpose, or in other urban open spaces – is the single most important source of locally grown, fresh produce in 10 out of 27 African countries for which data are available. Market gardening produces most of all the leafy vegetables consumed in Accra, Dakar, Bangui, Brazzaville, Ibadan, Kinshasa and Yaoundé, cities that, between them, have a total population of 22.5 million. Market gardens provide around half of the leafy vegetable supply in Addis Ababa, Bissau and Libreville. The report says that in most of urban Africa, market gardening is an informal and often illegal activity, which has grown with little official recognition, regulation or support. Most gardeners have no formal title to their land, and many lose it overnight. Land suitable for horticulture is being taken for housing, industry and infrastructure. To maximize earnings from insecure livelihoods, many gardeners are overusing pesticide and urban waste water.

See also

Related Research Articles

Gardening Practice of growing and cultivating plants

Gardening is the practice of growing and cultivating plants as part of horticulture. In gardens, ornamental plants are often grown for their flowers, foliage, or overall appearance; useful plants, such as root vegetables, leaf vegetables, fruits, and herbs, are grown for consumption, for use as dyes, or for medicinal or cosmetic use. Gardening is considered by many people to be a relaxing activity.

Allotment (gardening) plot of land sub-divided into smaller parcels for individual, non-commercial gardening or growing of food plants

An allotment garden, often called simply an allotment, or in North America, a community garden, is a plot of land made available for individual, non-commercial gardening or growing food plants. Such plots are formed by subdividing a piece of land into a few or up to several hundred land parcels that are assigned to individuals or families. Such parcels are cultivated individually, contrary to other community garden types where the entire area is tended collectively by a group of people. In countries that do not use the term "allotment (garden)", a "community garden" may refer to individual small garden plots as well as to a single, large piece of land gardened collectively by a group of people. The term "victory garden" is also still sometimes used, especially when a community garden dates back to the First or Second World War.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to sustainable agriculture:

Outline of organic gardening and farming Overview of and topical guide to organic gardening and farming

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to organic gardening and farming:

Roof garden Planted area on the top covering of a building

A roof garden is a garden on the roof of a building. Besides the decorative benefit, roof plantings may provide food, temperature control, hydrological benefits, architectural enhancement, habitats or corridors for wildlife, recreational opportunities, and in large scale it may even have ecological benefits. The practice of cultivating food on the rooftop of buildings is sometimes referred to as rooftop farming. Rooftop farming is usually done using green roof, hydroponics, aeroponics or air-dynaponics systems or container gardens.

Urban agriculture The practice of cultivating, processing and distributing food in or around urban areas

Urban agriculture,urban farming, or urban gardening is the practice of cultivating, processing, and distributing food in or around urban areas. Urban agriculture can also involve animal husbandry, aquaculture, agroforestry, urban beekeeping, and horticulture. These activities occur in peri-urban areas as well, and peri-urban agriculture may have different characteristics.

Market garden relatively small-scale production of fruits, vegetables and flowers as cash crops

A market garden is the relatively small-scale production of fruits, vegetables and flowers as cash crops, frequently sold directly to consumers and restaurants. The diversity of crops grown on a small area of land, typically from under one acre to a few acres, or sometimes in greenhouses distinguishes it from other types of farming. Such a farm on a larger scale is sometimes called a truck farm.

Organic horticulture is the art of organic cultivation of fruit, vegetables, flowers or ornamental plants

Organic horticulture is the science and art of growing fruits, vegetables, flowers, or ornamental plants by following the essential principles of organic agriculture in soil building and conservation, pest management, and heirloom variety preservation.

Guerrilla gardening Act of gardening on land that the gardeners do not have the legal rights to cultivate

Guerrilla gardening is the act of gardening on land that the gardeners do not have the legal rights to cultivate, such as abandoned sites, areas that are not being cared for, or private property. It encompasses a diverse range of people and motivations, ranging from gardeners who spill over their legal boundaries to gardeners with political influences who seek to provoke change by using guerrilla gardening as a form of protest or direct action. This practice has implications for land rights and land reform; aiming to promote re-consideration of land ownership in order to assign a new purpose or reclaim land that is perceived to be in neglect or misused.

Container garden potbound shrub

Container gardening or pot gardening is the practice of growing plants, including edible plants, exclusively in containers instead of planting them in the ground. A container in gardening is a small, enclosed and usually portable object used for displaying live flowers or plants. It may take the form of a pot, box, tub, basket, tin, barrel or hanging basket.

Community gardening single piece of land gardened collectively by a group of people

A community garden is a single piece of land gardened collectively by a group of people. Community gardens utilize either individual or shared plots on private or public land while producing fruit, vegetables, and/or plants grown for their attractive appearance. Around the world, community gardens can fulfill a variety of purposes such as aesthetic and community improvement, physical or mental well-being, or land conservation.

This is an alphabetical index of articles related to gardening.

Flowerpot (usually) conical container in pottery or plastic in which flowers and plants are grown

A flowerpot, flower pot, planter, planterette, or alternatively plant pot is a container in which flowers and other plants are cultivated and displayed. Historically, and still to a significant extent today, they are made from plain terracotta with no ceramic glaze, with a round shape, tapering inwards. Flowerpots are now often also made from plastic, metal, wood, stone, or sometimes biodegradable material. An example of biodegradable pots are ones made of heavy brown paper, cardboard, or peat moss in which young plants for transplanting are grown.

Community gardening in the United States

Community gardening in the United States encompasses a wide variety of approaches. Community gardens can function as gathering places for neighbors, promote healthier eating, and showcase art to raise ecological awareness. Other gardens resemble European "allotment" gardens, with plots where individuals and families can grow vegetables and flowers; including a number which began as "victory gardens" during World War II.


Foodscaping is a modern term for the practice of integrating edible plants into ornamental landscapes. It is also referred to as edible landscaping and has been described as a crossbreed between landscaping and farming. As an ideology, foodscaping aims to show that edible plants are not only consumable, but can also be appreciated for their aesthetic qualities. Foodscaping spaces are seen as multi-functional landscapes which are visually attractive and also provide edible returns.

Urban agriculture in West Oakland

Urban agriculture in West Oakland involves the implementation of Urban agriculture in Oakland.

Pot farming

Pot farming, flowerpot farming or pot agriculture is the practice of growing edible plants, exclusively in containers (flowerpots), instead of planting them in the ground.

Gateway Greening is non-profit organization based in St. Louis, Missouri that works to educate and empower the community through gardening and urban agriculture. The organization operates demonstration and community resource gardens and an urban farm, hosts lectures and education programs, and supports school and community gardens throughout the City and St Louis County, Missouri.

The Food Justice Movement is a grassroots initiative emerging from communities in response to food insecurity and economic pressures that prevent access to healthy, nutritious, and culturally appropriate foods. It includes more broad policy movements, such as the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. Food justice recognizes the food system as "a racial project and problematizes the influence of race and class on the production, distribution and consumption of food". This encompasses farm labor work, land disputes, issues of status and class, environmental justice, public politics, and advocacy. Food justice is closely connected to food sovereignty, which critiques "structural barriers communities of color face to accessing local and organic foods" that are largely due to institutional racism and the effect it has on economic equality. It is argued that lack of access to good food is both a cause and a symptom of the structural inequalities that divide society. Community gardens in poor areas are seen as part of the solution, as well as addressing equity issues in both the decision making process and the distribution of resources.

Keep Growing Detroit is an organization dedicated to food sovereignty and community engagement in the cities of Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park. Founded in 2013, the program designs and implements initiatives that promote the practice of urban agriculture as a mode of food justice for underrepresented communities, particularly those who do not have access to healthy food options. The goals of Keep Growing Detroit are to educate and empower community members using urban agricultural practices. Programs such as the Garden Resource Program and Grown in Detroit served as catalysts, laying the foundation for Keep Growing Detroit.


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  10. 1 2 Zick, C; et al. (2013). Harvesting More Than Vegetables: The Potential Weight Control Benefits of Community Gardening. American Journal of Public Health. pp. 1110–1115.
  11. 1 2 3 Ausherman, J; Ubbes, V; Kowalski, J (2014). Using School Gardening as a Vehicle for Critical and Creative Thinking in Health Education. Health Educator. pp. 41–48.
  12. Robinson, Muriel. "Urban Horticulture- Purpose and Prospects". The Robinson Garden at Earlscliffe, Baily, Co. Dublin, Ireland. Retrieved 6 November 2014.
  13. Lake, Barbara, Taciano L. Milfront C. Gavin. "The Relative Influence of Psycho-Social Factors on Urban Gardening." Academic Search Premier. Web. 10 June 2013.
  14. Flowerpot Farming: Creating your own Urban Kitchen Garden
  15. Growing greener cities in Africa (PDF). Rome: FAO. 2012. ISBN   978-92-5-107286-8.

Further reading